President Uhuru Kenyatta’s use of a luxurious private jet to travel to Tokyo in Japan and Sochi in Russia this week is likely to raise questions on the government’s commitment to austerity measures.
The Airbus 318 Elite aircraft is believed to belong to Dubai-based luxury aviation company, Constellation. The total cost of the hire was not clear by the time of going to press, but though State House could have negotiated a favourable deal with Constellation, various reports have put the cost of hiring a similar aircraft at around Sh1.5 million per hour.
State House spokesperson Kanze Dena did not respond to our questions on how much the government had spent to fly the President from Mombasa on Mashujaa Day to Tokyo and onwards to Sochi and back to Nairobi.
What is clear, however, is that there was no fanfare on Sunday last week when the President departed Mombasa for Tokyo soon after the Mashujaa Day celebrations at Mama Ngina Drive, and it was only until 3pm the next day that Kenyans knew that he had travelled. In a Facebook post, State House announced that the President and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta had arrived in Tokyo “for the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito of Japan”.
Flight data records seen by the Sunday Nation show that the plane, registration number A6-CAS, arrived in Mombasa from Jaipur, India, at 5.33pm last Sunday.
It then took off at 8.24pm the same day and flew for eight hours to Almaty in Khazakstan, where it landed on Monday morning at 7.30 for what appears to have been a refuelling stop.
One hour later, the plane departed Almaty and flew eastwards for another seven hours, landing in Tokyo at 6.33pm local time, or 12.30pm Kenyan time. State House made the announcement of the President’s arrival two hours later.
He stayed in Japan for two days and attended the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Kenya’s ambassador to Japan Solomon Maina said the invitation to the ceremony was not only a show of high respect for the Kenyan leader, but also a testament to the good relations between Kenya and Japan.
ARRIVED IN SOCHI
President Kenyatta left Tokyo on Wednesday and arrived in Sochi the same day for the Russia Africa Summit, touching down at 6.47pm. There is no time difference between Sochi and East Africa. At 8.09pm, State House announced that the President had arrived in Sochi.
“On arrival, the President was received at Sochi International Airport by senior Russian government officials and the Kenyan Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow, Ms Winnie Mwanjala,” State House said.
In one of the photographs from the welcoming ceremony at the airport in Sochi, the President and First Lady are seen tasting traditional Russian pastry minutes after disembarking from a plane whose livery is similar to the Airbus A318 Elite that had departed Mombasa a few days earlier.
In March, the use of the same plane – which was last evening still parked at the presidential pavillion at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi after arriving from Sochi at 8.59pm on Friday — caused an uproar in Zimbabwe after President Emmerson Mnagangwa hired it for a one-hour hop from Harare to Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe’s news outlets termed the action by President Mnagangwa an abuse of office at a time when Harare was pleading with the international community for financial assistance to deal with the effects of a cyclone.
“We have an uncaring Executive that is a firm disciple of primitive and conspicuous consumption,” Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC party spokesman Jacob Mafume was quoted by news outlet Zimlive as saying.
This past Thursday, Kenya’s Treasury said the government is experiencing a serious cash crunch, and it will have to borrow more to offset some of its old debts and finance this financial year’s Sh3.02 trillion budget. Acting Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani told the Senate that the government is practically broke and is staring at a crisis of monumental proportions should senators reject a proposal to increase the debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion.
“If we are not guaranteed this amendment, there will be a crisis in the country, because we will not be able to implement this year’s budget. We will also be unable to do debt restructuring to retire some of the old and expensive commercial loans with interest rates of up to 9.5 per cent, which are choking our economy,” Mr Yattani said.
The request to Senate to push up the debt ceiling came just days after the government announced what it termed brutal austerity measures that would see it cut foreign travel and office operations in at least nine areas. In August, President Kenyatta made his 100th official trip since assuming office, when he visited Barbados, touching down aboard a Gulfstream luxury jet, according to a video record by BLP News.
On its website and brochures, Constellation Aviation describes the A318 as boasting “the widest and tallest cabin of any business jet”. In its ordinary layout, the plane can fit up to 200 passengers, but in its luxury kitting accommodates a maximum of 19. The luxury fittings on the A318 include an entourage lounge, a VIP dining area, a VIP lounge, a VIP bedroom and a private office.
The plane also boasts a surround sound system, a DVD player in each zone, LCD television displays, a satellite telecommunications system with seven cordless handsets, power outlets throughout all cabins, LED lighting system and dome ceiling lights in all areas, zonal temperature control, a luxurious VIP lavatory and high-speed internet.
President Kenyatta’s official government jet is an ageing Fokker 70ER, which is operated by the military. The plane, acquired in December 1995, was used by presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, but has a short flight range compared to the Airbus.
This is perhaps the reason the President has flown on commercial jets a number of times before.
The Fokker 70 is a medium-range airliner with a maximum flight range of 3,400km, compared to the Airbus A318, which has a flight range of 5,700km.
Of the 47 units produced by Fokker before it went bankrupt in 1996, only two are used by governments as official presidential jets – the one used by President Kenyatta, and another by the Myanmar Air Force.
While President Kenyatta has flown on commercial scheduled flights before during some of his trips abroad, these come with various security, privacy and convenience headaches for heads of state, which could explain why he sometimes opts to hire private jets.