Sunday crash brings politicians, State officials’ use of choppers under scrutiny
Posted Tuesday, June 12 2012 at 18:23
The growing use of helicopters for VIP transport, mostly among State officials and politicians in East Africa, will likely come under sharp focus following Sunday’s tragedy where two ministers died in a chopper crash near Nairobi.
The police helicopter crash that killed the Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, his deputy Mr Orwa Ojode, and four others in Kibiku area in Ngong forest sent shock waves across East Africa where this mode of transport is fast gaining currency within the top hierarchy of government, politics, and business.
President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka were among leaders who mourned the death as shocked Kenyans paid tribute to the dead, while lamenting the number of leaders dying in plane crashes.
Mr Kibaki announced three days of mourning and a public inquiry. The tragedy happened on the fourth anniversary of a similar one where a small aircraft crashed in Narok on June 10, 2008 claiming the lives of former Roads minister Kipkalia Kones and deputy minister in the Office of the President Lorna Laboso.
After the Narok crash, the government promised to review the VIP transport policy so that top leaders do not travel together in air.
The move was informed by other past plane crashes. A minister, two assistant ministers, and 12 other people — mostly MPs and provincial administrators — perished in two separate accidents in Busia and Marsabit in early 2000.
These tragedies will most likely bring more scrutiny into politicians’ preference of helicopters as the fastest means of transport.
The Ngong accident elicited furious reactions with people calling for a re-look into the safety and security of ministers and other top State officials using helicopters for their transportation.
Being an election year, most Kenyan leaders are currently involved in a contest in the skies, as they board helicopters and other light aircraft to crisscross the country in search of votes for the General Election scheduled for early next year.
Prof Saitoti, who served as vice president for a decade under former president Daniel arap Moi, had been campaigning for the presidency this time round and was using the ill-fated chopper to attend a church function, and later a harambee in Nyanza
In Tanzania, the use of helicopters has gained prominence among politicians, with competition rising between the elite of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi and opposition party Chadema.
Both CCM and Chadema have since the 2010 General Election preferred to use helicopters in their campaigns as the race to woo supports intensifies come each election. The trend was repeated in subsequent bi-elections in Igunga and Arumeru East.
No ageing aircraft
Unlike other accidents, the Ngong incident was not occasioned by an ageing aircraft.
Police said that the ill-fated helicopter was a few months old, having been bought from South Africa and delivered to the police force earlier this year.
The Kenya Police Air-Wing was the first in Africa to buy the model.