Jimi Wanjigi’s Public Debt Exposé Overstates National Poverty Level

In Jimi Wanjigi’s exposé, where he indicates that forensic investigations revealed Kenya’s national debt to be at Sh9.7 trillion, as opposed to the Sh8.4 trillion that is publicly declared on the Central Bank of Kenya’s website, he also states that the poverty level in Kenya is currently at 63%. See a screen grab from the forensic report below;

Piga Firimbi looked into the public debt claims here.

Jimi Wanjigi aspired to become Kenya’s fifth president in the events that led to the just concluded August 9 elections. He was however disqualified on grounds that he lacked a degree certificate.

He released his investigative report on the state of Kenya’s public debt on July 24, 2022. In this report, he also states that parliament raised Kenya’s debt ceiling to Sh10 trillion. This is TRUE. The National Assembly’s Hansard report dated June 7, 2022 contains a special motion titled: ‘Approval of  Variation to Public Debt Ceiling’.

The motion was tabled by Leader of the Majority Party Amos Kimunya, who was also the Member of Parliament, Kipipiri Constituency. Mr Kimunya told parliament that the debt ceiling was solely altered for the sake of the next government, which would be coming after the August 9, 2022 elections.

“The Budget of 2022/2023 has a deficit of about Kshs846 billion whereas we have a leg room of only about Kshs200 billion,” he said.

“I want to make it clear that the alteration of this debt ceiling is not affecting this financial year or this Government.  This financial year is fully funded and it includes the debts that we have borrowed and the leg room that we currently have. Governments operate in perpetuity. We are doing this for the next Government,” Amos Kimunya added.

The Hansard hence states that;

“Pursuant to the provisions of Section 50(2) of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, this House approves the Public Finance Management (National Government) (Amendment) Regulations, 2022 published as Legal Notice No.89 of 26th May 2022, thus approving the amendment made to the Public Finance Management (National Government) Regulations, 2015 (Principal Regulations) in Regulation 26(1), by deleting Paragraph (c) and substituting therefore the following
paragraph- “(c) pursuant to the provisions of Section 50(2) of the Act, the public debt shall not exceed ten trillion shillings.”

Kenya’s debt ceiling was initially Sh9 trillion, which was a limit equivalent to 55% of the Gross
Domestic Product as per the Public Finance Management Act. With the debt ceiling revised, economists have found Kenya’s current public debt to be well over 60% of the GDP.

Trends in Kenya’s public debt. Source: Institute of Economic Affairs Budget Fact Sheet


To check Jimi Wanjigi’s claim on the national poverty level, Piga Firimbi looked into the most recent data on this, which was published in the Comprehensive Poverty Report 2020 by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). This report classifies poverty in terms of monetary poverty, multidimensional poverty and overall poverty.

Monetary poverty measures the ability of a household to provide for its members with basic needs based on a standard baseline. The baseline for Kenyan households in rural areas is Sh3,252 per month, and Sh5,995 in urban areas per month per household. 36% of Kenya’s population is monetary poor. This also translates to 15.9 million Kenyans, or 1 in 3 Kenyans according to the Comprehensive Poverty Report.

Multidimensional poverty on the other hand measures the number of people deprived of at least three basic needs and rights. The Comprehensive Poverty Report shows that 53% of the Kenyan population, also 23.4 million Kenyans are multidimensionally poor. Different dimensions are used to measure the poverty rate for different age groups. Below is a screengrab of the different dimensions for selected groups;

Overall poverty, which measures the rate of Kenyans both multidimensionally and monetary poor is at 27%.

Piga Firimbi could not find any source indicating that Kenya’s national poverty level has reached 63%. Attempts to reach Jimi Wanjigi and/or his team to respond to these findings were unfruitful at the time this article was published.

In an interview with KTN News, Mr Wanjigi said that the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) had published reports on the alleged 63% poverty level. This is however not in line with data published by KIPPRA. In a report published here for example, a KIPPRA report reads;

“This study estimates that national absolute poverty in Kenya may have declined by 7.2 percentage points from 36.1% in 2015/16 to 28.9% in 2019 (pre-COVID). However, as a result of the pandemic, absolute poverty has increased to 41.9% in 2020, effectively wiping out progress made since 2015/16.”

The 2020 Comprehensive Poverty Report uses statistics from the 2015/2016 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey.

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