There is nothing unusual with military officers doing civilian jobs


President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 10th Celebrations in honour of KDF operations in Somalia, Kahawa Military Barracks, October 16, 2021. [Samson Wire, Standard]

There is growing rethinking about the military in the state. The old thinking has it that the military should be in the barracks waiting to repulse invading enemies. The advanced thinking sees soldiers as blending into society to ensure wellbeing and stability.

To Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi, the military has a mandate to “assist and cooperate with other authorities in the area of their competence" and use its capacity to help civilians because "security and development are intricately related.

Security can never flourish without development and development without security”. And the intricacy is big where the need is stabilising the country as opposed to fighting wars with other countries. The issue is not unique to Kenya.

The difference between the two views on the use of the military as national resource is philosophical. Should military personnel be trained and maintained to wait for external aggression that might never come? That is old thinking. Or should they use their capacity to help build the country? This is advanced thinking.

Japan’s National Defence Programme calls for the military to “respond to various kinds of situations like large-scale disasters and contribute to building a more stable security environment”.

The November 2005 American ‘Defence Directive’ stressed military responsibility to undertake missions when other organs lack ability to act. President Donald Trump made a habit of appointing retired military officers to civilian jobs. In Vietnam, the policy is for the military to be “ready for combat, for work, and for production”. Brazil adopted a policy of treating the military and civilians as equal citizens. In China, retired generals are often redeployed into research centres and other state organs to ensure continued contribution to society.

Military operators taking on civilian assignment is a 21st Century reality that intertwines national development with national security.

Blending civilian and military policymakers into cohesive entities is, therefore, advanced national security thinking which made General Daudi Tonje to push for the establishment of the National Defence College (NDC) as a top regional centre to train high level military and civilian operatives to ensure harmony in policy and decision-making on national matters.

The NDC has produced leading policy makers beyond Kenyan borders, mostly across the African continent. In Kenya, four of the NDC trainees ended up as Chief of Defence Forces, Kibochi among them.

Kenya’s growing number of retiring generals raises the question of how to use, and not waste, this national reservoir of talent, skill, and expertise. 

The military has always helped to deal with civilian challenges. Recent assertions make it to appear new and strange. Critics accuse President Uhuru Kenyatta of power grab through militarisation and inclination to ‘dictatorship’.

The accusation, focusing on the creation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services and the appointment of General Mohamed Badi, is politically misplaced. It ignores the fact that the military is highly productive within the Kenyan society.

The modern military has no choice but to conceptually and practically blend into the society. Funding the military remains necessary but since the nature of that necessity is shifting, public attitude on the military similarly needs to shift. 

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