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Be careful on assigning military personnel roles in civilian agencies

By Demas Kiprono | November 11th 2021
KDF soldiers during a parade at Kahawa Barracks, on Saturday, October 16, 2021. [Samson Wire, Standard].

What began as the recruitment of former military officers has morphed into the appointment of serving military officers to head civilian organisations. Those in support of this believe the military is instrumental in saving or rehabilitating institutions that are struggling due to gross mismanagement.

Kenya is considered one of the most robust and stable democracies in the region. However, it is getting into an unfamiliar territory. It is noteworthy that the Constitution was intentional when defining powers, limits, roles and mandates of all creatures of the State, including the military.

The Constitution envisages the military as a force, primarily meant to defend and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. Secondary roles include assisting in emergency or disaster situations under the supervision of the National Assembly. The military can also be called upon to restore peace in any part of Kenya - also under the express approval of the National Assembly.

Our military has been largely lauded for being effective in emergency response, demonstrating fidelity to the republic and its peacekeeping efforts globally. Part of that respect is because it has been above the fray in the Kenyan political landscape, having been kept separate from everyday policy and operational functions of the executive.

In the recent past, the military has been increasingly introduced into civilian roles without invoking constitutional procedures that define and restrict military functions. Nairobi City County, the largest and most lucrative devolved unit, is being headed by a serving military man. General Badi was not elected by any Nairobian, neither was he appointed in an open and competitive process. Other military members serve as staff in various capacities.

This week, the High Court suspended the military take-over at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), pending a case filed by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union. The case will hinge on whether the Executive can invent new mandates for the Kenya Defence Forces or any organ of state for that matter.

It is worth noting that Kemsa is the scene of grand corruption that is yet to be fully unraveled by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary. 

Critics fear that the involvement of the military in the day-to-day Executive functions may affect their allegiance to the people and the Constitution, should they have to choose between their constitutional mandate on the one hand and the wishes of the regime that gave them agency in lucrative and powerful civilian and executive functions.

Last week, it was announced that KDF was part of the special committee to deal with cyber-bullying and the publication of false information under the auspices of the National Cyber Security Committee. While the military might have a legitimate stake in certain aspects of cybersecurity, this should never impinge on the freedom of expression on issues such as cyber-bullying which has political connotations as well as penal frameworks justice system.

Despite many challenges, Kenya has avoided the fate of other African nations where there is military involvement in civilian issues, including politics, governance and economic matters. Are we not letting the genie out of the bottle?

Citizens of Sudan are finding it difficult to hold on to their hard-fought ‘sovereignty’ even after deposing Omar al-Bashir. Under him, the military got accustomed to running everything without deference to the needs and aspirations of the people. Observers claim that the military is bending to external middle eastern geopolitical contests, including the prospect of civilian accountability. 

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