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By Bernard Namunane, Aggrey Mutambo and Samwel Born Maina, FRIDAY, APRIL 24, 2015, The Daily Nation (Kenya)
President Kenyatta’s trip to the United States was cancelled last evening hours after his plane turned back to Nairobi on Thursday night following heavy fighting in Yemen. The jet, which is operated by the Kenya Air Force, had left Nairobi around 8pm destined for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where Mr Kenyatta was to connect a flight to Los Angeles for a conference. The plane had to turn around in Ethiopian airspace following information that the fighting in Yemen had intensified, making it dangerous to fly over the country.
“Following reports of increased military activity in Yemen, there was a challenge on the routing, leading to a decision to turn back. “The President touched the ground at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 11.42pm,” said State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu, who was also aboard the plane. Before the cancellation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had told the Saturday Nation authorities were looking for other possible routes. “All options for travel will be looked into (but) Dubai is out now because that will mean going through Yemen,” a statement from the ministry said.
However, a few hours later, State House issued a statement announcing that the President “will no longer be making the trip’’.
It has been the tradition for the Head of State, whenever travelling out of Africa, to use the short-range jet to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, from where he takes a commercial flight. The President was to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference, which will bring together experts to seek ways of overcoming challenges in financial markets, health, government and education. He was seen off at the airport by Deputy President William Ruto, Chief of Defence Forces Julius Karangi and the latter’s successor-designate, Gen Samson Mwathethe.
But as the Air Force plane flew over Ethiopia, halfway through to Dubai, the captain was told by air traffic controllers that it was not safe to proceed. On board were the President’s Private Secretary, Mr Jomo Gecaga, his doctor, Mr Esipisu, four bodyguards and the Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Saudi Arabia has been leading an Arab coalition carrying out air strikes in Yemen to halt the advance of Shi’ite rebels known as Houthis.
Kenya last week evacuated its first batch of citizens who had been trapped there. With the fighting, the airspace has become unsafe. Yemen is also thought to be the base of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Meanwhile, Cord leader Raila Odinga left yesterday for a week’s visit to China, where he will attend a congress of top Chinese entrepreneurs in Beijing. He will address the main session of the meeting, his spokesman, Mr Dennis Onyango, said in a statement.