Five members of the US Congress are urging the Kenyan government to reconsider a proposed sh43 billion purchase of 12 armed aircraft and related elements intended for use in Somalia against Al-Shabaab.
Four Republicans, joined by a Democratic member of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested on Tuesday in a letter to Nairobi’s envoy to Washington that the potential deal appears to be a bad deal for Kenya.
The lawmakers told Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae that they “have reason to question the propriety of the acquisition.”
At the same time, the congressional sceptics are urging their colleagues to block the proposed transaction. They are also calling on Congress to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kenya’s pending agreement to buy a dozen armed Air Tractor AT-802 aircraft, two trainer planes and technical support and programme management services from L3 Technologies.
FAR LOWER PRICE
The five congressmen said in their letter to Ambassador Githae that L3 “has no experience converting agricultural aircraft into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft with precision-strike capability.”
“One aspect of his process that concerns us,” the US House members added, “is whether any misrepresentations about capabilities have been made.”
A different company with proven experience could provide Kenya with field-tested aircraft and related elements at a far lower price, the congressmen said.
“Spending sh43 billion of Kenyan national funds on aircraft that could be acquired for over sh20 billion less from a company that has years of past performance and an existing production line is not an optimal allocation of scarce defence dollars,” Ambassador Githae was told.
The alternate company, which goes unnamed in the letter, is IOMAX USA. It is based in a part of the state of North Carolina represented in the US House by Congressman Ted Budd, the leader of the effort to halt the proposed deal with L3.
“We believe Kenya would benefit by exploring its options in regard to this acquisition,” Mr Budd wrote in a letter also signed by Congressman Sanford Bishop, an African-American Democrat, and three Republicans: Walter Jones, Jeff Duncan and Mark Meadows.
“We ask that the government of Kenya take these facts, in particular the prospect of an ongoing congressional investigation of this sale, under consideration as it decides whether or not to proceed with this arms purchase.”
James Braid, a senior aide to Congressman Budd, said in an interview on Tuesday that the type of converted agricultural aircraft manufactured by IOMAX has been used to drop at least 2000 bombs on Islamic State targets in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Those attacks were carried out by the United Arab Emirates, which purchased 48 of the planes from IOMAX, Mr Braid noted.
Kenya’s proposed deal with L3 has been approved by the State Department, which declined to comment on the five Congress members’ allegations. The process for finalising a deal under the US Foreign Military Sales programme also involves a 30-day review by Congress. That period came to an end last Sunday without any formal expression of opposition to the proposed Kenya-L3 agreement.
But Mr Braid says the deal can still be blocked if Congress supports Mr Budd’s call for an investigation. The US government’s executive branch, headed by President Donald Trump, could also intervene to halt the sale, Mr Braid noted.
TRANSPARENT BUYING PROCESS
US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec has defended the propriety of the process whereby an arms sale to Kenya would be made.
“The process underway is transparent, open and proper,” the US envoy declared in a statement issued last Saturday. “This potential military sale would be carried out wholly in keeping with appropriate laws and regulations.”
No deal would be concluded, Ambassador Godec added, until the Kenyan Ministry of Defence receives “a detailed US government document that will clearly describe each item to be purchased and service to be provided along with an estimated cost.”
Kenya can then negotiate a purchase price, he said.
Kenya will thus have “the opportunity to review the offer line by line and make a final determination on the Air Tractor aircraft package,” Ambassador Godec stated.