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Why Uhuru has turned to military for legacy projects

By Cyrus Ombati and Allan Mungai | October 12th 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off 83 vehicles that were refurbished by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) at a garage in Industrial Area. 

In an overt boots strategy that has shaken off the allure of City Hall occupancy, President Uhuru Kenyatta is pushing headlong in his preference for military men running civilian functions. 

In Nairobi, the gold-bedecked Governor Mike Sonko has been pushed to irrelevance through ruthless but effective execution of tasks by Major General Mohamed Badi’s Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS).

On two occasions in one week, President Kenyatta has accompanied Badi on inspection tours of city projects, a clear indication that the president is deeply hooked to the general’s charm that has seen projects completed in record time and with little spending.

Impromptu tour

On Tuesday, he toured the NMS garage in Industrial Area where he flagged off 83 vehicles that were rehabilitated by the agency for a paltry Sh22 million. On Thursday, he made an impromptu tour of a new NMS asphalt plant on Kangundo Road.

The blending plant, constructed in two months can produce 3,000 tonnes of asphalt per day, an amount adequate to pave three kilometres of road daily.

“If all of us operated and behaved, loved and served their country in the manner in which the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) does, Kenya would today be a great country. And we all have a big lesson to learn,” Kenyatta said at the Industrial Area event.

Besides the turnaround in the city, KDF has taken a hands-on approach in rehabilitating the Thika-Nanyuki and Nairobi-Kisumu railway lines, the port of Kisumu and restoring government vehicles and ships.

The military worked with the National Youth Service (NYS) and the Kenya Railways (KR) to rebuild the Thika-Nanyuki meter gauge railway by restoring the deteriorated embankment.

Part of the reason for involving the military in the infrastructure projects is the cost-effectiveness. The involvement of KDF in infrastructure projects has saved the country billions of shillings.

For instance, according to Defence Chief Administrative Secretary Peter Odoyo, the country saved billions of shillings by having the Navy repair the damaged Lake Victoria cargo vessel MV Uhuru and refurbishment of Port Victoria, which cost the military only Sh250 million.

Private contractors had quoted as much as Sh1.8 billion to repair the vessel.

Lower costs

Odoyo further estimated that Kenya could easily bring down the cost of repairing the old railway line, estimated at Sh3.8 billion, by deploying KDF soldiers.

In May, the government approved the secondment of seven senior military officers to NMS for two years.

They were Brig-Gen Fredrick Leuria, who was deputy director of military intelligence at the Kenya Defence headquarters,Major JV Mbithi, Major AN Nyakundi, Major JK Ngoroge, Lt Col JK Biomdo and Major AL Musoma.

But that has not been the extent of the involvement of the military and former officers in the city.

Maj-Gen Badi has also appointed Maj-Gen (rtd) Andrew Ikenye as Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company chairperson for three years. Now, water is flowing in pipes in informal settlements where not a drop fell in years.

Uhuru, it appears, holds the KDF in high regard and has entrusted it with the task of ridding City Hall of corruption and cartels.

The co-opting of the military in the Cabinet has divided opinion and has even been challenged in court.

But President Kenyatta, speaking on Tuesday evening at Industrial Area, denied assertions that he was militarising the country by deploying KDF personnel to key government departments.

“I am not militarising anything. I am using reliable Kenyan citizens to fulfil my agenda for this republic. The KDF are part of us and are also part of our citizens,” the president said.

By constantly turning to the disciplined forces for officers to steer key projects, Kenyatta has shown his frustration at the manner in which things are done.

Grounded vehicles

At the Tuesday event, Chief of Defence Forces Gen Robert Kibochi and Badi assured the president of KDF’s commitment to continue serving the nation.

Uhuru expressed optimism that the remaining 80 grounded City Hall vehicles would be repaired in the next two months to serve Nairobi residents.

It was the second time, in a week, that President Kenyatta was commending the men in jungle uniform.

During a pass-out parade at the KDF’s Recruits Training School in Eldoret, he listed the projects the military was involved in and expressed his pride at the armed forces’ contribution to the realisation of Vision 2030.

“The rehabilitation of the Nairobi-Nanyuki metre-gauge railway line, rehabilitation of the Kisumu Port by Navy engineers, and the ongoing works on Nakuru to Kisumu line are a few of such projects the defence forces has executed with excellence,” the president said.

Concerns over extensive use of the military peaked following the announcement that all State-owned planes would be placed under Kenya Air Force. The move followed reports of wastage in management of the aircraft.

Earlier, the president had also transferred the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) to the Defence ministry from the State Department of Agriculture.

Observers say the president’s actions have been influenced by perception that soldiers are clean and disciplined.

But Sonko’s spokesman Ben Mulwa says he feels strongly that efficiency cannot be given as an explanation for involving the military in a civilian government.

“That is trying to justify unconstitutionality. There are many competent and qualified Kenyans to do some of these assignments without involving the military,” Mr Mulwa said.

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