Lately, there have been loud grumbling across the country over seeming militarisation of a hitherto civilian public service.
Many argue that President Uhuru Kenyatta is putting so many army men in positions of key and strategic sectors. Opponents of the move argue that the President is side-lining qualified civilians with longer experience in running such public projects.
At City Hall, the President appointed Major General Mohammed Badi to take over some of the roles Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was elected to do.
Other former military and National Intelligence Service officials picked by the President include Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Twalib Mbarak, Director of Immigration Services Alexander Muteshi and the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.
Muteshi replaced Major-General (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa who was moved to the State Department for Public Works while Haji replaced Keriako Tobiko who was made Cabinet Secretary Environment and Natural Resources.
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Those expressing fear of this seeming militarisation have every reason to be pessimistic. In a civilian democracy, there is a feeling that disciplined men belong to the barracks and everything must be done to keep them there.
But the very reasons that men and women in uniform are feared could be the motivation for us to embrace them in public service especially in a country like Kenya where positions of service are taken more as opportunities to plunder public resources and living large by those who occupy them.
In Nairobi, Governor Mike Sonko has been pushed to the cold by Major Badi’s Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and we are seeing results just months on.
On two occasions in a week, President Kenyatta accompanied Badi on inspection tours of city projects, a clear indication that the President is deeply hooked to the general’s charm that has seen projects completed in record time and with little spending.
Uhuru toured the NMS garage in Industrial Area where he flagged off 83 vehicles that were rehabilitated by the agency for Sh22 million. Two days later, he made an impromptu tour of a new NMS asphalt plant on Kangundo Road.
The blending plant, constructed in two months can produce 3,000 tonnes of asphalt per day, an amount adequate to pave three kilometres of road daily.
Besides the turnaround in the city, KDF has taken a hands-on approach in rehabilitating the Thika-Nanyuki and Nairobi-Kisumu railway lines, the port of Kisumu and restoring government vehicles and ships.
The military worked with the National Youth Service (NYS) and the Kenya Railways (KR) to rebuild the Thika-Nanyuki meter gauge railway by restoring the deteriorated embankment.
Part of the reason for involving the military in the infrastructure projects is the cost-effectiveness.
It is on record that the country saved billions of shillings by having the Navy repair the damaged Lake Victoria cargo vessel MV Uhuru and refurbishment of Port Victoria, which cost the military Sh250 million. Private contractors had quoted as much as Sh1.8 billion to repair the vessel.
It has also been said the country could easily bring down the cost of repairing the old railway line, estimated at Sh3.8 billion, by deploying KDF soldiers.
Maj-Gen Badi has appointed Maj-Gen (rtd) Andrew Ikenye as Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company chairperson. Now, water is flowing in pipes in informal settlements where not a drop fell in years.
Uhuru has entrusted the military with the task of ridding City Hall of corruption and cartels, and that can only be a good thing.
By constantly turning to the disciplined forces for officers to steer key projects, Kenyatta has shown his frustration at the manner in which things are done.
During a pass-out parade at the KDF’s Recruits Training School in Eldoret, the President listed the projects the military was involved in and expressed his pride at the armed forces’ contribution to the realisation of Vision 2030.
Last month, a directive was issued to the effect that that all State-owned planes would be placed under Kenya Air Force. The move followed reports of wastage in management of the aircraft.
Earlier, the president had also transferred the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) to the Defence ministry from the State Department of Agriculture.
Whichever way you look at it, the fact that all assignments given to army men and women are being implemented in a better, effective and faster manner means the President is right and should be encouraged to utilise the disciplined forces more.
-Mr Leo is a public policy analyst [email protected]