Pageantry as KDF gives Gen Mwathethe farewell salute after 42 years
By Rawlings Otieno | May 9th 2020
The curtain finally fell on Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Samson Mwathethe’s career after 42 years of service.
The Navy officer who joined the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in 1978 as a recruit before steadily rose through ranks to be appointed CDF in 2015 retired yesterday with the respect and honour of his men and women.
The ceremony to bid farewell to a CDF is an elaborate long-standing military tradition that is performed with precision. Yesterday’s ceremony lasted more than seven hours, every moment of it significantly planned for.
General Mwathethe drove in to the Department of Defence (DoD) Headquarters at about 10am to kickstart a colourful ceremony that was accompanied with music by the Army band. By his side was CDF designate Robert Kibochi.
First, the outgoing and the incoming CDFs stood at the head of a tri-service parade of 26 men and women in military regalia.
In military tradition, the outgoing CDF was the first to inspect the guard of honour – his last as a military officer -- then the incoming takes over for his first opportunity to inspect one as the general.
For Kibochi, this was the beginning of a four-year routine. The guard of honour would be the start of a long and labourous military procedure performed to honour a man of Mwathethe’s stature.
A retiring general is honoured with a 17-gun salute. The booming sound rent the air as soon as the band finished playing the National Anthem.
At the entrance to the DoD was a table and a chair draped in military colours with two flags - the national and KDF flags. The two senior-most military officers in the land were to use it when signing documents to seal the change of command.
Back at the tent, a medley of patriotic, gospel and secular songs filled the air in anticipation of what Mwathethe and Kibochi would say.
The atmosphere was that of a carnival, except that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to wear a mask. Mwathethe’s send-off would be different from any other in the history of post-independent Kenya.
But he still had a few general duties to perform. Before he said his goodbyes, Mwathethe launched a book titled War for Peace: Kenya’s Military in the African Mission in Somalia 2012-2020. The book captures the lessons and experiences of the Defence forces serving under Amisom.
It wasn’t until 3.35pm that the procession to walk him out of DoD started.
With the band blasting signature tunes, a parade of 22 senior military personnel -- 11 on each side -- pulled long white ropes tied to the ceremonial military Landrover in a symbolic gesture to bid their general goodbye.
Only those of the rank of brigadier and major general are allowed to see off a retiring CDF.
Kibochi recounted Mwathethe’s time in KDF, starting by giving his biography, complete with his service number, which brought attendees to laughter.
He paid a glowing tribute to Mwathethe and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to lead the KDF.
“I will remember your calmness in the face of challenges. Your concern for the welfare of personnel will continue to inspire us, to continue the good work and raise KDF to higher levels,” he said. “I am profoundly honoured for this opportunity to lead the fine men and women of the force. I undertake to do it diligently.”
When he rose to the podium to share with his colleagues his experiences as a soldier, the silence in the tent was a testimony of the thirst for his speech, his last to his juniors. Mwathethe was dressed in whites of the Kenya Navy Service.
Although he shared his achievements and the challenges he experienced as a CDF, a tribute to his wife Amina for standing by him during his time at the helm of the Defence forces captured the moment.
“I want to thank my family for their understanding and tolerance for military life. To my dear wife Amina, allow me to congratulate you... the way I see it, this retirement is for you too,” he said amidst laughter.
“Thank you for enduring the trials of being married to a military husband. I know there were days you felt they were overworking me and probably underpaying me.
“When I spent most of my time pondering over military tactics, you steered the family. Your presence and valuable support made everyday for me and our children better.”
Kibochi is now expected to take the oath of office on Monday at State House.
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