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President Uhuru’s foreign trips that cost billions hit a century

By Jacob Ng’etich | Aug 18th 2019 | 4 min read
By Jacob Ng’etich | August 18th 2019
President Uhuru Kenyatta is received by Sudan Special Envoy Kalonzo Musyoka and Sudanese leaders at the Khartoum International Airport for the signing of a deal on a transitional government, yesterday. [Denis kavisu]

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trip to Barbados saw him cross the 100 mark on official trips to foreign countries eclipsing the 33 trips made by his predecessor Mwai Kibaki during his two terms in office.

Uhuru last week came back from a six-day trip in the Caribbean states of Jamaica and Barbados, just two months after returning from Canada where he had gone to attend the 2019 Global Women Deliver Conference.

And yesterday, Uhuru was in Sudan to witness the formation of a transitional government.

In the trips across the globe, Uhuru has gone to over 45 countries including several trips to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan, and the United Kingdom. During the first term alone, President Kenyatta traveled to 86 capital cities with 2015 being the busiest with the president making 26 trips.

Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, UK, China, Rwanda and Somalia were the president’s favoured destinations. He has visited Addis Abba, Ethiopia’s capital 14 times in seven years, followed by nine trips to Kampala, Uganda; eight visits to Kigali, Rwanda including one just last month. He has been to Tanzania eight times as well.

The countries which he has visited only once include Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Cuba, Djibouti, Germany, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Morocco, Namibia, Qatar, Russia, Sudan, Togo, Turkey, UAE and Mozambique.

Others which he has visited twice include Angola, Belgium, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Ghana, India, Italy, Nigeria, the United States and Zambia.

Economist David Ndii said it would not be easy to measure if the trips were beneficial to the country unless an evaluation is done.

“It can be a good thesis for someone studying international relations, you need to know the agreements that made the access to market among other things to be able to gauge,” Ndii said.

Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK) Secretary General Stephen Mutoro said there was a lot of positives including bilateral agreements and fast-tracked trade deals which are in most cases beneficial to the country.

Moderation was also necessary according to Mutoro because the risk was that the president would be missing some of the duties in the country.

“Much as there several benefits, the cost of the trips are also depressing and burdening the country, we need to have a lean team accompanying the president on his trips,” Mutoro said. “Plus there is need to ensure there is value for money in the travels.” 

Reports by Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo indicate the amount spent on travels of the president and government officials had ballooned by Sh6 billion over a three-year period.

Shuttle diplomacy

Travel by government officials pushed the cost of domestic and foreign travels from Sh9.3 billion in 2013-14 to Sh15.4 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, according to a report by the Controller of Budget.

Observers claim that several domestic and foreign trips by VIPs, including their hangers on, are costing the country billions of shillings cumulatively and continue to burden Kenyans.

The president has already made 15 foreign trips this year.

On Friday, National Treasury and Planning Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani in a Gazette Notice indicated that the presidency would receive about Sh9 billion for the financial year 2019-2020, Sh8 billion more than what Kibaki received in his final year. 

The shuttle diplomacy for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), then Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed’s candidature for the African Union commission chairperson and the charm offensive to ward off crimes against humanity cases at the  International Criminal Courts (ICC) could have pushed up the president’s trips outside.

The recent trip to the Caribbean states could be seen as part of the lobbying for the non-permanent membership of the UNSC.

Last year, Kenya declared interest in the council and the Cabinet endorsed the decision to seek the position.

Cabinet granted approval for Kenya to vie for a non-permanent membership of the UNSC for two years (2021-2022) during the 74th session of the UN in 2020.

The quest for the non-permanent membership of the UNSC set President Kenyatta into a frenzy of shuttle diplomacy that started last year immediately after the Cabinet approval. The UNSC has 15 members: five (China, France, Russian Federation, UK and US) are permanent and 10 are non-permanent and are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.

During his first term, President Uhuru was on a charm offensive due to the ICC case, and thus several government functionaries made trips to different countries.

In 2013 and 2014, he visited Ethiopia and over 20 other countries as part of endearing himself to the globe. Efforts to have Ms Mohamed win the AU commission chairperson post saw the President and his deputy William Ruto stage a rigorous campaign in 52 African countries.

Investment opportunities

Mohamed, however, lost to Mahamat Faki, who replaced South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma has in the past defended the president’s travels by saying his foreign trips were a boon to the country since Kenya gets trade and investment opportunities and better ties with the rest of the world.

“In the Cuba trip between March 14 and 17, for instance, the president struck a deal for deployment of 100 Cuban medical specialists to Kenya’s public health facilities who are now working in different 47 counties,” Ms Juma said.

Prof Macharia Munene said, in overall, the trips are beneficial to Kenya. “There are certain things an ambassador cannot achieve and the presence of the president opens those doors,” Prof Munene said.

He said every trip Uhuru has made has been followed by an influx of trips by other leaders to Kenya, and that is an indication that his trips make an impact.

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