Kenya Defends Cost of Jet for President Ruto’s US Trip

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Kenya’s government has defended the cost of President William Ruto’s trip to the US.

The price of hiring the luxury private jet in which he and his delegation travelled is estimated to be $1.5m (£1.2m), according to Kenya’s private KTN TV station.

“The benefits from this visit far outweigh such a million times,” government spokesman Isaac Mwaura told the BBC, without confirming the cost.

More than 30 people, including a popular comedian, are reported to be accompanying the president, who landed in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday.

Mr Ruto is on a four-day visit at the invitation of his US counterpart Joe Biden. It is the first state visit by a Kenyan president to the US in two decades and the first by an African leader in 16 years.

He is set to hold talks with Mr Biden on Thursday, focusing on trade and security partnerships, including Kenya’s pledge to lead a multi-national mission to restore order in Haiti.

But some Kenyans have expressed outrage that he chartered an aircraft from the Dubai-owned RoyalJet company for the trip instead of using his usual presidential plane given his government’s austerity measures and the cost-of-living crisis.

It is not clear why the president opted for the private jet but there have been safety concerns about the usual presidential plane, known as Harambee One, which was bought nearly 30 years ago.

The US government denied reports that it had paid for the aircraft used by Mr Ruto and his delegation.

“Just to be clear: The United States of America did not pay for President Ruto’s jet to the US,” a spokesperson for the US embassy in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told journalists.

It comes amid anger over plans by the government to impose additional taxes, with Mr Ruto urging Kenyans to live within their means.

The cost of bread, mobile money transfers, airtime and data is set to go up as the government seeks to raise an additional $2.4bn in taxes in the financial year that starts in July.

Critics say the taxes are only helping to fund extravagance in government rather than improve public services.

Mr Ruto has made more than 50 visits abroad since he became president in 2022 – averaging at more than three a month.

Some belt-tightening initiatives have been implemented amid the criticism of what one presidential economic adviser admitted was the administration’s “itchy feet problem”.

Last October, the government suspended “non-essential foreign travel” in a move aimed at curbing runaway public spending.

All ministries and state departments were also directed to reduce their operational budgets by 10%.

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