Controversy at Bomas and how SMS saved Gen Ogolla's career

General Francis Ogolla when he appeared before Defence, Intelligence & Foreign Relations Committee at the Continental Building, Nairobi. November 7th,2022 [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

A short text message sent by the late Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Francis Ogolla, then Vice Chief of Defence Forces, to his boss Gen Robert Kibochi saved his career amidst high-stakes politics during the tallying of the 2022 presidential election results.

The SMS, sent during a period of escalating tensions  at the Bomas of Kenya National Tallying Centre, showed Ogolla's unwavering commitment to the non-partisan role of the military. The text read: "Sir, this is not about security but about politics."

In May last year, in live media interview, Ruto said that he called Ogolla and sat him down. 

"I told him, my friend, you went to Bomas to try and overturn my victory, but because you are the best person to be general, I am going to give you the job. That is how it works with me," he pointed out.

"He told me, 'I have no defence; you do with me whatever you want. What I did was wrong'. What exercised my mind is that yes, this gentleman might have made a mistake, maybe because the commander in chief at the time told him what to do."

Details emerging show that Ogolla shared the message when he met Ruto after he was sworn in, when those in Kenya Kwanza were baying for the blood of those believed to be former President Uhuru Kenyatta's allies. 

Ogolla told the president, “On going to Bomas, I am guilty as charged. If there was a court martial, I would not escape it. I went there with PAS Kennedy Kihara on advice from the NSAC. The whole reasoning was that there was tension in the country, and, therefore, we needed to have IEBC declare results. On arrival, we met Chebukati, but Kihara delved into politics and started saying that IEBC needed to kneel to the results. I immediately sent a text to Gen Kibochi saying, ‘Sir, this is not about security but about politics. That text I have, and it's here.”

At that moment, Ogolla showed President Ruto the text, and within weeks, he was appointed CDF. 

Gen Ogolla was among the members of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) that arrived at the tallying centre to meet IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati on the day he was to announce the presidential election winner. 

This  NSAC contingent was led by Kennedy Kihara, the Principal Administrative Secretary in the Office of the President, along with other key figures. Chebukati later learned of their arrival through Deputy Inspector of Police Noor Gabow, who relayed the message from the head of the public service.

 "The arrival of the NSAC delegation was preceded by a call from the head of public service informing me that he had sent a team that would like to discuss the assumption of office," Chebukati noted in his affidavit during the Supreme Court hearing of the presidential petition by Azimio's Raila Odinga.

Chebukati scheduled a meeting with NSAC at 2pm. "Since NSAC was already ushered in, we proceeded to listen to their message," Chebukati said.

Kihara, representing NSAC, emphasised the gravity of their visit and the importance of the message they had to convey. 

"Kihara told Chebukati that if he declared Ruto the President-elect, the country was going to burn," as skirmishes had reportedly started based on alleged betrayal. 

Kihara warned of potential bloodshed and urged consideration of an alternative path, including a runoff. The NSAC left around 3 PM, and CEO Marjan Hussein entered the boardroom with the final results shortly after.

Four commissioners contested the results, calling for adjustments based on the NSAC's demands, with Cherera proposing specific changes. However, Guliye and Mulo refused to comply, emphasising adherence to constitutional mandates. 

"I maintained that I would not sit and discuss the subversion of the will of the people," Chebukati emphasised. Despite protests, Chebukati proceeded with announcing the final results as verified and tallied by the commission. Ruto garnered 7,176,141 (50.49 percent) of the votes, narrowly beating his rival, Raila Odinga, who managed 6,942,930 votes (48.85 percent).

After being sworn in, KDF appointments were due, and weeks later, Ruto promoted Ogolla, then Lieutenant General, to the esteemed rank of General, appointing him as the new CDF, which marked a significant milestone in Kenya's military leadership. 

President William Ruto promoted Francis Ogolla then Lieutenant General, to the esteemed rank of General, appointing him as the new CDF. [PSCU]

Ruto clarified that he is keen to make deliberate appointments, and his decisions are not dictated by an individual's affiliation, provided that they have a stellar track record. "I could have appointed anybody I had. I think I had 10 choices. People say that I appointed Ogolla because he was the deputy CDF, but that is not the case."

President Ruto's decision to appoint Ogolla as CDF was not without controversy, as critics raised concerns about his alleged involvement in electoral politics. However, he defended his choice, citing Ogolla's qualifications and track record of service.

In reflecting on Ogolla's legacy, President Ruto emphasised the importance of meritocracy in leadership appointments. "Many things that are part of my system outweighed what he had done," Ruto stated.

"This is a moment of great sadness for myself as the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, the Kenya Defence Forces fraternity, and the nation at large," Ruto said on Thursday. 

Ogolla's appointment followed the 'Tonje Rules,' a rotational mechanism that governs the selection of the CDF. President Ruto was obligated to appoint Ogolla, who served as the Kenya Air Force Commander, as the next CDF, continuing a tradition.

Born on February 12, 1962, in Siaya County, General Ogolla embarked on his military journey by graduating from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) as a cadet on May 2, 1984. His rapid ascent through the ranks reflected his exceptional leadership and dedication to duty. 

Over the years, General Ogolla held pivotal roles within the KDF, including Commanding Officer of Laikipia Air Base Tactical Flight Wing (2007) and Base Commander of Laikipia Air Base (2008–2014). His promotions to Brigadier in 2012, Deputy Air Force Commander, and ultimately Major General and Commander of the Kenya Air Force underscored his exemplary service and strategic vision.

In July 2021, General Ogolla's outstanding contributions were further recognised when he was promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed as the Vice Chief of the Defence Forces. This pivotal position prepared him for the ultimate promotion to general and his appointment as Chief of the Defence Forces on April 28, 2023.

General Ogolla's educational achievements paralleled his military success. He held a diploma in International Studies and Military Science from Egerton University, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Armed Conflict, and Peace Studies, and a Master of Arts in International Studies from the University of Nairobi. Additionally, he completed advanced military training at the École Militaire de Paris and the National Defence College of Kenya. 

Throughout his illustrious career, General Ogolla received numerous accolades, including the Moran of the Golden Heart (MGH), the Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS), and the Head of State Commendation. These honours reflected his unwavering commitment to national service and his profound impact on Kenya's military landscape.

In announcing his death alongside nine other senior officers, Ruto said Gen Ogolla boarded the Kenya Air Force Huey helicopter and left Nairobi Thursday morning.

The president said that the CDF was on a trip to visit troops deployed in the North Rift under Operation Maliza Uhalifu and to inspect the ongoing school renovation works in five schools, which included Chesitet Primary School, Cheptulel Boys High School, Chepoton Primary School, Ksaa Primary School, and Sablimoi Primary School, as part of his working tour.

"The CDF had been briefed on the security situation by a multi-agency team stationed at Chesitetin Baringo County, after which he proceeded to the Kainuk Forward Operating Base in Turkana County, where he addressed troops, commending them for their resilience and operational successes," Ruto said.

The President said Ogolla and his team proceeded from Kainuk to Chesegon in West Pokot County, where he initiated the rehabilitation of Cheptulel Boys High School.

Afterwards, they departed Chesegon for the Recruits Training School in Uasin Gishu County, where he was set to inspect construction projects at the institution. Regrettably, the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off at 2:20 pm.