It’s Official. We’ve Got A Jet-gate.

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It’s Official. We’ve Got A Jet-gate.

The President, “His Friends” and A Private Jet

This is not a witch hunt. We open with this disclaimer because two things happened yesterday which were meant to put what had not yet become a full blown jet-gate to rest. The first one was an off the cuff remark made by President William Ruto at the altar of the 21st National Prayer Breakfast in Nairobi – maybe being in a prayer-setting did the trick – where the President confessed that the private jet in which he had travelled to the United States during his recent state visit had been given to him by ‘‘some friends of mine’’, who apparently charged him less than ten million shillings for the jet even after the President offered to pay a maximum of twenty million shillings.

The President went ahead to volunteer more information – speaking with a cheeky ‘gotcha’ grin, as if to say to his detractors ‘‘you have nothing on me because I haven’t spent the millions you are accusing me of splashing on the jet’’ – revealing that when his handlers told him it would cost seventy million to charter a jet, he had immediately asked them to book for him and his entourage seats on the direct Kenya Airways flight to the United States.

But then, according to the President’s narration, the moment ‘‘some friends of mine’’ heard a whole President of Kenya was going to fly commercial, they quickly intervened and asked the President how much he was willing to pay for a jet. The President said twenty million max. ‘‘Some friends of mine’’ said they’ll take half of that. That’s how Kenya saved millions of shillings, in the President’s thinking.

Fair enough.

Later on, State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohammed released a statement on X, reiterating the President’s sentiments from earlier in the day, revealing that the President’s ‘‘some of my friends’’ are indeed the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some spin and spice was added to the Spokesperson’s communique, inferences of a ‘‘historic and successful State Visit’’ popping up, coupled by a whole load to this, that and the other on donations of military choppers from both the UAE and the United States. OK then. We are grateful.

However, knowingly or unknowingly, President William Ruto, and by extension his communication teams at State House and elsewhere in government, have succeeded in doing one thing so spectacularly with every word they’ve uttered regarding the jet. Every time they’ve spoken, the President and his men have proven that queries regarding this particular jet should not be treated lightly – going by the casual manner in which Kenyans were raising the issue – but that indeed serious attention should be given to the matter since we could be looking at a scandal of monstrous proportions here, a jet-gate. 

First it was the President’s ‘‘it was cheaper than KQ’’ tweet, then came Government Spokesman Isaac Mwaura ‘‘hayo maswali ni ya kipuzi sana’’ blunder, followed by the President’s we’ve-got-connections reveal yesterday, capped by Hussein Mohamed’s terse yet heavily defensive two-pager filled with detailed of military helicopters more than details exonerating the President from jet-gate.  

This fumbling, gaffing and fidgeting by the President and his men, including the President’s ‘‘this debate must end’’ instruction yesterday as regards jet-gate, all point to the need for even more questions, because this is only what we know, what about what we don’t know?

For starters, how did the government of the United Arab Emirates (if indeed they are the ‘‘some of my friends’’, because they may not be 😅) get hold of the specific details of the President’s travel plan? Were these shared casually, or is the President in the habit of sharing such information with his friends, who are now, we suppose, friends of Kenya, before the friends can casually offer the President free lunch? 

What are the protocols for presidential travel, and how many friends of Kenya need to have them – these details about how the President of a sovereign state is travelling the world – and what does this do to Kenya’s national security, leave alone the President’s personal safety?

Geopolitically, where does the President accepting such favours leave Kenya? Does it mean Kenya now owes the United Arab Emirates, and does it mean that Kenya has no choice but to comply when the time comes for the UAE to seek to cash such a cheque?

There are even questions as to who within government – the ministry of foreign affairs, and the executive office of the president, and the national security apparatus – was in on the conversations between the President and ‘‘some of my friends’’, and were these conversations government to government or friend to friend, and where does the government to government relationship start and friendship begin?

And, did the jet really, like really, come from the government of the United Arab Emirates? And if it did, why didn’t the President and his men issue a comprehensive statement as soon as murmurs began about whose jet it was that the President was travelling on? 

Kenya, therefore, is looking at jet-gate, the scandal of the President handling state affairs as if they are discretionary and subject to personal relationships (proof needs to be given as to how these conversations and negotiations were state-sanctioned and not casual, backroom talk which may compromise national security and Kenya’s geopolitical interests and standing), and inside his house, the President is looking at a communication-gate, where he and his men have walked into, if not manufactured a scandal, eyes wide open.

Parliament, and other institutions of accountability, should act.

PS: But then the leader of the minority in Parliament, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, was part of the President’s entourage to the United States, and may be conflicted since he travelled on jet-gate 😅.

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