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General Ogolla: First CDF to pass away while still holding office

National
CDF General Francis Ogolla. [PCS]

Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Francis Ogolla’s untimely death has shocked the country, not because he was one of the most protected public servants after the president but more for the kind of distinguished person he was.

He has been described as a brilliant and dedicated soldier who led from the front and became an example that was emulated by both his peers and those in junior ranks.

More shocking is the fact that many retired generals who served before him are alive, yet Ogola who has barely served for more than one year in the hallowed office is now gone.

Speaking after landing at Wilson Airport from Kabarak on Thursday where he attended the memorial service of June Moi former Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Defence Eugene Wamalwa said the country had lost not just a great soldier but a dedicated officer and a gentleman.

The fallen soldier was the Deputy Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces when Wamalwa served as CS for Defence in the Uhuru Kenyatta administration.

He was a beneficiary of the Tonje regulations developed by Kenya’s Chief of Defence forces Daudi Tonje who introduced rotational rules that guide promotion and retirement of senior military officers serving in different divisions.

Ogola’s predecessor Gen Robert Kibochi was a career Kenya Army soldier and so under the rotational rules, Ogolla who was his deputy, automatically qualified to ascend to the top because he was from the Kenya Air Force.

Ogola and Kibochi also set high academic standards because both were university graduates, the former a graduate of ÉcoleMilitaire de Paris and holder of a Masters of Arts degree in International Studies and the latter a PhD holder in peace and conflict management and a Masters of Arts degree in International Studies. 

During his term as CDF, no major breaches occurred along Kenya’s borders and no serious security threat was recorded in the country, apart from the banditry threats that largely lie under the purview of the Kenya police service.

Looking at the history of top military officers in the country, Gen Ogola became the first CDF to lose his life in the line of duty.

Those who served and retired peacefully from office, included Major General Benard Penfold, an English officer who served post independent Kenya as top military boss between 1966-1969 and then Maj-Gen Joseph Ndolo the first Kenyan native appointed by President Jomo Kenyatta in 1969  serving until 1971. Gen Ndolo was embroiled in a foiled coup plot and had to resign. The two star General, at the time the highest ranking officer in Kenya’s defence forces, was to later die in a road accident while in retirement.

Thereafter, all CDFs have been four Star Generals, the first who has remained the longest serving was Gen Jackson Mulinge 1971-1986, Gen Mahamoud Mohamed 1986-1996, Gen Daudi Tonje 1996-2000, Gen Joseph Kibwana 2000-2005, Gen Jeremiah Kianga 2005-2011, Gen Julius Karangi 2011-2015, Samson Mwathethe 2015-2020 and Robert Kibochi 2020-2023.

Wamalwa says apart from Gen Mulinge who died at the age of 90 while in retirement in 2014, the rest are still doing well. Only Ndolo died from unnatural causes -a car crash.

 “Thorough investigations should take place for Kenyans to know what happened because as you know the CDF is the most protected after the Commander -in – Chief,” Wamalwa told The Sunday Standard, as he expressed his sadness on what happened to Ogola, while also urging Kenyans not to speculate the cause of his death.

Indeed, President William  Ruto told Kenyans on Thursday evening that a special investigations team from Kenya Air Force had been constituted to investigate the sudden death of Ogola and nine other officers among them senior military officers.

Those who served with Ogola, recounted his efforts to not only bring peace within Kenya’s borders but also across the region and on the entire African continent.

Wamalwa also described his tours with the soldier not just across Africa but in Europe and other parts of the world where they worked in pursuit and promotion of regional, national and international security issues.

While Working as the Deputy CDF, Ogolla was the link between the military and the civilian side of the Defence Ministry, helping him engage civilian officers in completing many development projects they were tasked to accomplish.

 “He worked very closely with me and other civilian officers, and we traveled together, including in the Huey helicopter that crashed and ended his life. I can say he was Kenya’s finest with a very distinguished record of service,” added Wamalwa.

He was celebrated across the Africa continent and was also in charge of the amphibious landing by Kenyan soldiers when they attacked Kismayu in 2012 to liberate the town from the Al-Shabaab terrorist militia.

He led the operation on September 28, 2012 when at approximately 2:00 am East African Time, Kenyan Defence Forces and Somali government troops landed approximately six kilometres north of Kismayu, close to the main road to Mogadishu. Residents indicated that seven ships were involved in the operation that also included soldiers landing from the sea, land and air.

He was 62 years old and nearing his retirement. Under the Tonje rules, anyone above the age of 62 is ineligible for appointment as CDF and more importantly, anyone appointed CDF serves for a single term of 4 years. 

General Ogolla is trained as a fighter pilot, a special task where not many soldiers rise to the position he held because of the hands on task they are involved in and that is why many consider him a special soldier.

During his appointment, President Ruto praised his professional and academic success, saying: “I assessed the background, where you have come from what you have done, your journey in the military and I’m satisfied that you merit the office.”

Many senior security officers, among them provincial and district commissioners have in the past died in the cause of trying to stop banditry in the North Rift region.

Among them was former Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Ishmael Chelang’a, whose home conicidentally is only a few kilometres from where Kenya’s sitting four-star general met his untimely death in a helicopter crash.

Juma Chelanga, who was perhaps the highest ranking civil servant from the Marakwet community died with other senior security officers, while District Commissioner James Nyandoro also died in Suguta Valley after their helicopters were separately shot down.

Never before has the country lost its highest ranking military officer in the madness that the cattle rustling menace has been over many decades in the country.

Apart from thousands of innocent people among them children, their victims include senior civil servants and hundreds of police officers killed over the years when either pursuing the bandits or enforcing the law in those areas.

The chairperson of the parliamentary committee on defence Nelson Koech who spoke to Ogola on the eve of his death hopes that people in the conflict-ridden area will give a great honour to the soldier by stopping their criminal activities.

“We have lost a General trying to restore peace in that area, his life should not have ended that way. How many more lives must be lost for peace to prevail?” asked Koech.

 He recounted that 20 years ago the country also lost other senior officers and leaders among them Minister Bonaya Godana when another military aircraft crashed in Marsabit.

“True to his calling as a General and a soldier, he has given his last breath trying to restore peace, rehabilitate schools and to take back the displaced population to their homes,” added Koech.

General Ogolla was appointed CDF on April 28, 2023, by President Ruto. The General was sworn into office on April 29, 2023. Before his appointment, Ogolla was the Vice CDF.

General Ogolla who joined the military on April 24, 1984, rose through the ranks becoming a Major General and was made Kenya Air Force Commander on July 15, 2018.

Other key positions he held include Deputy Commander Kenya Air Force, Base Commander Laikipia Air Base, Commanding Officer of Tactical Fighter Wing, Chief Flying Instructor at Kenya Air Force Flying Training School and Operations Desk Officer at Kenya Air Force headquarters among others.

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