Africa Review has collected up data on the annual salaries of African presidents, from a variety of sources. They then calculated how the salary compares to each country’s national average income – GNI per capita.
I have compiled the same data into the chart below:
In answer to the headline question, President Kikwete apparent gets paid $192,000 per year, President Uhuru Kenyatta gets $132,000 and President Museveni gets just $13,000. This puts them at 4th, 7th and 38th on the list, respectively.
The figures must be taken with some caution. The Africa Review article explains that the data has been accessed from a variety of sources, including “Africa Review Correspondents”. I suspect that this means the salary figures are really no more than educated guesses.
Further, even the GNI figures may not be reliable. The figure used for GNI per capita for Tanzania, for example, is $1750, which is considerably higher than figures available from the World Bank or even the Ministry of Finance. A per capita GNI of $1,000 would result in President Kikwete’s salary being 192 times the average national income, rather than “just” 109 times. (I have not changed to figures in the chart to reflect this, as then I would have to go through all the other countries’ GNI figures as well.)
The main response online has been surprise that the figures are so high – particularly surprise (and anger) within Tanzania that President Kikwete’s salary is so much higher than many other presidents. But there are several reasons why it is more complicated than that.
First, although $192,000 per year is a lot of money, it is a tiny, tiny part of government spending. It is a tiny, tiny part even of the annual budget of the President’s Office. It makes little sense to call for the President’s salary to be reduced unless you also call for travel expenses, etc. to be reduced. A salary cut would be purely symbolic, though perhaps that symbolism matters?
Second, even compared to the amount of money spent on political campaigns, this amount is very small. Previously, I calculated that around $10mcould have been spent purely on “nauli” for CCM members sponsoring those seeking the party’s presidential nomination. And that figure doesn’t include transport and accommodation costs for candidates and their teams, costs for media coverage. It’s only around half the amount discovered in the suitcases of a Quality Group employee, Amit Kevalramani, in Dodoma while CCM was in the middle of choosing it’s candidate. And I suspect that for many of the presidents listed in the chart above, their official “salary” is a barely-noticeable fraction of their actual “take home” from their time in office. Those are issues that have a much bigger effect on accountability and governance than how much one individual gets paid.
Third, being president is a difficult job, with a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. I don’t believe the argument that you need to pay public servants a lot of money in order to reduce the temptation to steal from the public. Even the wealthy want to get richer. But equally, very few people can match Julius Nyerere, retiring from the presidency to a small farm in his home village, or former President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, who famously chose to use an ageing Volkswagon Beetle for transport. Perhaps, in most cases, if you pay a president very little, you are encouraging them to fund their retirement in other ways.
Finally, there is one excellent point that Africa Review made:
“only a few countries make public what they pay their leaders – a key finding itself that suggests a lack of transparency”
Because the president’s salary comes from public money. As such, despite the complexity, shouldn’t it be a matter of open public debate?
By using GNI, this data makes a basic error - ignoring the actual sizes of the different economies. Kenya has an economy with a GDP of $70.5 billion while Liberia has a GDP of $2.1 billion. Surely the CEO of the former should earn more than the CEO of the latter?