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Kenya buys 12 US helicopters amid rising concern, hue and cry over public debt

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Kenya is set to acquire six new US-made light attack helicopter gunships in a multi-billion shilling deal that is being closed in the middle of severe austerity, an international arms magazine has said.

The planes are part of the $253 million (Sh25 billion) arms deal that Nairobi signed with Washington and got the United States Congress approval in May last year.

UK-based defence magazine IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly says in its latest edition that the six MD Helicopters Inc (MDHI) MD530F Cayuse Warrior scout and light-attack platforms will be delivered between April and August next year.

WAR AGAINST TERROR

The contract, which Arizona-based manufacturer MD Helicopters announced last Thursday, covers half the 12 helicopters that were approved by the US State Department in May 2017.

The Kenya Army said it plans to use the choppers against Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants and in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

The deal includes 12 MD530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters, machine gun pod systems, rocket launcher systems and assorted ammunition.

The new arms acquisitions signal President Uhuru Kenyatta’s resolve to continue upgrading Kenya’s military capabilities despite his recent push for austerity that last month shaved off Sh34.33 billion from the development budget.

READ ALSO:   Uhuru named UN global youth champion

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, has in recent years suffered deadly gun and bomb attacks from the Al-Shabaab militants who are demanding withdrawal of Kenyan troops from the Horn of Africa nation.

Kenya does not make public its military purchases and only Parliament is mandated to scrutinise expenditure by key security organs.

The US manufacturer’s contract notification for Kenya says the helicopters will be fitted with enhanced firepower, including the FN Herstal Weapons Management System, the DillonAero Mission Configurable Armament System (MCAS) and the DillonAero fixed-forward sighting system.

Besides, the planes have a 62mm ballistic armour protection, FN Herstal 12.7mm HMP 400 machine gun pods and M260 seven-shot pods for 70mm rockets.

Kenya is procuring the MD 530Fs to replace existing MD 500 platforms that are flown by the 50th Air Cavalry Battalion and constitutes the core of the reconnaissance equipment supporting ground forces.

Afghan Air Force has used helicopters that are similar to the six Kenya is about to acquire under the proposed deal. The efficacy of the gunships was, however, questioned last year, according to an interview in the New York Times.

Afghanistan’s most decorated pilot, Colonel Qalandar Shah Qalandari, was quoted as saying, among other things, that the helicopters “cannot reach areas where Taliban insurgents operate from because they cannot cross the mountain ranges that surround Kabul.”

READ ALSO:   I'm embarrassed, says Kenyatta as he refuses to read his speech

“If we go down after the enemy we’re going to have enemy return fire, which we can’t survive. If we go up higher, we can’t visually target the enemy. Even the guns are no good,” he said of the planes.

US Defence Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA) had, however, said earlier in a May 2, 2017 statement that the helicopters will go towards helping Kenya “modernise its rotorcraft fleet in order to improve border security, undertake operations against Somalia-based jihadist group Al-Shabaab and contribute to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).”

Kenya has consistently upgraded its military hardware in recent years, raising its spending on the armed forces to Sh96 billion in 2016 to stand above neighbouring Ethiopia and Uganda combined, a global report said.

Nairobi’s arms orders, which have stoked fears of an arms race in the region, last year included a second-hand naval gun, AK-630 30mm, from Montenegro “for modernisation of Jasiri OPV (offshore patrol vessel)”.

Besides, the Kenya Defence Forces last July received the last two of the eight Bell Huey II helicopters it ordered from the US to reinforce its air assault capability against terrorists.

Jordan, a long-time seller of arms to Nairobi, last year also donated two second-hand AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters to Kenya.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Nasa backs Uhuru Kenyatta's 8pc fuel tax with conditions

Under the earlier US deal with Nairobi, the 12 MD530F weaponised helicopters were to be supplied together with 24 heavy machine gun pods, 24 HMP400 machine gun pod systems, 24 M260 rocket pods and 4,032 M151 high-explosive rockets.

The planes were also to be fitted with 1,536 M274 smoke rockets, 400,000 rounds of .50 calibre ammunition and communications/ navigation equipment.

Kenya was also to get logistics support, training and technical assistance, spare parts and field service support and special assigned airlift mission (SAAM) flight delivery under the deal.

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CNN’s Richard Quest speaks on being gay during Nairobi tour

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CNN anchor Richard Quest has opened up to being gay and has urged Kenyans embrace same sex relationships.

Quest was on Tuesday interviewed by Capital FM where he explained that he chose to live in New York and London because they have no restrictions on who one chooses to love.

They are both cities that people in this country can admire, would aspire to be in and would look forward to visiting. There is a reason why I live in those cities…There is a reason why those cities attract the talent and wherever because we can live our lives as we wish. We can love who we wish,” he said.

The journalist said Kenya should embrace same sex relationships to allow people to live and work freely and compete with other nations.

DECRIMINALISE HOMOSEXUALITY

I am obviously going to be advancing an agenda that says there should be at least the decriminalization of same sexual activity. It is straight forward, I am not gonna mess around with that one. That is obviously my belief…I do not for a moment, doubt the sincerity of those people who are against me on this issue.

And I can respect their point of view, I merely say that in this day and age, if you want to succeed, if you want Kenya to be a thriving, vibrant modern economy, you are going to look at this in a different way and ask yourself what is it about these very successful places that we need to at least try to attract. That is the way you do it. You let people live their lives, love who they want and the way they wish,” he said during the interview on the morning radio show.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Uhuru lays wreath on the grave of Dr John Dube

The CNN anchor had back in 2014 opened up his fears before coming out, wondering how it would affect his family and friends, his credibility as a journalist and how people will view his ‘Quest Means Business’ show.

“All in all professionally, I know the work I do here every day is better because I’m honest about who I am,” Quest said in his show.

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Your Kenyan passport will be invalid from September 2019

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You will not be able to travel with your passport after October 2019, the Department of Immigration has said.

Dr Dan Opon, the Senior Assistant Director of Immigration said on Monday that the current Kenyan passport will expire on September 1 so Kenyans should acquire e-passports by March next year.

“No country will accept the current passport from September next year,” Dr Opon said when launching a new report on free and safe movement in East Africa.

Dr Opon said the department has started implementing the announcement President Uhuru Kenyatta made last year.

“The government’s efforts to promote regional integration by opening up territorial access to migrants is evidence of our position and commitment. To this end, the Department of Immigration is developing a National Migration Policy framework and has harmonised classification of work permits and encourage free movement of persons within the East African Community,” he said.

The government is also establishing the National Coordination Mechanism on migration. It will serve as a forum for all migration stakeholders, ministries, the academia and the civil society to engage with bilateral and multilateral partners on promoting safe and orderly migration in the region.

The government is also working in partnership with the University of Nairobi to develop a curriculum for a post-graduate diploma that will be launched in November.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: I thought Uhuru would receive me at the airport, says Raila

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda developed a coalition of the willing that allows citizens of the three countries to travel using their national identity cards.

Dr Opon noted, however, that a single visa territory within the East African Community remains elusive because the harmonisation of immigration practices and policies is yet to happen.

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CNN’s Quest ‘more than impressed’ in Nairobi

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Gliding into Nairobi’s airport early on Monday morning, the first thing I noticed was the light. Even over the terminal buildings, it was just gorgeous. I was back in Africa.

Almost immediately, my reasons for coming were further reinforced.

Yes, there were queues at immigration, but no more than one might find during a busy period at JFK or Heathrow.

Perhaps it felt a little chaotic, with some confusion in arrivals about where exactly passengers should go and what was required of them. But overall it worked. The staff was excellent and determined to help.

The building was modern, clean, attractive and made sense. The lines outside for taxis and Ubers were neat and orderly.

Of course, once I began my journey into the city by road, the cliche of traffic-clogged streets revealed itself to be true.

At one point I was able to hop out of the car to stretch and remove my jacket, with no fear whatsoever that my driver would gain more than a few inches of ground on me.

As we reached the city centre, that cliche was overtaken by something else though: a sense that Nairobi’s citizens take pride in their home.

The flowerbeds and neatly trimmed trees, the new roads, the signs, the general respect for other road users. There is something both gentle and genteel about it.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Nasa backs Uhuru Kenyatta's 8pc fuel tax with conditions

We spent the afternoon in Karura Forest. If you wanted something to underscore this sense of pride you would be hard pushed to find a more pristine example.

Here is a park that rivals New York’s Central Park, London’s Hyde Park, or Sydney’s botanic gardens.

Of course I discovered Karura’s remarkable history, learned about its sometimes checkered, shady past, the land grabbers, and the ultimately successful campaign to save it for the people. But more than that, I saw a place that Kenyans have taken to their hearts. This is a place that is ring-fenced, literally and figuratively, for ordinary Nairobians to enjoy. We saw couples hand in hand, joggers, women walking alone. We also saw wildlife, different species of monkey, all kinds of birds, all around us. It was safe, spotlessly clean, peaceful and completely beautiful. All this, just minutes away from the city centre.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this. Our guide told us that 37,000 people visited Karura last month. I can see why.  I’m more than impressed.

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