The presidential debate that wasn’t: Did Kenya’s Odinga get his facts straight?
Despite being much-anticipated, Kenya’s presidential front runners kept the country guessing whether they would pitch for a debate broadcast live . We examined 3 claims by the main candidate who did.
Researched by Alphonce Shiundu
After a first presidential debate failed to take off, a rescheduled one took place on Monday 24 July in Nairobi.
Only three of six candidates showed up for the first part of the debate. For the much-anticipated second session, Raila Odinga the flagbearer of the main opposition coalition ended up alone on the podium after incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta kept his promise to skip the debate.
Africa Check looked at three key claims that Odinga made on the drama-filled night.
When asked for the source of the claim, Odinga’s campaign team said the figures were sourced from the country’s official data agency, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Odinga was referring to the decline in purchasing power, Dr David Ndii, who heads the coalition’s technical and strategy team, told Africa Check.
“That was the point he was trying to make. He wanted to talk about the purchasing power of the poor… the numbers he was referring to would be the cumulative inflation from 2013 to now,” Ndii said.
Dr James Shikwati, who is director of independent economic think-tank Inter Region Economic Network (IREN), told us that his interpretation of “cumulative inflation” as used by Odinga was the reduction of the Kenya shilling’s buying power “by 40%, that is, you need [40%] more to buy the same item”.
Kwame Owino, the chief executive of the Institute of Economic Affairs-Kenya, told Africa Check that using total annual inflation was ideal as it “also measures the money growth [while the month on month] just measures consumption on its own.”
To calculate it, “find out what the inflation rate was in 2013 and go back and say if I had KSh100 and then it depreciated by 5.7% because of inflation, what would its value be?” Owino said.
Data from the official data agency shows the country’s average annual inflation rate was 5.7% in 2013, 6.9% in 2014, 6.6% in 2015 and 6.3% in 2016. For the first six months of 2017, the average inflation rate was 9.7%.
Using this data and the prescribed methodology, Africa Check calculated that the value of Ksh100 depreciated to KSh105.70 in 2013, KSh112.99 in 2014, KSh120.45 in 2015 and KSh128.04 in 2016. At the end of the first half of 2017 it was KSh140.46.
Therefore, in order to buy something that cost KSh100 in 2013 one would currently need at least KSh40 more. We thus rate Odinga’s claim as correct.
Odinga’s policy chief Ndii told Africa Check that the number the opposition leader was referring to “would be the average minimum wage, the number in the economic survey”.
In its most recent economic survey, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says that between 2013 and 2016, the average minimum wage for workers in agriculture – the country’s largest employer – increased from KSh6,503 to KSh7,284, a rise of 12%.
Minimum wage increases for workers in the country’s urban areas also showed an increase of 12% between 2013 and 2016, according to the statistic agency’s data. Those in the cities of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa saw their wages rise from KSh15,357 in 2013 to KSh17,200 in 2016. Municipalities had a Sh1,713 rise to KSh15,980 over the same period, while other towns recorded an increase of KSh1,457 to 13,593.
Ndii said an 18% increase in Kenya’s minimum wage announced in May 2017 had not yet been implemented. Francis Atwoli, the secretary general of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions however told Africa Check that this had been implemented through legal notices 111 and 112 on wages published a week ago. The gazette notice was published on July 21, four days before Odinga made his claim.
The union’s economist George Otieno confirmed this. “Yes, the 18% for 2017 has been implemented, though not in full regard because in some workplaces we have had issues of redundancy cases,” he said.
The wage increase between 2013 and 2017 is thus a cumulative 30%, not 12% as Odinga said, although it is yet to filter down to all workers.
The figure of “40% is in the public domain”, Odinga’s strategy chief Ndii told Africa Check, further citing data on unemployment in Kenya from the World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Note: The factbook notes that reliable employment data on Kenya is hard to find, giving the same 40% unemployment rate estimate for both 2001 and 2013 without citing a clear source.)
“I see it around a lot, but it doesn’t come from our data, because we don’t do an annual unemployment rate. If you want to get the unemployment rate, you have to get the labour force survey,” Ndii told Africa Check.
The most recent data on unemployment in Kenya is a labour force analysis by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, based on 2009 census data. Released in 2012, it put the overall unemployment rate at 9.7% then. (Note: The statistics agency defines the unemployment rate as the proportion of the labour force that does not have a job and is actively looking for work.)
A survey with the latest unemployment data is being finalised, James Gatungu, the director of production statistics at the agency, recently told Africa Check.
The director-general of the statistics agency, Zachary Mwangi, told Africa Check that the 40% unemployment rate “can’t be correct”. (Note: He promised to furnish us with detailed data; we will update this report when he does.)
In its Human Development Report 2016, using ILO models the United Nations Development Programme estimated Kenya’s total unemployment rate at 9.2% in 2015 while the youth unemployment rate (ages 15 to 24) was at 17.6%.
The World Bank’s datasets, modelled from International Labour Organisation numbers, estimated that 11% of Kenya’s total workforce was unemployed in 2016.