President Uhuru Kenyatta. Picture: THE TIMES/MOELETSI MABE
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Picture: THE TIMES/MOELETSI MABE

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has walked into a storm of social media criticism after approving a $2.34bn, three-year financing package for Kenya.

Some citizens in East Africa’s biggest economy don’t want any more loans for their government, saying a lot of the cash will be embezzled by state officials, and are signing online petitions to the IMF.

“Previous loans to the Kenyan government have not been prudently utilised and have often resulted in mega-corruption scandals,” according to one petition created on April 4 that had about 232,000 signatures by Friday morning. “The IMF can and should do the right thing: withhold the funds until the next, hopefully more accountable, government is elected into office next year.”

Several petitioners referred to remarks earlier this year by President Uhuru Kenyatta that as much as 2-billion shillings ($18.6m) is stolen from government coffers daily, as reported in local media.

The negative publicity will be a concern for the IMF, according to Churchill Ogutu, head of research at Nairobi-based Genghis Capital.

“The timing could not have been worse with the IMF and World Bank spring meetings this week and all the comments on the fund’s socials are from Kenyans,” he said. “I doubt the IMF debt can be called back, which is the main aim of the campaign, but it could ultimately lead to greater transparency from the government in terms of debt accumulation.”

The IMF said in a statement this week that some austerity will be required of Kenya, where public debt is expected to peak at 73% of GDP in 2022/2023. The programme will advance the structural reform and governance agenda and strengthen transparency and accountability through the anti-corruption framework, according to the lender.

Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna declined to comment on the allegations in the petitions and referred Bloomberg to an April 7 national treasury statement that said an interest-free IMF loan at the start of the pandemic tided the nation over.

The new IMF programme is a structural-adjustment loan, which will come with some pain, according economist David Ndii, a critic of Kenyatta’s government. “It comes with austerity — tax raises, spending cuts, downsizing — to keep Kenya creditworthy so that we continue borrowing and servicing debt,” he said on Twitter. “The IMF is not here for fun.”

Bloomberg

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