President Uhuru Kenyatta was last night forced to cancel his business trip to Los Angeles, United States of America, after a routing blunder of his trip nearly sent his military jet to the raging war zone on the skies over Yemen.
According to State House, the President’s jet was forced to turn back and return to the country minutes to midnight when the pilots realised they were flying Kenya’s Commander-in-Chief right into a battlefield with dozens of exploding missiles and bombs.
The President was scheduled to go through Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates to catch a direct flight to Los Angeles, for the 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference – touted to be a major business event in the government’s bid to woo investors.
“The plane did not make it to Dubai. Following reports of increased military activity in Yemen, there was a challenge on the routing leading to a decision to turn back. The plane carrying the President touched at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 11.42 pm,” said the President’s Spokesman Manoah Esipisu.
Hours later, State House circulated a statement to newsrooms confirming the President had cancelled the trip.
“This is an addendum to the statement issued earlier regarding the President’s planned visit to the US for the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. The President will no longer be making the trip,” said Mr Esipisu
When The Standard on Saturday pressed Esipisu about the failure of the handlers of the President’s itinerary to take note of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen in planning the trip, he said the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) will be in the know. “Ask the airports people what happened,” he said when asked why there was no prior protocol checks on the route.
The details of the high-level blunder came at a time when reports were filtering that the official script of the “heightened military activity” over the Yemeni airspace was simply a diversion of the true reason.
Informed sources familiar with aircraft routes, said President Kenyatta’s military jet could have been turned back on the skies over Eritrea, in what is turning out a clear escalation of the diplomatic bad-blood between the two countries.
“The President’s plane was forced to return, after it was detected in the Eritrean airspace without prior clearance. They were told to either land or return. The plane was flying over the Eritrean airspace without authorisation,” said a source within the security forces.
A decision to take a turn, said credible sources, was favoured over touching down in Eritrea with the President on board.
The source in government questioned why the President’s itinerary was planned the way it was, considering that just a few days ago, he had flown to Jordan, without any hitch.
“What is surprising is that the pilot has just used Jordan route a few days ago, why would they fly the President through a volatile flight path. The flight planning is made way in advance,” the source said.
Saudi Arabia jet fighters have been pounding Yemen to defeat the Houthi rebels.
The cancellation of the crucial trip has put the President’s handlers at State House, within the Kenya Air Force and at the KCAA on the spot for failing to map out a secure air corridor. They have also pointed accusing fingers at bureaucrats at the ministries of Transport, Foreign Affairs and Defence for the mishap that exposed the President.
Incidentally, although the President returned to the country barely five hours after take-off, it took State House spokesperson almost 12 hours to tell the President slept at his house in Nairobi.
Security experts and analysts Francis Maina and Mwenda Mbijiwe are emphatic that “someone slept on the job”. “When a high-profile person like the President is travelling, the security agencies and the aviation department must do an advance surveillance to know the safest route. The flight planning and flight path must be clearly established beforehand,” Mr Mbijiwe told The Standard on Saturday
He added: ”The route marked should avoid the war zones as much as possible. There can be the danger of fire or even missiles. The KDF commanders should take responsibility for failing to scrutinise the President’s flight path resulting in the hitch.”
Mr Maina noted that flights leaving Nairobi to Dubai go through Ethiopia then Saudi Arabia because Yemen is risky, with five different groups fighting including Al-Qaeda, the president should have flown directly to Europe to avoid these inconveniences.
“His officers and the intelligence team should have surveyed the route. There is a serious threat using Yemen route, which is 100km on the gulf of Oman. Once again, his team has let him down.”
Centre for Policy and conflict, Executive Director, Ndungu Wainaina charged: “The President has security advisors who cannot guarantee even his own flight security. This is not just incompetence and dereliction of duty. It is demonstration of the depth of crisis in President Kenyatta’s Government. This is very disturbing.”
Mbijiwe, despite acknowledging that KDF has the right to keep the President’s journey secret for security reasons, said it should have co-operated with their counterparts from other airspace to know the situation.
“Even in protecting the life of the President and ensure his safety, by attempting to fly over the volatile Yemen airspace, it means they didn’t consult or seek clearance. Going by the Ukraine experience where the white widow ordered the plane to be shot down, KDF should not have taken any chances,” he said.
He continued, “If commercial flights fly 30,000 feet above and they are allowed to fly over the Yemen airspace, the fighters can just use rocket high caliber missiles to bring down a plane. It is amazing that commercial flights have be banned yet the president was scheduled to fly through this route, what if the terrorists spotted it and brought it down?”
The latest development exposes the lapses within the president’s security and advisory team in coordinating State House activities with other institutions.