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Kenya borrowed Sh4.5 billion every 24 hours in the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic, in a debt accumulation spree rarely witnessed in any East African country. 

Backed by modelling simulations by Health ministry experts, who projected millions of corona infections, Kenya went all out to secure a financial war chest.

With a worst-case scenario of hundreds of thousands dead and millions infected by the end of the year, the National Treasury kept its foot firmly on the borrowing gas pedal — signing up for billions from global lenders, including the World Bank.

Then, with the Health ministry as referee, the spending started, with counties awash with Covid-19 emergency funds. 

But with the curve flattening way earlier than predicted at levels far lower than had been projected, the country is now emerging on the other end of the coronavirus crisis, counting the cost of the pandemic with a mountain of debt and millions of job losses.

The total public debt stood at Sh6.2 trillion at the time the virus landed in Nairobi in March. This comprised Sh3 trillion of domestic debt, while the remaining Sh3.2 trillion was external debt, according to data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

In just three months to June, the public debt had ballooned by Sh410 billion to Sh6.6 trillion, in one of the fastest accumulation of public debt by the Jubilee administration. This translates to about Sh136 billion a month or Sh4.5 billion a day.

Despite global lockdowns, the country borrowed Sh303 billion from the international markets and the remaining Sh107 billion locally.

Between June and August, another Sh200 billion was borrowed locally. Official external borrowing figures are yet to be updated to August, but at this rate, the country is now close to Sh7 trillion deep in debt.

To put this number into perspective, in the previous quarter before Covid-19, Treasury had adopted a more conservative stance on public expenditure and had started plucking the first fruits of austerity measures.

For instance, between December and the end of February, Kenya borrowed a total of Sh125.6 billion, which is about 41 billion a month. But in the Covid season, the speed of borrowing tripled or grew 3.3 times.

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