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General Ogolla: Politics aside, no technology anywhere is fool-proof

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) paying their last respect to the late CDF General Francis Ogolla who dies in a military chopper crash. [John Muchucha, Standard]

The whole country mourned the recent death of the Chief of Defence Forces General Ogolla.

His burial did not take long, which could be a sign of his link to modernity.

Was there Tero Buru—a ritual performed by a deceased’s age-mates to chase away evil spirits—?

His other link to the modern age was his professional background as a fighter pilot and less talked about, his cross-cultural marriage, just like his son Joel. 

Unfortunately, he featured in political circles, or was it circus? The military should be the last bastion of objectivity, a neutral arbiter. We may never know what transpired at Bomas of Kenya during the last General Election.  

For now, let’s mourn the General and hope we shall know what happened to his aircraft. Conspiracy theories will fly fanned by his presence at Bomas and the location of the accident. I shall not be sucked into the swirling vortex of conspiracies. What no one can dispute is that General Ogolla was a model soldier, father and citizen. His contribution to this country will reverberate long after he departs from this small planet. Let us focus on the technology part of his untimely demise, at the apogee of his life. No technology is failure-proof. The most robust technology is space espoused by twin spacecraft, Voyager  I and II, which have been flying in deep space for 46 years.

Add the Space Shuttle and Apollo moon landing programmes. Away from planet Earth, we can’t take any chances. We even have inbuilt redundancy.  

Accidents happen either because of human error or technological failure. My favourite TV programme is Aircrash Investigation. To add credence to Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen, the programme only investigates civilian aircraft crashes.

Security concerns can’t allow us to expose the causes of military accidents. Our enemies could be watching. 

Let’s look at the technology part. The helicopter he was in before it crashed was a HU-1A, for Helicopter, Utility, Model 1A. That’s how it got its name, Huey. It was the workhorse of the Vietnam War where records indicate 2,500 such aircraft were lost to enemy fire. 

How old was the General’s helicopter? Age leads to metal fatigue, the reason your car service includes replacing some parts after some specific mileage (why not kilometreage?).            

We hope such details will be made public after the investigation, including the maintenance record. In Aircrash Investigation, I normally see the manufacturers taking part. Will they be involved in our case? 

One lesson I have learnt from the war in Ukraine is how much military technology, including planes is controlled. You can’t sell it to someone else without permission from the original seller or owner. Is this to avoid leakage of technological secrets? We also must look at the weather at the time of the crash. What was the wind speed or was there any swirling vortex? Such weather is easy to reconstruct as satellite data is easily available. 

We can’t discount the eyewitness account, particularly the survivors. Will they testify? Did anyone take a video recording, helicopters are likely to arouse lots of curiosity in such areas, and smartphones are no longer a rarity. 

The Aircash Investigation TV show leaves no stone unturned. They even talk to those who knew the pilots, their history and even their medical state. If we had a voice recorder, we could get insights into what happened before and on the fateful day. Human errors have been the cause of many plane accidents, sometimes innocently like forgetting to lower flaps when a plane is taking off.  

Why do we need to investigate this accident? We can learn from it and improve the safety of our planes and hopefully one day our cars. We shall also lay to rest conspiracy theories.

One curious observation is the multiplicity of aircraft used by our security services. They are from different manufacturers, raising the cost of maintenance. Some are from the US, China, Jordan, and Russia, among other countries. Do such aircraft have an age limit like our imported cars? 

Out of this accident, can we have a homegrown helicopter manufacturing industry? After all, a few universities offer aeronautical engineering.

Let’s honour the general by improving existing technology, living up to his ideals and ensuring that despite floods, taxes and other national problems, Kenya remains a viable project. 

Let me add that I have many links to the military. One is the many mzungus back in my village with military titles - General AR Wainwright, Colonel George Trent, Major Harold White and Major Francis Carnegie (Kaniki), among others. 

The other connection is my two uncles who fought in Burma (Myanmar) in WW II and luckily came home.

The final link is graduating from the National Youth Service (NYS) as a serviceman. I still recall the instructors screaming: “Tumia akili ya kiaskari (think like a soldier),” which I am still trying to decipher many years after the pass-out parade at Gilgil.

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