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Uhuru names Gen. Kibochi to take over from Mwathethe at KDF

By Cyrus Ombati | April 30th 2020

President Uhuru Kenyatta with the Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Gen. Samson Mwathethe (left) and Kenya Army Commander Lt Lt.Gen Robert Kariuki Kibochi in 2016. [File]

President Uhuru Kenyatta has appointed Lt.Gen. Robert Kibochi the Chief of Defence Forces taking over from Gen Samson Mwathethe who now retires after more than 42 years in the military.

Also promoted was Navy Commander Major General Levi Mghalu who was named Vice Chief of Defence Forces to take over from Gen Kibochi having been promoted toa Lieutenant-General. Maj-Gen. Jimson Mutai was named the new Kenya Navy commander (Designate) after being promoted from a Brigadier.

President Kenyatta announced the appointments today, saying the officers are expected to assume office under their new positions, on May 11, 2020.

There were speculations President Kenyatta, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces,  would extend Gen. Mwathethe’s term by another year.

Gen. Mwathethe got an extension last year in May. His predecessor Gen. Julius Karangi also got two extensions.

The Number One Board, the organ that decides changes in the appointment and promotion of senior military and possible retirement or extension of contracts of the Kenya Army, Kenya Navy and Kenya Air Force commanders, met today and made the changes.

They briefed president Kenyatta before he made the announcement.

He said the promotions are in line with the recommendation by the Defence Council.

He praised Gen Mwathethe for his leadership in the service, saying since his appointment, the military had seen significant expansion and enviable improvement in the defence capacity of the forces giving Kenyans the confidence that their borders are protected from any external aggression.

“During your tenure, we detected and expunged early enough a number of plans by those who do not mean well for our country in good time. You proved that you are not just a military man but a well-rounded person, with the capacity to provide quality leadership in other initiatives of national importance,” he said.

The council also promoted Maj Gen Albert Kendagor and appointed deputy commander Kenya Army, Brigadier John Omenda as Kenya Air Force Deputy Commander, Colonel Lawrence Gituma promoted to Brigadier and appointed deputy commander, Kenya Navy.

Brigadier William Shume was promoted to Major-General and appointed General officer Commanding Border Security Command while Brig Peter Njiru was promoted to Maj-Gen and appointed Commander, Kenya Military Academy.

Brig. Solomon Manambo was promoted to Maj-Gen and appointed Managing Director Ordinance Factories Corporation while Brig. Charles Kahariri was promoted to Major-General and appointed Senior Directing Staff, Maritime National Defence College.

Brig. Rashid Abdi Elmi was promoted to Maj-Gen and appointed Senior Directing Staff, Air National Defence College while Colonel Maroa Gati was promoted Brigadier and appointed the  Commandant Recruit Training School.

Col. Dr Milton Obilo was promoted to Brig and appointed Chief of Medical Services, Defence Headquarters.

Maj-Gen Thomas Chepkuto was sent to Super Pool while on secondment to diplomatic service while Brig. Joakim Mwamburi was posted to the School of Infantry and appointed commandant.

The KDF Act says a CDF, his deputy and service commanders shall serve a single term of four years or retire upon attaining the mandatory retirement age.

But the Act also says the President may, on the recommendation of the National Defence Council, extend the CDF’s term for a period not exceeding one year in times of war or emergencies like political uncertainty.

Mwathethe, a naval officer, was named the CDF on April 17, 2015, replacing Gen Julius Karangi from Kenya Air Force. This gave the seat automatically to Kenya Army.

Also, top in the list of those who were in line to succeed Mwathethe were Army commander Lt Gen Walter Raria, Lt Gen Leonard Ngondi, the force commander of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, Sudan.

Also n the line to the full General rank was National Defence College (NDC) Commandant Lt-Gen Adan Mulata, who was disadvantaged as he is from the Kenya Air Force.

Under the Tonje rules, the position of the CDF is rotated among the three services - Kenya Army, Kenya Air Force and Kenya Navy. The rules, by Retired Chief of General Staff Gen Daudi Tonje, have steered appointments in KDF.

There has been silent lobbying among those hoping to take over from Mwathethe.

The new CDF will oversee the transition from the Kenyatta presidency in 2022. And according to the Somalia transition plan, KDF is supposed to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country by 2021, which the new military boss will also oversee.

A General is supposed to retire at 62, a Lieutenant-General at 61, a Major-General at 59 and a Brigadier at 57 years.

However, the law puts a disclaimer on the General that: “The maximum retirement age shall be amended from time to time through legislation on the recommendation by the Defence Council.”

Leaves legacy

Gen. Mwathethe leaves the military with his head high knowing he has left a stable institution.

He rebuilt the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy of Kenya, which seeks to move the military from kinetic engagement to soft power.

Further, he introduced the concept of soft power in which the military is moving out to speak to radicalised youth and radical Muslim leaders about the dangers of violent extremism.

Mwathethe has held various command positions as the VCDF, Navy Commander, Deputy Navy Commander and Navy logistics commander.

In 2017, President Uhuru appointed him to chair the Blue Economy implementation committee.

Its mandate includes co-coordinating and overseeing the implementation of prioritised programmes and submitting monthly progress reports. 

Under his leadership, incidents of piracy were reduced at the Indian Ocean and the military expanded by constructing a number of support Units.

Modika barracks that has been under construction at Garissa and was commissioned in December 2019. The Barrack is home to 6th Brigade. In the same year, the Kenya Army established 17 Kenya Rifles a new Unit which received its Presidential and Regimental Colors during the Jamhuri day celebrations.

After he took over in 2015, insiders say he established new camps at various places and especially in Somalia to help in conducting patrols, assault, raids and other defensive operations to destroy threats of any nature.

Other officials within KDF under his leadership say he has managed to address the welfare issue of the officers and soldiers.

“He took upon himself and ordered any case of compensation be addressed almost immediately to avoid complaints from families.”

He joined the Navy in 1978 as a seaman and rose through the ranks to be the CDF. He trained in the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in the UK where he trained alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Blue economy

The activities of the Blue Economy include harvesting of living resources such as seafood and marine biotechnology, sea-bed mining, and generation of new resources such as energy and freshwater.

Kenya has only focused on fisheries both for domestic and export markets. In the last budget, Treasury allocated Sh575 million to aquaculture technology development as part of a strategy to revamp interest in the blue economy.

At the Mtongwe Naval Base, a slipway is under construction. The slipway is going to be amongst the largest in the Eastern coast of Africa. Upon its completion in 2021, the facility will enable Kenya to establish a niche in shipbuilding and maintenance in the region.

The slipway, a critical national infrastructure and a key flagship project under the Blue Economy roadmap, is expected to handle vessels with a capacity of up to 4,000 tonnes and measuring 150 metres high and 30 metres wide. The slipway will elevate the Kenya Navy as an industrialized entity in ship maintenance, repair and shipbuilding in the region.

The most popular of General Mwathethe led reforms is the creation of Compensation and Welfare Branch which was commissioned in 2018, with over 50 devolved centres across the military.  The welfare centres aim to address the challenges faced by serving and retired service personnel, those with disabilities, as well as families and dependents of deceased soldiers. The Centres have harmonized and made it easy for military families to access military related services.

To achieve holistic wellbeing of our soldiers who have been exposed to combat operations, General Mwathethe directed the construction of an ultra-modern Rehabilitation Centre at the Langata Barracks in Nairobi. This is the largest psychosocial health facility in Kenya. The Centre deals with cross-training of war heroes offers psychological counselling and psychosocial healthcare to those dealing with combat stress.

The General has also reached out to all retired General officers through the Defence Forces Old Comrade Association (DEFOCA) and initiated a program which aims at experience and knowledge share by retired general officers to military personnel studying various courses in KDF training institutions. This effort has renewed the spirit of comradeship and affirmed the place and role of retired military General Officers as stakeholders who should continue to offer. 

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