Fact Checker: Why President Uhuru’s figures on marine economy seem underestimated

Dhows racing in the Indian Ocean waters, near Lamu Islands. Kenya's marine potential remains under-exploited

How much Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does Kenya’s marine sector contribute to the country’s economy?

This is the central question as thousands of delegates from 180 countries this week congregate at Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Convention Centre for the sustainable blue economy conference.

Kenya is holding the event together with Japan and Canada, with participants looking at economic and regulatory models for waterways as resources for food, energy, transportation, minerals, water, leisure and health.

“Kenya’s blue economy contributes a mere 2.5 per cent of our GDP in absolute terms meaning it is approximately Sh180 billion,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta while launching the Kenya Coast Guard Service last week.

 “Fully exploited, our blue economy could easily contribute three times its present share of GDP and create jobs and huge prosperity for millions of Kenyans.”

An analysis of the country’s maritime sector, however, indicates that President Kenyatta’s figures underestimate the actual and potential economic value of the country’s marine resources.

 A report by the United Nation’s Environment Programme released earlier this year looking at the potential of Kenya’s blue economy puts the figure to more than double.

“Fisheries account for only about 0.5 per cent of the GDP and generate employment for over two million Kenyans through fishing, boat building, equipment repair, fish processing, and other ancillary activities,” explains the UNDP in part. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates that fishing and aquaculture contributed for Sh36.6 billion to the country’s total Sh8.1 trillion GDP in 2017 - representing a contribution of 2.9 per cent.
 However, the blue economy encompasses more than just fisheries and extends the overall gamut of goods and services waterways have to offer residents living in their proximity.

“The estimated annual economic value of goods and services in the marine and coastal ecosystem of the blue economy in the Western Indian Ocean is over Sh2.2 trillion ($22 billion) with Kenya’s share slightly over Sh440 billion ($4.4 billion) or 20 per cent with the tourism sector taking the lion’s share of over Sh410 billion ($4.1 billion), according to the Kenya Maritime Authority estimates,” explained the UNDP in part.  Investing in Kenya’s blue economy is further expected to increase earnings in transport and tourism leveraging on the idle lakefront property on Lake Victoria.

  “As regards inland water transport, Kenya makes the least use of her portion of Lake Victoria, compared to Uganda and Tanzania despite considerable potential for the country to make use of the relatively low-cost inland water transport to promote trade with Uganda and Tanzania through the port of Kisumu,” explains a policy document by the state entity, the Kenya Roads Board.