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William Ruto: The flying president

Politics
 President William Ruto with Amb. Meg Whitman and executives from Nike, GAP and Levi Strauss, at the company's head office in San Francisco, United States. [PCS]

From the time he was sworn in on September 13 last year, President William Ruto has spent one in every five days outside the country as he seeks to affirm Kenya’s place on the global front.

Out of the 407 days that President Ruto has been in power, he has spent 83 days out of the country visiting over 45 cities in 38 countries.

Ruto made his maiden trip out of the country when he attended the State funeral of Elizabeth II with African Heads of State.

Some of the countries Dr Ruto has since visited are Belgium, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Germany, Israel, Mozambique, The Netherlands, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and Zambia.

He has made three trips each to Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, United States of America and two trips each to Burundi, France and the United Kingdom.

His trips to the US have been to attend the 77th and 78th sessions of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The President is keen to leverage on Kenya’s geo-strategic position to boost her say on the global front.

However, as he globe-trots, governance issues continue to pile up at home, the latest being the quandary university students are finding themselves in after the Ministry of Education revised the funding model he oversaw that will make even the most vulnerable pay a percentage for tertiary education.

Also in the minds of Kenyans is the high cost of living that has been aggravated by the recent increase in fuel prices. All these, coupled with the billions spent on the trips, have raised the eyebrows of commentators.

Uhuru trips

Dr Ruto’s predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, visited 53 countries during his 10-year tenure, comprising 151 trips including 20 to Addis Abba, 11 to Kampala, 10 each to Tanzania and Rwanda, seven to the United States, six each to South Africa and the United Kingdom and five to Zambia.

Uhuru’s favourite destinations were Belgium, China, France, South Sudan and the island of Barbados, where he visited twice each.

During the first term alone, the former president travelled to 86 capitals, with the year 2015 being the busiest with 26 trips overall.

In the first 135 days, President Ruto made a comparable number of foreign trips with his predecessor. Between September 13, 2022, when he was sworn into office as Kenya’s fifth president, and January 23, 2023, Ruto had made a total of 12 trips. That period is roughly 133 days. On the other hand, Uhuru made 12 trips abroad between April 9, 2013 and August 20, 2013, a period of 134 days.

The head-to-head comparison, however, shows that Dr Ruto has made more trips outside Africa than Mr Kenyatta in the same period.

In his 10-year presidency, the third president, the late Mwai Kibaki, made 33 trips.

According to National Assembly Chair for Defence and Foreign Affairs Nelson Koech, every single trip the President makes works to the interest for the country.

“The President has held several meetings abroad and that has unlocked a lot of investment. You hardly can quantify the impact of the bilateral agreements he has signed which are worth billions of shillings in new investments,” said Mr Koech.

He argued that Dr Ruto, in just one year, had managed to put Kenya on the global map as a serious world player in terms of investment, security, peace and a strategic partner pushing African and indeed global issues.

In Africa, Mr Koech said the president had affirmed Kenya as a serious world player in investment of the continent's security and peace

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

Moderation was also necessary, according to Mr Mutoro, because the risk was for the president to miss some of his duties in the country.

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

During President Kenyatta’s first term, reports by Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo indicated that the amount spent on travel by the president and other government officials had ballooned by Sh6 billion over a three-year period.

Travel by government officials pushed the cost of domestic and foreign travel 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.

There has been debate that Ruto’s trips abroad and talks in the global arena have positioned him as the foremost African diplomat.

In most of his trips, the president has not only championed the country’s interests but also those of Africa, helping him stage a Pan-African renaissance and talking tough to the Western world and its institutions.

Political analyst Martin Wandati notes that Ruto had managed to once again jump-start the African dream pursued by the late Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.

Africa champion

“Ruto has come out very well in championing Africa's interests and it seems that his speeches resonate well with the continent and beyond if Paris speech is anything to go by. The late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli was another Pan Africanist but not much travelled,” said Andati.

But critics argue that the president’s foreign affairs policy is interesting, if not confusing, simply because the Western envoys were cosy with State House when his speeches were advocating for de-dollarisation.

“Ruto has done everything asked of him by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank by taxing Kenyans to death and removing subsidies, but on the world stage, he is against the financial system embodied by the same Bretton Woods institutions,” wrote a Kenyan, Kachwanya, on X, formerly Twitter.

He argued that when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations condemned Russia with a speech that brought tears to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and Ukraine supporters, but then when Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed in Nairobi, he was treated like a rock star.

On Tuesday, President Ruto jetted in from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he attended Future Investment Initiative at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Centre, and also held bilateral talks with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

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