Serrari Group

In a striking development, Kenya finds itself grappling with an unprecedented surge in its national debt, a trend that defies President William Ruto’s assurances to curb the nation’s borrowing appetite. Recent treasury figures unveiled on Tuesday underscored a staggering increase of 1.56 trillion shillings ($10.8 billion) during the financial year ending June 30. This ascent propelled the total public debt beyond the established ceiling of 10 trillion shillings, rocketing it to an astounding 10.1 trillion shillings ($70.75 billion).

The driving forces behind this startling escalation are multifaceted, encompassing external loan disbursements, the volatile nature of exchange rates, and the uptake of both domestic and foreign debt. The ripples of these factors have been felt acutely in loan repayment costs, particularly those linked to China. The Kenyan shilling’s depreciation to around 144 shillings against the US dollar has compounded the burden.

Coping with the Currency Slide and Debt Burden

As the Kenyan shilling experiences a plunge in value, the strain on debt servicing has reached unprecedented levels. For the fiscal year culminating in June, debt servicing expenses ballooned to a monumental 391 billion shillings ($2.7 billion), with a substantial —107 billion shillings ($743 million)—allocated for repayment to China. This escalating financial obligation has triggered global credit ratings agencies to voice concerns, culminating in Fitch Ratings’ recent decision to downgrade Kenya’s ability to repay international lenders from “stable to negative.” This shift was predicated on factors like escalating taxes and a backdrop of social unrest.

Ruto’s Economic Vision and Its Test in Reality

Taking the reins just last year with a pledge to rejuvenate Kenya’s economic landscape, President Ruto’s administration now faces scrutiny as the nation’s debt burden reaches unprecedented heights. A dip in economic growth to 4.8 percent in 2022 from 7.6 percent in the prior year has been a cause for concern. Yet, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the economy is poised to rebound, surpassing five percent growth this year.

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