Can Sh9 trillion carpet all roads in Kenya? May be!


The Sunday Nation


13 August 2023


Arthur is an accountant and he asked me to work out how far nine trillion shillings can go. Why Sh9 trillion? Well, it is the amount of money that the Kenya government owes as public debt. Arthur remembers that a long time ago, I had calculated the amount of surface area that can be covered with one billion shillings in Sh1,000-notes.

I suspect that many of those who read this column today never saw that old article – indeed, the majority of my readers of today were probably not even born when I wrote that piece! Any way, in the year 2004 (19 years ago), I used the dimensions of the (old) Sh1.000-note to work out how much space one million pieces (equal to Sh1 billion) would occupy. The answer came to 1.2 hectares or about 3 acres of land.

Before doing attempting to answer Arthur’s question, let me make one thing clear: the total value of all currency notes and coins in Kenya is far less than one trillion shillings! For an unknown reason, I am blocked out of the Central Bank of Kenya website so I can’t get the latest data; but, in October last year, there was Sh240 billion of paper money in circulation. In short, it is impossible to get Sh9 trillion in notes.

Nevertheless, it remains intellectually interesting to visualise how far the Sh9 trillion can go. The new generation bank notes are slightly smaller than those of the year 2004. The Sh1,000-note measures 14.4cm by 7.0cm. That makes an area of 100.8 square centimetres. We may round that down to to simplify the arithmetic.

Now, Sh9 trillion would be 9 billion notes of S1,000 each. Therefore, the total area covered by the notes would be 900 billion square centimetres. This works down to 90 million square metres, and farther to 9,000 hectares. This is about 22,000 acres. Close your eyes and imagine 22,000 acres “carpeted” with Sh1,000-notes!

If the notes are arranged width-with across a typical tarmac road (7m wide), 100 of them would fit one row. Therefore, 9 billion notes would require 90 million rows. Each note takes up 14.4cm, thus, a total of 1,296,000,000cm of the road would be carpeted.

How many kilometres is that? 1,296,000,000cm divided by 100 (to get metres) and divided again by 1,000 (to get km). The answer is 12,960km! Now ask yourself this: what is the total length of all roads in Kenya?

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