Go eat cake.
This is the message by State House Chief of Staff Nzioka to Kenyans criticising President Uhuru Kenyatta’s foreign strips, despite the same government’s calling for austerity measures.
In a reaction to a story by the Star newspaper on Wednesday, October 30, Waita tweeted,” One of President Kenyatta’s duties as Head of State is to position Kenya as a force for good & a thought leader in the community of Nations. A duty he has discharged extremely effectively. Foreign travel to advance Kenya’s agenda and sphere of influence is simply part of the job.”
The Star reported that Uhuru has made 31 foreign trips since he was sworn in for his second term two years ago, raising questions about value for money.
In 14 months, the President has flown to more than 30 countries, including Russia, Japan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, South Sudan and the UK.
He is currently in Saudi Arabia for the Future Investment Initiative, from where he is expected to travel to Botswana for the swearing-in of President-elect Eric Masisi.
President Kenyatta travelled to 86 capital cities during his first term, in which he made 26 trips in 2015 alone.
Ironically, the President has been rallying the government to embrace cost-cutting measures especially by slashing expenditure on non-core budget items to tame the ballooning public sector wage projected to hit Sh760 billion this financial year.
There is also the value for money question.
Reports by the Controller of Budget in Parliament, show President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have increased their travel costs five times by March this year.
Last month, Acting Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani said in order to contain the resultant fiscal gap, the government had directed a freeze on non-core expenditures which include foreign and domestic travel and hospitality. The Presidency had gobbled up to Sh190 million in the nine months on travel.
In October 2016, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi said President Uhuru Kenyatta should account for his foreign trips since 2013. He was then nicknamed Kenya’s Visiting President due to frequent travels abroad.
DEFENDING UHURU’S TRIPS
Waita’s argument has been used before by Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma.
Presenting the ministry’s third quarterly press briefing in September last year, Juma said President Kenyatta’s foreign trips have helped project Kenya’s image globally and to promote the country as an investment destination of choice.
“Looking back to the last six years, I can confidently confirm that the high-level diplomacy paradigm has yielded manifold outcomes in three broad spheres; Kenya has established solid and productive relationships across the world – in Africa, Middle East, Americas, Europe, Asia and the other parts of the world,” Juma said.