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President Uhuru Kenyatta's tough choices in Julius Karangi succession

By Kipchumba Some | March 15th 2015

The race to succeed Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen Julius Karangi is set to begin with his impending retirement in a month’s time.

Gen Karangi’s term expires on April 28 when he turns 64. He was born on April 28, 1951.

The Standard on Sunday has established that barely six weeks to his retirement, the National Defence Council is yet to meet to deliberate over his successor.

According to military rules, the CDF must retire at the age of 64 or after serving for a single term of four years, whichever comes first.
The rules are popularly known as Tonje Rules, after the reformist former Chief of General Staff, Gen Daudi Tonje, who pioneered the rules.

Previously, the CDF was to retire at 62, but this rule was amended by the Defence Council in the run up to the 2013 General Election.

Senior officers in the military said this decision was taken by the Council in the best interest of the country since Gen Karangi’s departure would have coincided with the political transition. The 2013 elections were conducted on March 4 and then President Mwai Kibaki who was also Commander-In-Chief of the KDF was not in the race. This meant that the country was going to have a new President and C-In-C.

The Tonje Rules also stipulated that Lieutenant-Generals and Major-Generals retire at the age of 58 and 56 respectively if they are not promoted to the next rank. The Defence Council did not change the retirement age of officers in the two ranks.

Gen Karangi was appointed by President Kibaki as CDF on July 13, 2011 and his term would have ended on July 13 this year were it not for the age limit. In December 2013 Defence Cabinet Secretary Rachel Omamo told the country that Gen Karangi would retire in July this year.

She said this in response to media reports to the effect that President Uhuru Kenyatta had extended Gen Karangi’s term for a year. She said the issue of term extension could not arise since Gen Karangi had neither attained the age of 64 nor had he served four years.

But in light of the age limit restriction, Gen Karangi can only retire in July if the President extends his term, which is within his powers as the Commander-In-Chief of KDF.

Section Five of the Armed Forces Act reads: “The President may appoint officers to be Chief of General Staff and commanders of each service of the armed forces.”

Section 241 of the Constitution reads in part: “The composition of the command of the Defence Forces shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya.”

According to military rules, the outgoing CDF is supposed to proceed on a three-month terminal leave before his actual date of retirement.

In this case, and going by the April 28 date, Gen Karangi should have begun his terminal leave on January 28 this year to allow for the picking of his successor.
Changes in the military is a lengthy process, but curiously, the Defence Council which recommends the promotion, transfer and retirement of officers is yet to sit.
Sources in the military who requested not to be named since they are not authorised to speak on behalf of the military, said the NDC would have met around December to approve Gen Karangi’s replacement.

The Defence Council is made of Defence Cabinet Secretary (Omamo), the Defence Principal Secretary (Mutea Iringo), the CDF (Karangi), Vice CDF (Lt Gen Samson Mwathethe), Army Commander (Lt Gen Samson Kasaon), Navy Commander (Maj Gen Mkala Ngewa), the Air Force Commander (Maj Gen Samuel Ng’ang’a Thuita) and the Assistant Chief of Defence Forces Personnel and Logistics (Maj Gen Samuel Wesonga Nandwa).

There are three top officers in line for Karangi’s job including his deputy Lt Gen Mwathethe and Lt Gen Jackson Waweru who heads the National Defence College.

Of the three Service Commanders, only Army Commander, Lt Gen Kasaon can be considered for the top job. The other two – Air Force Commander Maj Gen Thuita and Navy Commander Maj Gen Ngewa – are a rank below.

As a rule, the Army Commander is a rank above the two other Service Commanders.

However, the Tonje Rules recommend that the CDF position should rotate between the Army, Air Force and Navy. Gen Karangi is from the Air Force and his predecessor Gen Jeremiah Kianga was from the Army. Gen Kianga succeeded Gen Joseph Kibwana who was from the Navy.

And so if President Kenyatta follows this established protocol, it is the Navy’s time to produce the next CDF. Lt Gen Mwathethe comes from the Navy.

Gen Karangi and his three potential successors were appointed on July 13, 2011 and therefore by July this year, they will have done their mandatory four years in the same positions.

If the President decides to extend Karangi’s term, then it will mean that the four Lieutenant Generals will have to retire in July. The President, on the advice of the NDC, could also extend the contracts of all the top generals, a situation that would stifle the growth of other officers below them. The NDC could also go for the option of retiring some of the Lieutenant Generals and promote Major Generals to create a window for growth and continuity.

Lt Gen Kasaon (56) and Lt Gen Waweru (57) are within the age limit of the Tonje Rules, but The Standard on Sunday could not independently establish the date of Lt Gen Mwathethe’s birth although our sources said that he is also within the age limit.

His profile in the Ministry of Defense website indicates that he has served as Kenya Navy Commander, Deputy Kenya Navy Commander and Kenya Navy Logistics Commander among others.
However, the Tonje Rules are not always strictly adhered to and the President can extend the CDF’s term on the advice of the Defence Council. President Kibaki extended the terms of both Gen Kianga and Gen Kibwana.

Gen Karangi’s appointment was the first time a career Air Force officer had been named to head Kenya’s military.

Traditionally, the military chief has always come from the Army which is often referred to as the “teeth” of the military. That is why the Army Commander is always a rank above his fellow Service Commanders.

Barely four months after being appointed, Gen Karangi became the first ever head of military to lead Kenyan troops in foreign battle when KDF troops rolled into Southern Somalia in October 2011.

The incursion, codenamed Operation Linda Nchi, was aimed at driving back Al-Shabaab militants who had encroached on Kenyan borders and made several invasions on Kenyan soil before retreating to their bases in Somalia.

The military acquitted itself as a well-trained and well-prepared professional force during the operation. However, its image was sullied by UN reports that accused military officers stationed in the Port of Kismayu of charcoal smuggling.

The military also came under sharp focus following the Al-Shabaab attacks at Westgate Mall in September 2013 which claimed 67 lives. The military was accused of obstructing police efforts to battle the militants hence unnecessarily prolonging the hostage crisis for four days.

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