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Kenya Airways suspends employee for video-recording Chinese plane landing in Nairobi amid coronavirus scare

By East Africa correspondent , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenya's national carrier, KQ on Thursday suspended an employee for recording a disembarking Chinese plane in Nairobi, a decision that triggered a massive backlash on social media.

Gire Ali, who works with the Kenya Airways, was suspended by the management for allegedly recording the plane at JKIA, a letter secured by Garowe Online shows.

The China Southern airline plane cruised at East Africa's largest airport, JKIA on Wednesday, carrying 239 passengers, including the crew, officials said.

But a video making rounds on social media immediately ignited fury Kenyans, who accused the government of "ignorance" given the coronavirus pandemic in China.

Without taking responsibility, KQ however, suspended the employee on Thursday, in connection to the viral video, a letter written to him confirmed.

"You are suspended from duty with effect from 27 February 2020 in accordance with the provision of clause 16.5 of the Company Hit Policy Manual," read the letter from Human Resource, adding that active Investigations have been launched.

Throughout his suspension, Mr. Ali will be required to report to his seniors whenever needed but will be paid all his salary in the process.

"You are therefore required to remain contactable and within easy reach during the period. Also note that the suspension will be on full salary,” Evelyn Munyoki, the manager in charge wrote.

Since the outbreak at the Chinese city of Wuhan, coronavirus has killed over 2,800 people, with over 80,000 infections also reported, Chinese officials said.

There have been positive incidents of the virus in Africa as well, with Egypt, Algeria, and Nigeria recording the cases, BBC reported.

Suspension backlashes on social media

However, KQ could be a pain to explain their unprecedented decision, following massive condemnation from among Kenyans, who sympathized with the victim.

Leading lawyer Ekuro Aukot termed Mr. Ali's acts "heroic", accusing the government of endangering "lives of 48 million people" by allowing Chinese into the country.

Mutula Kilonzo Jr, a senator in Kenya, called for the promotion of the employee and subsequently, asked the government to "sack" his boss.

"Under Art 232, this patriot should be promoted and his boss fired. This order will be reversed by any Court," Kilonzo said, adding that "public interest" comes first.

"Suspend Mr. Gire Ali? He is a mere whistleblower. Now our hero. Kenya Airways, yours is the wisdom of fools," tweeted Boni Khalwale, a former senator.

Mr. Ali is yet to prescribe his next course of action against the national carrier, but pundits believe he can easily be reinstated by the courts.

But on his Twitter account, he was quick to pay tributes to Kenyans, saying "thanks everyone for standing with me and my family".

Airline suspends flights to Nairobi

Law Society of Kenya, the body that brings together lawyers, along with three other people, moved to court to push for the suspension of Chinese flights to Kenya.

In their application, the applicants termed the flights as "risk" to Kenyans, arguing that continued accommodation of Chinese passengers is "catastrophic".

Makau Mutua, a High Court judge in Nairobi, suspended the flights for ten days to allow for inter-parties hearing, which is slated next week.

“Upon perusal of all petitions and prayers sought, I find that unless a conservatory order is issued, Kenyans will be exposed to the deadly disease,” said Justice Makau.

But in a quick rejoinder, the Chinese embassy in Nairobi suspended the flights, in compliance with the court order, and subsequent decrease of passenger flow.

"China Southern Airlines has made necessary adjustments by suspending flights connecting Guangzhou, Changsha, and Nairobi until further notice," read the notice.

China is a major trade partner of Nairobi and is credited for funding mega projects such as multi-million Standard Gauge Railway, which eases transportation between Mombasa and Nairobi.

Government's response to Coronavirus scare

Visibly under siege following the entry of the Chinese plane in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta responded on Friday by constituting a national response committee.

In an executive order, Uhuru asked the 21-member committee to ensure completion of the city's Mbagathi hospital in seven days, as part of the preparation for quarantining suspected patients.

“Kenya is a major international transport hub, with 70 percent of international passengers in transit, and there is a significant threat arising from the spread of the coronavirus to Kenya from countries that have new and ongoing outbreaks of the pneumatic disease,” he said.

The committee will comprise of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Health and Communication ministers, who will report directly to State House on preparedness, Uhuru said.

However, it's not clear whether or not the government will obey the court order by searching and quarantining the Chinese nationals who landed on Wednesday, at various KDF facilities.


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