Social media posts spread disinformation about cost of living in Kenya

The increase in the cost of living in Kenya has led to a spate of online falsehoods, with supporters of the government and the opposition squaring off by sharing misleading posts about food prices. One claim purported to show that the price of a 2-kilogram packet of maize flour had risen to 353 Kenyan shillings ($2.58), while another alleged that its price had actually decreased to 154 Kenyan shillings ($1.21). Both assertions are misleading: they referred to specific promotions, with the more expensive offer including a large bottle of a popular soda brand. AFP Fact Check found that maize flour is retailing at an average of 190 Kenyan shillings ($1.50) in Nairobi’s major supermarkets.

"Those who want us to improve the economy raise your hands. If we are to do it, do you want us to begin with the rich people or the poor grocery shop operators and motorbike taxi riders?" reads a Facebook post published in Swahili on February 22, 2023.

It features a photo showing a stack of 2-kilogram packets of maize flour in a supermarket with a sign advertising the product for 353 Kenyan shillings.

Screenshot showing the misleading post, taken on March 1, 2023

Many among the hundreds of users who commented on the post believed that due to inflation, a two-kilogram packet of maize flour was retailing at 353 Kenyan shillings.

"It is you Kenyans who did not understand Ruto’s campaign slogan 'Bottom up', it meant that low food prices will be increased upwards,” reads one comment in Swahili.

Another user wrote: "Prices rising from the BOTTOM UP."

Opposition MP Robert Alai also posted a tweet referencing the same phrase.

In his 2022 election campaign, Kenyan President William Ruto promised Kenyans a "bottom-up" economic transformation which would channel resources to sectors that have a significant impact on job and wealth creation, especially for the poorest at the bottom of the pyramid.

Elsewhere on social media, users claimed that the price of maize flour had drastically decreased.

"Unga price is dropping drastically... Kenya Kwanza delivers (sic)," reads a Facebook post, referring to the political alliance headed by Kenya’s president. Unga is the Swahili word for maize flour.

This post features a photo of maize flour bags neatly stacked inside a store, this time with a sign reading "KES 154".

Screenshot showing the misleading Facebook post, taken on March 1, 2023

Anger over inflation

Rising prices of commodities including Kenya’s staple food maize flour, electricity and fuel have become a political headache for Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza alliance team as they seek to fulfil their campaign promise of lowering the cost of living.

In response, opposition leader Raila Odinga and others have organised protests in recent weeks.

A survey released on February 28 found that nearly three-quarters of Kenyans are concerned about the high cost of living in the country.

The current inflation is not only being felt in Kenya – it is a global phenomenon influenced by a combination of factors including the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war and prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa.

Kenya is experiencing one of its worst droughts with more than four million people in need of food assistance.

But claims that the price of maize flour has either almost doubled or reduced significantly since President Ruto took office are misleading.

Misleading posts

AFP Fact Check found that the signs in the photos show promotional offers, not the price for single bags of maize flour.

The photo in the first two posts was taken in a Naivas supermarket, as evidenced by the Naivas logo on the fridge on the left-hand side.

A side-by-side comparison of the logo in the retail store and on Naivas supermarket’s website

It shows a combined promotional price for a two-kilogram pack of maize flour and a 2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola. It is clearly written on the sign that the price is for the two products, not just for maize flour.

Meanwhile, the post claiming that prices have dropped significantly actually shows a 29-percent discount on a two-kilogram packet of maize flour. This promotion is visible on the sign, which says "29% off" at the top.

The red and green branding indicates that this was taken in a Quickmart supermarket.

The original price of the commodity, without the promotion, is 219 Kenyan shillings ($1.72). This is clearly written on the signpost.

A crosscheck by AFP Fact Check in Nairobi’s major retail stores – including Naivas and Quickmart – found that a 2 kg pack of maize flour was retailing at between 180 and 220 Kenyan shillings ($1.42 to 1.73) depending on the brand on February 28, 2023 – a far cry from the claim of 353 shillings.

Local media reports also show that a 2 kg packet of maize flour continues to retail at an average of 180 Kenyan shillings in the country.