Probe Ruto's luxury jet trip, Azimio asks House

President William Ruto arrived in the United States for a 4-Day State visit on May 20, 2024. [PCS, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya wants a parliamentary inquiry into President William Ruto's Sh200 million luxury flight to the US.

Azimio is accusing the President of "wastage", amid clarification by the US embassy in Nairobi that the host did not foot the bill for Ruto's flight, which costs about Sh98 million one-way trip.

"Just to be clear: The United States of America did not pay for President Ruto's jet to the US," a spokesperson said yesterday.

The President, who is on a four-day State visit, left on Sunday aboard Boeing Business Jet, a 737-700, hired from Abu Dhabi luxury private airline Royal Jet Group. For every hour of the 18 he spent on the flight, Kenyans blew nearly Sh2.4 million.

The Opposition lawmakers now wonder why a country struggling with limited finances and barely managing the flood crisis that left many in need of aid would afford such a luxury. 

"As Azimio, we want a special committee established in Parliament to investigate the expenditures that went into hiring that expensive jet," said the Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo, calling out State House's extravagance as a mockery of the President's calls for austerity.

"It is disappointing that the Kenya Kwanza government can be this wasteful and insensitive to Kenyans."

His deputy, Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, said the committee must not "sanitise" Ruto as he said it did with the 'Hustler Jet' fiasco in 2014.

"If he is the hustler that he says he is and if he cares about this country, he should refund that money to the National Treasury because it was an unnecessary expenditure," he said.

As Deputy President in 2013, Ruto came under fire for hiring a jet at Sh100 million for a shuttle diplomacy tour of four West African countries.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna wondered why Ruto did not explore cheaper options for his trip.

"The President of Kenya has spent close to $1 million on a private jet, just to be in the US. This is happening at a time when the President is telling Kenyans to tighten their belts and live within their means. We are seeing the level of profligacy in this government. It was very possible for the President to be in the US at a fraction of the cost," said Sifuna, who faulted expenditure cuts in the school feeding programme at the expense of unnecessary luxuries.

The cost will cross the Sh200 million mark when Ruto's flight from Atlanta and the plane's return to Abu Dhabi is factored in. Judging by the size of the Kenyan delegation, the taxpayer should expect a sizeable bill from the four-day trip.

Ruto's entourage includes politicians, business people, aides and artistes in what is likely the largest delegation yet, a slap in the face of a presidential directive that limited the size of delegations to essential staff.

Among those in the entourage are First Lady Rachel Ruto, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha and Governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay) and Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos). Others are Majority Leaders Kimani Ichung'wah (National Assembly) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Senate), and comedian Edwin Butita, among others.

The trip has attracted a backlash from Kenyans online. A user on X, @Goddie-Ke, questioned why he did not charter a Kenya Airways plane.

"Kenya Airways has no capability to fly President William Ruto to the United States of America?" he said, arguing that a KQ jet would have helped promote the national carrier's brand during "such a televised visit".

Heads of State and governments across the globe are known to fly their national carriers on foreign visits.

KQ offers charter services, which would come cheaper. The airline also flies directly to the US, with a business class ticket only setting one back between Sh123,000 and Sh234,000 for a one-way trip.

Two hours after Ruto's departure, the KQA2, a Boeing 787, took off from Nairobi, heading to the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Ruto has been known to fly commercially although such travels pose logistical and security challenges, supporting a case for private travel among world leaders.

Kenya's presidential jet, the Fokker 70ER, more famous as Harambee One, can fly for more than five hours. It is, however, incapable of making a direct trans-Atlantic journey.

The Commander in Chief has used his presidential jet on several trips abroad such as last December's State visit to India, departing from Dubai where he attended the Cop 28 summit.

[Additional reporting by Emmanuel Too]