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King of the Sky: Ruto splits time between Kenya and abroad down the middle

Politics

 

 President William Ruto, and First Lady Rachel Ruto arrive at the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Washington, D.C for a recent State Visit on May 22, 2024. [PCS]

He is not “the flying president” for nothing. President William Ruto has been to more countries than the number of months he has been president.

In the 21 months he has been the president, Dr Ruto, who has visited 36 nations, appears eager to claim the record of the most foreign trips made by a sitting president. 

With 63 trips under his belt, whatever the record may be is bound to be shattered by the man who can hardly resist the chance to hit the skies. If he maintains the pace, the Head of State could make 180 international trips by the time he completes his first term in office in 2027.

That is assuming that he averages the three foreign trips a month he is currently on. It is almost certain that he will cross the 100 mark soon, even if he chooses to slow down in the run-up to the next presidential election.

Four years as a traveller would see Ruto make nearly 144 foreign trips. That would place him within touching distance of the 151 foreign trips former President Uhuru Kenyatta made during his tenure. Ruto is almost doubling the 33 by the Uhuru’s predecessor, the late Mwai Kibaki in his 10-year term in office.

Ruto departed Nairobi for Apulia, Italy, on Thursday evening to attend the G7 Summit and will later fly to Switzerland to attend the first Summit on Peace in Ukraine.

Shake off jetlag

The president has hardly had time to shake off the jetlag from his recent four-day  visit to South Korea. He barely rested from his State visit of the United States, a week earlier.

For months, some Kenyans have ridiculed Ruto for his love for flying, labelling him “a tourist” and chided him that his official residence was the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and not State House.

Many on social media have joked that he only returns to Kenya to freshen up before resuming his excursions. Since January, Ruto has travelled out 19 times (20 by tomorrow), which maintains his monthly average of three tours. 

He looks set to surpass the 35 trips he made last year. In his first three months in office, Ruto was abroad nine times. The president favours Tanzania and Uganda, where he has been six and five times, respectively.

Ruto has made four visits to Ethiopia and the US and three to France. He has travelled twice to some 10 foreign nations and once to 21 others.

His travels have made sure the president spends lengthy periods abroad. Within a month, Ruto will have, by tomorrow, spent 14 nights on foreign soil, meaning that he has split his time between Kenya and abroad down the middle. The figure excludes the nights that find him in transit.

Ruto flew to Rwanda on May 17, later spending five nights in the US and four in South Korea. The days spent abroad are longer. Since January, Ruto has been outside the country for 37 days, out of a total of 167. In the 21 months of his presidency, Ruto has spent nearly 148 days in foreign nations.

Secure investment

Under fire for his foreign tours, Ruto has defended them as essential, arguing that they were worth every coin they gobbled up as they were meant to secure investment and export of labour, among other benefits.

“I travelled with a plan. I am not a tourist,” the Head of State said at the height of criticism last December.

Before every trip, State House spokesperson Hussein Mohamed issues statements that enumerate the benefits of the visits, a move that essentially serves as a justification for the globe-trotting.

“At the G7 Summit in Apulia, Italy, President Ruto will emphasise the importance of involving African countries in processes aimed at finding solutions to global challenges, such as climate change and conflicts. He will also highlight Africa’s potential for green industrialisation, digital revolution, and innovation. Additionally, he will underscore the need for reforms to achieve a fairer international financial system,” Mohamed said about Ruto’s latest trip.

Indeed, the nation has reaped from some of the president’s visits. For instance, Kenya secured Sh1 trillion in commitment for investments during Ruto’s State visit to the US. Mohamed said the Seoul tour aimed to “review the progress of the Sh132 billion Framework Arrangement partnership agreed upon” in 2022.

But the hefty costs of footing the president’s tours have often overshadowed their alleged importance.

“What official duties does he go to perform abroad?” poses Bernard Muchere, a certified fraud examiner who served as an internal auditor at the National Treasury and who uncovered corruption scandals such as the Sh5 billion Ministry of Health scam.

“When he says he is looking for money, what money is he talking about? He cannot go around borrowing against the Constitution, which requires all borrowing to be in the budget. He can’t be signing loans, which are only negotiated by accounting officers,” adds Muchere. 

Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o recently reported that the government splurged Sh5 billion on foreign travel in the first nine months of the current financial year.

That is despite an austerity directive by the Commander-in-Chief, known for his taste for the finer things, opting for high-end flights. Last month, he had to defend his decision to charter a private jet for his US visit, which costs more than Sh200 million for a return flight. Ruto said that the United Arab Emirates, who he described as “friends”, had paid for the flight.

Since a damning expose about the flight’s details by the Standard, Ruto now conceals details of the planes he flies to foreign nations. He no longer shares his boarding or arrival images and opts to post photos of government officials seeing him off at airport terminals.

It is unclear whether Ruto flew a chartered plane to Italy, with unconfirmed reports suggesting he did. His presidential plane, Harambee One, KAF 308, has been at the JKIA since Thursday evening. When he travelled to Italy in January, Ruto took his presidential jet, a Fokker 70 (Extended Range) twin-jet fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks to fly longer than the four hours a normal Fokker 70 would fly.

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