Controversy as Gachagua opts for commercial flight amid military chopper ban

DP Rigathi Gachagua capitalised on the moment to interact with ordinary Kenyans as he boarded the KQ flight. [DPCS]

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s decision to opt for a commercial flight to Mombasa has laid bare the simmering tension within the ruling coalition, Kenya Kwanza.

In a much-publicised flight on Tuesday, Gachagua was captured on camera walking through the alleys of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at around 4 pm pulling a blue suitcase with no security aides on sight.

Gachagua flew to Mombasa to attend the international scientific conference, currently ongoing, where he is the chief guest.

A rare sight for passengers, the DP capitalised on the moment to interact with ordinary Kenyans as he boarded the KQ flight. But this was no ordinary gesture. 

A few days ago, Defence CS Aden Duale announced that politicians would not be allowed to use Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) aircraft and it now appears that the DP might have just become a casualty.

The event, set for Wednesday, June 12, 2024, at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel in Mombasa County, began on June 10 and will run until June 14.

Speaking to The Standard, Gachagua's head of communications Njeri Rugene intimated that this was no big deal and that the DP was simply using the national carrier like any other Kenyan. "Isn't KQ a national carrier?" she quipped.

The conference will explore Kenya’s local pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, offering insights into advancements in self-sufficiency, the impact on healthcare, regulatory challenges, and successful strategies.

Gachagua's shift follows last weekend's tense travel where he had to charter a plane to accompany President William Ruto to the Annual Akorino Conference in Nakuru.

Gachagua arrived an hour late to the Nakuru event in what was attributed to bad weather causing a delay that saw him arrived after the President Ruto had already settled in the service.

He arrived at the moment when the Akorino leaders were praying for the president. Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika, who sat beside Ruto, was forced to moves seats to accommodate the DP in line with protocol.

Addressing the delay, Gachagua explained, “Mr. President, first of all, I want to ask for forgiveness from you for coming late. I am not an undisciplined person. I was a uniformed officer, and in your government, I am the most disciplined person.” He further detailed the logistical challenges, stating, “I delayed leaving and was stuck between Longonot and Naivasha for almost two hours before I could get here.”

Gachagua’s use of a commercial aircraft comes a month after the Defence Ministry banned politicians from misusing military helicopters. This is after the unchecked use of military aircraft by non-security personnel, which strained key security operations, which now rely on a limited number of helicopters.

Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale announced on June 1  that military helicopters would no longer be accessible for politicians' use. “We have a policy: we are not going to carry politicians anymore. Helicopters are meant for specific functions within KDF, they are part of our assets in safeguarding the country," he said.

The decision makes it difficult for Gachagua to use any government aircraft since the establishment of the National Air Support Department (NASD) at Wilson Airport in Nairobi allowing KDF to manage government aircraft.

Duale, speaking recently on media, emphasized that the decision seeks to reinforce the importance of reserving military assets for security purposes.
However, he noted that only Interior CS Kithure Kindiki and himself would be exempt from the new policy when conducting operations in the North Rift region or other insecure areas.

“When I’m going for an operation, I’ll use military assets. Even my colleague, the CS for Interior, if he’s going to the North Rift or a place that is not secure, he will also use our assets,” he said.

Despite public appearances of unity between Gachagua and Ruto, insiders suggest a brewing rift within the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). Gachagua’s allies claim this is the third instance where he has been denied military aircraft access, fueling speculation about his relationship with President Ruto.

On June 1, the Deputy President had to hire a commercial plane to attend the 61st Madaraka Day celebrations in Bungoma, after being denied military transport in what was attributed to "bad weather." Gachagua has remained steadfast in his push for regional solidarity, despite calls to cease his efforts. He has reiterated his commitment to uniting the people of Mt. Kenya.

Following the Madaraka Day celebrations in Bungoma, Gachagua returned to Mt. Kenya, where he continued to emphasize the need for regional unity.

At a Mugithi event in Nanyuki town, which featured artists from across the Mt. Kenya region, Gachagua, speaking in his mother tongue, asserted that the region had been infiltrated by traitors aiming to sow seeds of discord among its people.

“It cannot be that Rigathi Gachagua will work alone, as if he's in government alone. When your members of parliament come to your constituencies, ask them where they stand on our unity and the sharing of resources through the one man, one vote, one shilling formula,” he said.

Gachagua has stuck to his plan to unite the people of Mt. Kenya, despite growing criticism from his opponents.