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Uhuru gamble with soldiers confounds friend and foe

By Standard Team | September 12th 2020

President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past event. [File, Standard]

The admission of Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) Director General Mohamed Badi in Cabinet has put into focus President Uhuru Kenyatta’s penchant for appointing military and intelligence officers to government.

While the former presidents rarely co-opted the military in the day-to-day running of the government, Uhuru has shown a liking for the men in uniform, stirring debate on his latest move that will now see Maj Gen Badi sit in Cabinet meetings.

Founding President Jomo Kenyatta, his successors Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki largely relied on civilian technocrats to carry even onerous tasks in government.

Kibaki upset the norm by appointing Maj Gen (Rtd) Hussein Ali from the Kenya Army to lead the police after security goofs that exposed his administration.

The contested 2007 General Election and the subsequent violence that pushed the country to the brink saw Ali hauled to the International Criminal Court (ICC) together with five other Kenyans, including President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. All of them were later freed.

Uhuru’s Executive Orders have seen more men in uniform join government as he prepares to exit the stage in 2022.

Officer Recalled

From Badi, to the National Intelligence Service director Maj Gen (rtd) Philip Kameru, to government spokesman Col (rtd) Cyrus Oguna, the president is lining up military officers in government.

Before his appointment to NMS, Badi was a senior directing officer in charge of Kenya Air Force staff training at the National Defence College in Nairobi.

He served as the base commander in charge of Moi Air Base after he was promoted to the rank of brigadier in 2014.

Last December, the president appointed former assistant director in charge of border control at NIS, Nick Ndalana, as North-Eastern Regional Commissioner.

Ndalana replaced Mohamed Birik, who was recalled to Harambee House.

Others who have been picked from NIS to serve in government are Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai, his predecessor Joseph Boinnet now Chief Administrative Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Twalib Mbarak, Director of Immigration Services Alexander Muteshi and the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.

Haji, Mbarak and Muteshi were all serving as deputy directors at NIS before their appointment to government. The EACC boss had served in the military intelligence before moving to NIS.

Muteshi replaced Maj Gen (rtd) Gordon Kihalang’wa who was moved to the State Department for Public Works.

The other crucial dockets that have picked military and NIS officers include the Financial Reporting Centre (FRC), Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).

The president, in another surprise Executive Order, moved the struggling Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) from the Ministry of Agriculture to that of Defence.

The military personnel that will take over the running of KMC are supposed to report to the headquarters on September 21 for orientation.

“The move by the president was an indication that just as many other institutions facing crises, KMC needed the input and experience of the military to be able to perform optimally,” said an official in government.

Kameru and Oguna were retired from the military once they took over their civilian duties while Badi is still in service and has brought a coterie of aides to assist him in running Nairobi.

Mutyambai, Haji and Mbarak were plucked from NIS as the Head of State intensified the war against crime and corruption.

Whether by design or default, in the second term of his presidency, Uhuru has found himself increasingly knocking at the door of the Kenya Defence Forces where he is the Commander in Chief to seek out officers to carry out civilian duties.

His latest move to co-opt Badi into the Cabinet, a key decision making organ in governance issues, has brought out his difference in approach to issues compared to his predecessors.

Decreeing the Executive Order, the president allowed Badi to sit in Cabinet meetings after taking an oath of secrecy.

Opinion has been divided on why Uhuru was increasingly picking military officers to run civilian affairs.

According to governance expert Gitile Naituli, there could be compelling reasons why the president has chosen the military to carry out some duties that have ordinarily been exercised by civilians.

Naituli explained that the Head of State’s action could have been necessitated “by complacency among the civilian managers whom he has given assignments and as a result they have failed to give the desired results”.

“My thinking is that it could be as a result of two things: one, since the military as an institution has maintained high level of performance the president could have decided to bring this high performance culture to the civilian duties or two, the civilian managers have completely failed,” said the lecturer at Multi-Media University.

Naituli, who is among the pioneer lecturers who oversaw the introduction of Military Science at Egerton University, said world over the military is known for efficiency, which is instilled during training and most institutions would seek to tap such resource.

“Although there are demerits of using the armed forces in running of civilian affairs, if its utilisation is done properly the country can benefit from its optimum efficiency. In terms of corruption, for example, the military as an institution is not tainted and this can go a long way in bringing this virtue to other institutions of government,” he said.

He added, “The risk by the president (of involving the military in running civilian services) may pay off if the military can resist the temptation to get into bad ways of corruption or getting involved in factional politics. As you know the military should remain apolitical.”

Naituli, however, noted that on the flipside, by getting the military out of the barracks to run civilian institutions, Uhuru runs the risk of creating a precedent where the military would be co-opted in running government yet their core mandate is completely different.

“He may be paving the road to hell with good intentions. Some people might in future decide to have it as the new norm and fully involve the military in politics, which is a very dangerous thing to do,” he said.

Constitutional lawyer Wahome Gikonyo concurred with Naituli that the president’s decision to pick the military to run civilian affairs was an indictment of managers tasked with delivery of service.

Gikonyo said runaway corruption and lack of discipline among the civil servants trusted by the president could be the main reason he was looking elsewhere to deal with lethargy common in most government offices.

“The senior civil servants charged with delivery of government services as well as elected leaders need to soul search and re-evaluate themselves as to why the president is going for high efficiency in the military. Your guess is as good as mine; majority of them have failed the integrity test,” said the lawyer.

Legal experts, however, expressed varied views over the co-option of Badi into Cabinet.

Allowed in law

Law Society of Kenya chair Neslon Havi said anybody who is not a Cabinet Secretary or expressly stated in the Constitution to sit in the Cabinet cannot do so.

He argued that the president,ought to have asked Badi to resign from the military and appoint him as a CS and forward his name for vetting by Parliament.

Lawyer Katwa Kigen also faulted the move, saying allowing Badi to sit in Cabinet borders on militarising the Executive and Cabinet.

But Solicitor General Ken Ogeto said there was nothing illegal in the president’s move, as he is allowed in law to invite anyone to the Cabinet to help in one way or another.

A retired general, who asked not be named, said the military, which of late has been producing intelligence commanders, is keen to see their retired or serving commanders absorbed in public service.

“You find that a brigadier or colonel retires at a young age. Where do you want them to go with the massive experience they have? This has to change,” he said.

 [Francis Ngige, Cyrus Ombati and Roselyn Obala]

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