Friends helped pay for private jet - Kenya leader

Kenyan President William Ruto speaks during a luncheon hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris at the State Department on Friday afternoon in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2024.
William Ruto's use of a private plane to the US has continued to attract criticism [Reuters]

Kenya’s President William Ruto has said that the private plane he used to fly to the US last week only cost about 10m shillings [$73,000; £60,000], following criticism that he was being extravagant.

He said “some friends” of the country offered it at that price when he had opted to use the national airline to save money.

He said there was “no way” he could have spent about $1.5m – the figure that was reported to have cost to hire the Boeing 737-700 VIP plane.

“I am not a mad man," he said, speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast event in Nairobi on Thursday.

But the remarks have provoked more backlash, with some Kenyans online asking who the friends are.

In a statement later in the evening, the presidency said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had offered to help pay for the jet.

"This is how nations operate, supporting and partnering with each other for mutual prosperity," it said, citing other donations that the UAE and other countries have made to Kenya, including military vehicles and aircraft.

Mr Ruto went to the US last week on a three-day official state visit - the first such trip by an African leader in more than 15 years.

While he was there, Kenya secured a number of investment deals worth billions of dollars.

After returning to the country, the president defended himself against concerns over the cost of the trip, saying the luxury jet he had used was cheaper than the national airline – without disclosing the amounts.

Criticism continued, with some questioning his statement and others saying that he should have used Kenya Airways.

On Thursday, the president explained that he was told that the cheapest plane would cost about $530,000 and he instructed his office to book Kenya Airways for himself and his entourage of about 30 people.

But when some friends heard that he was going to travel on a commercial flight, they asked him how much he was willing to pay for a hired plane, he said.

“We have built a big reputation as a country and we have built friends… I said I was not ready to pay more than [$153m]. They said bring [$73,000] we'll give you the plane,” the president explained.

He insisted he was not going to allow misuse of taxpayers' money. “I must lead from the front as I tell others to tighten their belt, mine must be where it begins”.

“So relax and the debate must end,” he said.

But the debate has not ended and some Kenyans online are asking whether it was appropriate to accept the offer.

“If it was a gift from an external source, it comes with some geopolitical implications. No free lunch,” said Mwangi Maina.

The continued row over spending by the government has come amid concerns that the government has been using taxpayers' money to fund extravagance - which officials have regularly denied.

Since coming to power in 2022, Mr Ruto has raised several taxes and imposed new ones, angering many Kenyans.

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