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Why President’s plane made U-turn to Nairobi

The unprecedented cancellation of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trip to the US on Thursday night may have been caused by bungled planning that forced the abrupt return home of the Head of State.

Sources familiar with the cancellation said that the necessary clearances to overfly air space in a neighbouring country may not have been sought.

The sources said when the President’s plane entered the foreign airspace, the air controllers were taken aback and opened communication with the aircraft.

It is not clear what transpired in the communication but soon after the President’s jet was making a U-turn for Nairobi.

The fact that the presidential jet is a military aircraft seemed to have complicated the situation, the source added.


State House was tight-lipped on the saga save for Friday’s terse statements announcing the return of the President and that he would not be making the trip.

Other sources attributed the debacle to the long-standing territorial dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea while the official State House version blamed the sudden turn-around on “heightened military activity in Yemen”.

The President was travelling to Dubai using his official jet on Thursday where he was supposed to connect to Los Angeles, US, by a commercial flight.

The explanation offered by the official communication channel appeared baffling because the war in Yemen has been ongoing for the last two months and the authorities in the troubled country reopened the airspace last week after a three-week closure.

Indeed a Kenya Airways flight to Dubai which left JKIA 15 minutes after the President’s jet made it safely to destination.

On Saturday, tough questions were being asked at top levels of government with those who sanctioned the flight and protocol people appearing to be on the spot.


“People will be called to account,” the source said.

“The situation is tense and nobody knows what might happen next.”

The Kenya Government has been fully aware of the war situation in Yemen and has been actively evacuating Kenyans living and working in that country, with some of those rescued from the conflict having arrived in Nairobi by air only last weekend.

A retired Kenya Air Force officer has disclosed that travel by the Head of State is meticulously planned beforehand and coordinated between the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This rules out the possibility that the team that handled President Kenyatta’s travel had no prior information about the situation in Yemen.

According to a retired officer, the President’s plane may have returned because of a diplomatic lapse or failure to follow the strict procedures demanded for military VIP travel.


“Flights by the President’s plane require strict coordination between the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he is a diplomat,” he said.

The President’s official jet, a Fokker 70, medium range jetliner, is managed by the VIP squadron of the Kenya Air Force. As Commander in Chief, whenever he is travelling by air within or outside the country, all the logistics are handled by this particular unit.

The President, who was travelling to Dubai using his official jet on Thursday where he was supposed to connect to Los Angeles, US, using a commercial flight, made a U- turn for Nairobi after covering almost half of the distance, citing navigation concerns.