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MPs debate bills that could change how Kenya Defence Forces works

By Wilfred Ayaga | August 18th 2015

Members of the National Assembly will this afternoon debate two bills whose provisions could have far-reaching implications in the operations of the military.

The Kenya Regiment (Territorial Force) (Repeal) Bill 2015 will be seeking to discard archaic colonial military laws, which are paradoxically captured under the "modern" Kenya Defence Forces (Amendment) Bill 2015.

While the KDF amendment Bill claims to be a departure from the archaic laws, it makes provisions that are eerily similar to the old laws that are being discarded under the Kenya Regiment (Territorial Force) (Repeal) Bill 2015.

For example, in both cases, the army can be deployed to create 'order' among civilian populations. This is one of the issues that have raised temperatures, with some politicians, especially from the Opposition, insisting the army should not depart from its traditional role of safeguarding the country's borders.

"The President may in situations of emergency or disaster or during war, unrest, or disaster, order that the auxiliary forces comprising forest guards and NYS be employed to serve with KDF or otherwise in the defence of the nation whether within or outside," reads the KDF Amendment Bill.

The 'archaic' Act that the House now wants to discard has a similar provision where the colonial Defence Council could order the army out into civilian populations as the British government sought to enforce its policies. The Act is a carryover from 1937, a time when the colonial government needed legislation to keep Africans in check.

"The Defence Council may establish a Special Reserve to the Regiment in such manner as may be prescribed, and those persons who offer their services and whose services are accepted shall be liable, when the whole or any part of the Regiment is called out for active service or ordered to hold itself in readiness for immediate calling out, to render service with such portion of any local force as they may decide," reads the colonial Act.

Leader of Majority Aden Duale will introduce the two Bills, one after the other, before the House amid concerns of the heightened role of the army in civilian life.

If approved, the Kenya Regiment (Territorial Force) (Repeal) Bill 2015 will lead to the revocation of all subsidiary legislation enacted under the old colonial Act, under which the military operated.

According to the bill, since the colonial army is no longer in existence, the laws have become 'irrelevant,' and need to be fine-tuned to modern times.

"The Force has since been disbanded and a new legal framework for the defence forces established by the new legislation, thus rendering the current Act irrelevant," reads the bill.

Despite terming the colonial military laws 'irrelevant,' the Government has proceeded under the KDF Amendment Bill to preserve some of its relics.

In both bills, army officers are strictly forbidden from revealing 'confidential' information, with stringent penalties in breach. The spirit of secrecy proposed under the KDF law appears to have been picked from the colonial laws as contained in the Kenya Regiment (Territorial Force) (Repeal) Act.

Under Section 290 of the current KDF Act, the Defence Council will prepare an annual report which shall be submitted to the National Assembly. The proposed new law will however place more roadblocks in the way of scrutiny by providing an express provision that such publications shall not contain information that would undermine "national security".

"Clause 39 of the bill proposes to repeal Section 290 of the act to avoid publication of Defence Council matters that would be prejudicial to national security," says the bill.

KDF has been in the spotlight on issues such as procurement of equipment and financial accounts, which are normally shielded from the public.

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