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Uhuru Kenyatta extols KDF role in projects, security at farewell parade

President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour mounted by the Kenya Defence Forces at the Ulinzi Sports Complex in Lang'ata Barracks, during the farewell ceremony for the retiring Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. [PSCU]

The hurrahs echoed around the venue as the terraces full of soldiers took up the call to cheer President Uhuru Kenyatta, the outgoing Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). 

“Hip hip!”, the caller shouted into the microphone. “Hurrah!” the response came. The stands at Ulinzi Sports Complex at Langata Barracks vibrated.

The soldiers held their berets and ceremonial hats to their chests then held them out, bellowing. The spectacle on the field was a contrast to the gloomy and overcast Nairobi sky which looked like a gray blanket thrown over the red, blue and white of the ceremonial military dress.

From where Uhuru sat at the main podium, he was looking straight ahead at a banner that announced the event. It bore two of his images in full Commander-in-Chief mode. In one, he wore the ceremonial army red and black in the other he was in combat wear. He was saluting.

At that moment, as the military band played ‘Beating of the retreat’, the pictures were evocative - A Commander-in-Chief at the end of his service. First Lady Margaret Kenyatta shed a tear sitting beside Uhuru. The President himself chatted animatedly with her and Chief of Defence Forces Robert Kibochi.

Uhuru has undoubtedly been Kenya’s leader who was most attune with the military.

Some of the most enduring images of Uhuru’s tenure are of him dressed in military attire, a concept that was novel and which became almost expected of him in his decade in office. 

In his political base of Mt Kenya in 2016, these pictures of Uhuru in camouflage gear were a popular backdrop for pictures. Admiring Kenyans posed with the picture beaming with joy standing beside the lifesize picture.

Special magazine

These pictures pepper the special edition of Majeshi, KDF’s magazine, produced to celebrate his retirement.

On the cover, Uhuru saluted. Inside, he was photographed in Dhobley in Somalia deep in conversation with officers deployed in the African Union mission. Then he was firing a rifle in Samburu, admiring artillery, testing flight simulators, visiting injured officers in hospitals, or opening food processing plants and commissioning new constructions.

Under his command, KDF has become front and center of national development running entities such as the Kenya Meat Commission, Nairobi Metropolitan Services and others.

The military also made the largest steps yet towards modernisation and improved welfare. He oversaw the construction of hospitals, housing units, food processing plants, a university, and sports infrastructure.

This mainstreaming of the military has admittedly won him praise and criticism. His farewell met the grand standard with which it was billed. Perhaps because of how much Uhuru had given to the military. 

At 11.45 am, Uhuru’s convoy made its way into the venue. He rode into the venue together with the CDF as Maroon Commandos sang a rendition of Cherry Oh Baby.

This vehicle would later be pulled by senior military officers across the Department of Defence headquarters in an elaborate ceremony. His family followed the vehicle on foot.

Uhuru was accompanied to the ceremony by Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa as well as Monica Juma (Energy) and Raychelle Omamo of Foreign Affairs.  It was not a day for lengthy speeches. When Uhuru sat after inspecting a guard of honour, he was the main audience of an entertainment session by school students, military officers and choirs.

Yet the poems and songs and skits weren’t entirely without purpose. Students recited poems about travelling to Mombasa on the Standard Gauge Railway and imagining it was what London was like, about driving on the expressway. They praised the Competency-Based Curriculum too.

Military officers performed a skit that spoke to the operations of KMC, the shipyard in Kisumu, and gun assembly plant in Ruiru. They spoke about how Kahawa Garrison had become unrecognisable because of the developments Uhuru had brought. There were performances by the special forces of defence manouvers like against pistol attack, shoulder grabs, knife attacks, and choke holds; some of which the master of ceremony said later, the public really shouldn’t try of home.

Before the military gifted Uhuru, they played a documentary, a sort of highlight reel of Uhuru’s tenure.

The President’s booming voice played over footage of soldier on the battlefront in Somalia; modern equipment; officers in MRI machines - some of Uhuru’s legacy achievements in the military. If President Kenyatta’s was scratching his head over what he would do outside office, KDF gave him an idea. The outgoing president was gifted with two heifers, two goats and sheep and beef cattle from Pakistan. The livestock wasn’t at Langata, however. In place of them were framed pictures which were handed to Uhuru to marvel at. He was also gifted a golf kit which the military said would help him keep fit and make new friends.

Left-handed

But it became apparent immediately that Uhuru was not much of a golfer. When he was called forward to demonstrate he first had to decide which side to swing the club from - Uhuru is left handed. His first shot from the left was too short and barely left his feet. The second, from his right, was overpowered and flew out of the field into the steeple chase water pit. Then he rose to speak. But first, he asked for a moment of silence for the death of Queen Elizabeth of British. He spoke about implementing devolution, healthcare and infrastructure, all of which he said were possible because of security. The president observed that were it not for the seamless working relationship with the KDF, he wouldn’t have posted commendable achievements as president.

“The military’s commitment has been priceless in my quest to fulfill the Big Four agenda, as they have been instrumental in the actualisation of several government projects, including the construction of military and police hospitals where they offer specialised treatment to wananchi,” Kenyatta said.

He said throughout his leadership, he’s been a champion of women empowerment and gender equity. He said that in his Cabinet, he hired a high number of women as Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and Chief Administrative Secretaries.

At the same time, he said he promoted several women to senior ranks in the disciplined forces.

In his scorecard report, Kenyatta also said he invested heavily in security resources, much to the benefit of Kenyans. “With that (investment in the security sector), we ensured our national safety through your (KDF) efforts. The geostrategic military installations across the country have greatly improved the security of, not only Kenya but also the East African region,” he said.

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