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When Kenya's Treasury had Sh24m cash 111 years ago

DP Rigathi Gachagua in Kisumu for the  National Music Festivals. [DPPS]

When the new regime of President William Ruto took office this month, Kenyans’ jaws dropped when they heard that the country’s coffers were empty.

In the words of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, by the time they were sworn in on September 13, the coffers at Central Bank had just Sh93 million.

Although experts have tried to explain that this does not necessarily mean the heavily indebted country is broke, the current circumstances bring back memories of where Kenya was at a time like this in September 1911, exactly 111 years ago.

The state of the economy then was not rosy and although it was not incumbent on politicians then to expose the nakedness of their motherland, the official statement issued then was quite enlightening.

According to a statement by the man in charge of Treasury, H A Smallwood, as at September 30, 1911, the East African Protectorate had £322,922 in various accounts. This by the current exchange rate of Sh136 to translates to about Sh43.9 million.

There was only £177,349 (about Sh24 million) in cash while the government had £1,036 in suspense account amounts which was at the time classified as a liability.

Other liabilities of the protectorate then were listed as £45,362 while nickels and aluminum coinage accounted for £1,870

Although the East African Protectorate morphed into the Kenya colony in 1920, and later became a republic in 1963, the country’s economy is not what it was a century ago.

From a country whose capital city, Nairobi started off as a tin shack, the economy, going by the Kenya Economic survey 2022 is now valued at Sh12 trillion.

Despite the expansion, the country in some areas is still grappling with adverse effects of drought as happened shortly before the coming of the colonialists.

The question of where the next meal will come from still dominates homesteads today, just as it did a century ago.

While Kenyans in urban areas are crying out to the government to lower the price of unga, in the remote areas millions are thirsting for a few drops of water to quench their thirst and any kind of pasture for their emaciated animals being wiped out by drought at an alarming rate. 

The Lunatic Express (Uganda Railway) has since given birth to Standard Gauge Railway but most of the lines where the old trains used to ferry passengers and goods have since ceased operations. 

Yet, although so much has changed in 111 years, some regions have been caught in a time warp and Kenya now just like then is in desperate need of injection of capital.