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HomeNewsControversy Soars: Africa's 'Flying Presidents' Under Fire

Controversy Soars: Africa’s ‘Flying Presidents’ Under Fire

Controversy Soars: Africa’s ‘Flying Presidents’ Under Fire

After assuming the presidency, both William Ruto of Kenya and Bola Tinubu of Nigeria have encountered comparable criticism for their frequent travels overseas.

The pair have frequently been depicted in unfavorable terms, with their purported inclination for air travel frequently juxtaposed with challenging economic circumstances in their home country.

A Kenyan newspaper, the Standard, nicknamed Mr. Ruto the “Flying President”. It said “so great is his love for flying that it appears that he cannot pass up any opportunity” despite pressing domestic demands, such as dealing with the high cost of living.

Last month, as Mr. Tinubu made yet another trip to Europe, Nigeria’s opposition leader Atiku Abubakar said on social media that Nigeria does not need a “tourist-in-chief”. He criticized the president’s private visit “while Nigeria is drowning in the ocean of insecurity”.

In certain aspects, one might view this as a simplistic critique that could be easily raised by any critic. Presidents must participate in meetings with other heads of state and foster international relationships. This holds significance not just for diplomatic purposes but also for economic considerations, as it provides opportunities to negotiate profitable investment agreements.

However, it has been noted that during his six-year tenure, the former Tanzanian President John Magufuli did not undertake any international trips beyond the African continent.

‘Personal glorification’

Professor Macharia Munene, a Kenyan expert in foreign policy, recognizes the necessity of certain journeys but asserts that some are unquestionably deemed as “wasteful.”

“You have presidents who love to be in the air… Some of these trips are personal glorifications, not so much for the country,” he told the BBC.

Mr. Ruto, Mr. Tinubu, and their representatives justify their travels, asserting that these journeys are crucial in addressing the issues they are accused of neglecting.

Since assuming office eight months ago, Mr. Tinubu has embarked on 14 trips, averaging just below two per month. However, Mr. Ruto, who assumed the presidency in 2022, has surpassed this with approximately 50 overseas journeys, averaging over three per month.

Contrastingly, Mr. Ruto’s predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, maintained an average of slightly more than one international journey per month during his ten-year tenure, a pattern reminiscent of the travel frequency observed in the previous Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari.

Other global leaders have accumulated air miles as well, but Mr. Ruto and Mr. Tinubu consistently face scrutiny regarding the necessity of each of their trips.

In the concluding days of the previous month, both the leaders of Nigeria and Kenya were present in Europe. Mr. Ruto participated in the Italy-Africa summit held in Italy, whereas Mr. Tinubu extended his undisclosed “private visit” to France, marking his third visit to the country since May of the previous year. Following these events, Mr. Ruto embarked on additional journeys.

In June 2023, a mere three weeks into his presidency, Mr. Tinubu journeyed to Paris to attend a two-day climate summit. Several months prior, he had visited the city for relaxation and transition planning immediately after winning the presidential election.

He traveled from Paris to the UK for confidential discussions with his predecessor, who had similarly embarked on a trip for relaxation following the elections. A week later, Mr. Tinubu journeyed to Guinea-Bissau to participate in a West African bloc Ecowas meeting and subsequently visited Nairobi.

In August, he traveled to Benin, and in September, he visited India, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States for the UN General Assembly, then returned to Paris.

He spent the entire month of October at home before embarking on a journey that took him to Saudi Arabia, followed by Guinea-Bissau and Germany in late November. Just a week after that, he headed to Dubai.

The Nigerian government asserts that these journeys play a crucial role in drawing in foreign investments.

“On every foreign trip I have embarked on, my message to investors and other business people has been the same. Nigeria is ready and open for business,” President Tinubu said in his 2024 New Year message.

Since taking office in 2022, Mr. Ruto’s itinerary has become increasingly busy.

From September of that year until December of the same year, he undertook international travel a minimum of twice each month. In May 2023, he embarked on five journeys. His destinations included several African nations, Europe, and the United States, where he attended global events and engaged in bilateral meetings.

In January of this year, he visited Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Italy. Additionally, within the current month, Mr. Ruto has traveled to Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

There is not just the question of frequency, but also the question of cost.

According to a report by the Nigerian newspaper Punch, Mr. Tinubu is reported to have utilized a minimum of 3.4 billion naira ($2.2 million; £1.8 million) for both local and international travel during the initial half-year of his presidency. This expenditure exceeds the allocated budget for 2023 by 36%, as disclosed by GovSpend, a civic tech platform that monitors government expenditures.

In Kenya, the Controller of Budget, an autonomous body responsible for monitoring government expenditures, revealed a noteworthy rise in the travel expenses of the office of the president during the period up to July of the previous year. This duration encompassed nine months of Mr. Ruto’s presidency.


The total expenditure on both local and international travel in the year surpassed 1.3 billion Kenyan shillings ($9.2 million; £7.3 million), surpassing the travel budget from the preceding year by more than 30%.

The BBC’s inquiries about Mr. Ruto’s travels went unanswered by the Kenyan government spokesperson, despite frequent justifications provided by the president and the spokesperson.

Mr. Ruto has emphasized that his travels are not for leisure, stating that he doesn’t “travel like a tourist.” According to him, these trips are essential for attracting foreign investment and generating employment opportunities for Kenyans overseas. He recently reported securing over 300,000 job opportunities through his negotiations.

Following his recent visit to Japan, Mr. Ruto announced that he had successfully finalized agreements totaling over $2.3 billion.

While highlighting the advantages of presidential journeys, Nigeria and Kenya have also implemented measures to address the backlash against government officials traveling internationally.

Kenya has announced a 50% reduction in its civil service travel budget following allegations of excessive spending on both domestic and international trips. However, the president appears unaffected by this measure, asserting that he will continue undertaking trips as long as they contribute to the nation’s benefits.

In the previous month, the president of Nigeria declared a decrease of approximately 60% in the official travel delegation. The announcement, communicated by the president’s spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale, specified a reduction in the president’s accompanying travel team. However, it did not clarify whether there would be a reduction in the frequency of the president’s trips.

However, the issue of travel expenses is not limited to Kenya and Nigeria alone.

As the Congolese populace geared up for the elections last year, President Félix Tshisekedi faced criticism for the numerous journeys he had undertaken, with accusations that the outcomes were meager.

In November of the previous year, President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi temporarily halted all overseas travel for both himself and his ministers. He directed individuals currently abroad to come back, citing the economic challenges confronting the nation.

Since last year, Uganda, The Gambia, Namibia, and Sierra Leone have also faced the need to tackle government officials’ travel expenses, and the leaders of the latter two nations have been identified in this regard.

Controversy Soars: Africa’s ‘Flying Presidents’ Under Fire