By: DAVID OKWEMBAH
_: The recent trip by US president Barack Obama to Kenya and Ethiopia is expected to have cost American taxpayers up to Sh8 billion, according to security experts and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.
Air Force One, the President’s plane, costs Sh21 million ($210,000 for each hour that it is in the air, according to the most recent estimate from Fiscal Year 2015, verified by NTUF.
“The President’s trip to Africa has taken him to Nairobi, Kenya from Andrews Air Force Base, and on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia then back to D.C. for a total flight time of 29 hours, at a cost of $5,983,773 ( Sh609 million)”, NTUF said in its estimates of the costs incurred by Air Force One alone.
There were also heavy expenses to secure the US president immediately he entered the Kenyan airspace last Friday up to his departure from Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
Besides Air Force One, Obama had at his disposal in Kenya his two Marine One helicopters, two Cadillac limousines nicknamed The Beast. An additional 50 to 60 limousines were flown in for American personnel. Obama was traveling with 20 Congressmen as well as US National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Eight V22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft formed part of Obama’s security detail and flew in from their base in Djibouti. Several smaller Apache attack helicopters were also spotted flying with the Ospreys last Saturday and Sunday.
The entourage that accompanied Obama also required accommodation and per diem catered for by the US government.
The Department of Defence sent an estimate 800 personnel to Nairobi because of the potential security risks. The White House, State Department and US Congress sent another estimated 400 staff.
Nairobi hotels including Kempinski, Sankara, Norfolk, Inter-Continental, Crowne Plaza and Windsor were block booked to accommodate the American visitors and support staff. These hotels cost at least US $300 (Sh30,000) per night
The cost for one week of accommodation for the 1,200 people accompanying Obama could easily have reached $2.5 million or Sh250 million.
“While flight costs can be estimated, the rest of the expenses associated with travel, including security, lodging, food, and more, not just for the President and Air Force One, but additional staff and airplanes, remains opaque,” concluded NTUF study author and policy analyst Michael Tasselmyer.
The Kenya police service mobilised an estimated 10,000 officers to ensure that Obama’s visit ended without any security hitch.
Kenya deployed the elite Recce squad and 2,000 GSU to work with and support American Secret Service agents. The United States reportedly paid Kenya Sh2,400 per day for each of the 2,000 GSU for three days which comes to Sh14.4 million.
American security expert Andrew Franklin estimates the total cost of Obama’s trip to Kenya and Ethiopia at between Sh6 billion and Sh8 billion.
“This is consistent with the last trip that Obama made to sub-Saharan Africa with his family which cost between $80 and 100 million”, Franklin stated.
In 2013 Obama, his wife and two daughters travelled to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and support staff.
Military cargo planes ferried at least 56 vehicles including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the Obamas stayed. Fighter jets flew in the air space above the First Family to provide round the clock protection.
A similar scenario was replicated last week in Nairobi and Ethiopia. When Obama flew last Sunday from Kasarani to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to depart for Addis Ababa, his Marine One helicopter was escorted by five other helicopters for the 15 minutes flight.
Security experts put it as a routine procedure for an aircraft carrier to be “within reach of the US president while traveling in a foreign country like Kenya”.
If a US navy aircraft carrier was on standby in the Indian Ocean, it would have further increased the cost of Obama’s visit to Kenya.