Uhuru Kenyatta built roads, rail but piled a whole load of debt

Sunday July 31 2022

President Uhuru Kenyatta flagging off Kenya’s SGR phase 2A from Nairobi to Suswa on October 16, 2019 that was to terminate in Kisumu. FILE PHOTO | NMG


On April 9, 2013, newly sworn-in President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to “lead all Kenyans, those who voted for me and those who voted for our competitors” towards national prosperity firmly rooted in a rich and abiding peace.

Close to a decade later, he has achieved some of these goals but he is leaving his successor to deal with a huge burden of debt and unhappy taxpayers already battling a galloping cost of living.

It was during Kenyatta’s tenure that billions of dollars were pumped into infrastructure projects such as roads, airports, railways, ports and in energy and telecommunications.

According to government figures, his administration has built over 11,000km of tarmacked roads, compared with 2,000km built by the previous three governments.

He has increased investment in ICT, which has seen internet penetration rise to 93.9 percent in 2022, from 31.4 percent in 2013, and cellphone use increase to 131 percent from 74.9 percent in the same period.

“Infrastructure has a way of turning swamps into cities, dead spaces into high-value properties, and village shopping centres into city malls,” the President said in a speech on June 1. “Without infrastructure, there is no way of finding new possibilities. And that is why we made it one of our big push investments.”


Kenyatta’s government introduced Huduma Centres and the eCitizen online platform to ensure fast access to government services, and shifted the country to digital television and radio. This pushed the number of TV stations in the country to 130 from 14 in 2013. Radio stations increased to 204 from 130.

His Jubilee administration oversaw the reduction in lending rates by commercial banks to 12.22 percent from 17 percent in December 2013, according to data from the Central Bank.

In agriculture, coffee earnings have nearly doubled to at least Ksh110 ($0.93) per kilogramme of cherry, from Ksh60 per kilogramme in 2013, while tea export earnings increased 20 percent to Ksh136 billion ($1.15 billion) in 2021 from Ksh114 billion ($966.1 million) in 2013, according to government data.

Debt concerns

On the economic front, the country’s GDP nearly tripled to Ksh13 trillion ($110.16 billion) from Ksh4.5 trillion ($38.13 billion) in 2013, while tax revenues more than doubled to Ksh2.03 trillion in the 2021/2022 fiscal year, from Ksh800 billion ($6.77 billion) in the 2012/2013.

However, the President has been criticised over rising public debt and high-profile corruption that rocked his administration, drying public coffers and escalating public borrowing to finance persistent budget deficits.

Read: Despite pandemic recovery, Kenya’s debt set to rise again

Critics argue that while Kenyatta put emphasis on physical infrastructure development, he failed to dedicate his energy to fight corruption, an issue that will cloud his legacy.

Senior state officials, including Cabinet and principal secretaries, have been sent home on corruption charges while others are battling court cases.

Kenyatta’s administration has been accused of doing little about multimillion dollar scandals featuring the Port of Mombasa, the standard gauge railway line, Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), dams that were never built such as Kimwarer and Arror, and the controversial gas to the poor project – popularly known as Gas Yetu.

In his reign, national debt jumped to Ksh8.56 trillion ($72.54 billion) in May 2022, from Ksh1.89 trillion ($16.01 billion) in June 2013, according to data from the National Treasury.

In the 2022/2023 financial year, the government has allocated Ksh1.39 trillion ($11.77 billion) towards debt repayment, comprising Ksh690.64 billion ($5.85 billion) as interest payments and Ksh702.46 billion ($5.95 billion) as redemptions.

Cost of living

Inflation rose to 7.9 percent in June 2022 from 5.72 percent in December 2012, while the shilling weakened significantly to stand at Ksh118 against the US dollar, from Ksh85.89 in December 2013.

As the chorus on the need to tame the cost of living reached a crescendo, on July 20, President Kenyatta announced the fifth stimulus package of his regime focusing on food subsidy to cushion households from hunger.

In particular, the President sought to address the unga crisis that had seen the price of a two-kilogramme packet of maize flour reach Ksh205 ($1.73), from Ksh100 ($0.84). He termed it an engineered crisis that repeats itself just every election year and ordered price control through a government subsidy.

“I note with regret that the cost of a 2kg pack of maize-meal remains out of reach for many,” he said.

The package entailed suspension of the Railway Development Levy and Import Declaration Fee on all imported maize.

Kenyatta said the programme of subsidising maize meal by Ksh105 ($0.88) per 2kg packet was meant to lower the cost of living for vulnerable households as a sustainable solution was sought.