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Rethink strategy of letting military personnel run civilian assignments

By The Standard | May 6th 2020 | 2 min read

After Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko agreed to transfer some county government functions to the National Government in February, beleaguered city residents sighed with relief. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s subsequent appointment of Major-General Mohamed Badi to head the Nairobi Metropolitan Services was a marked departure.

For years, Nairobi City has been crying out for a saviour. Many believed Badi had the magic wand to get the city, which has been dysfunctional in many ways, moving once again.

And why not; some even talked about him bringing “military precision” to City Hall known for sloth and a pervasive culture of fraud and bribery. So as city residents contemplate Badi’s posting, many will frown at the decision to second an additional seven soldiers to work alongside him at City Hall. One of them as the head is not a big deal; seven is cause for concern.

We cannot begrudge the soldiers the opportunity to serve in a civilian outfit- especially one that needs fixing and which apparently, has proved a hard nut to crack. Indeed, City Hall has a mountain of problems, but which don’t require military intervention.

The problems stem mainly from the political class seeing it as the jewel for gruelling political supremacy contests and where deal-making for lucrative tenders is the order of the day. Successful cities like London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Dubai are run more like business outfits rather than as politicians’ playground. So will the soldiers succeed where the politicians failed? Military personnel in a civilian role is akin to fish out of water.

So City Hall might prove a slippery terrain to officers used to a hierarchical structure with a top-down, orders-can’t-be-questioned modus operandi. We are not pessimists, but what if the officers were to flop?

What special experience will the military personnel bring to City Hall that civilians lack? The most likely reason for the secondment of the military personnel is that coming from the disciplined forces they are less likely to loot, have a better work ethic, are good enforcers of the law and are result-oriented.

There are many civilians who subscribe to these ideals and have better qualification. And let’s not be afraid that a civilian will loot, or laze around and not work. We have competent institutions to take action against graft suspects. The reason why Sonko has been charged in court.

Our Constitution never anticipated a situation where active military officers would run a county. But then, if the military men must run City Hall, it is only fair that they hang up their boots.

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