General Julius Waweru Karangi was on Wednesday named Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, effectively placing him in charge of the generals who will be in charge during the transition from the Kibaki presidency next year.
All the services — army, navy and air force — have new commanders in what appears to be a complete change of guard at the top.
Gen Karangi replaces Gen Jeremiah Kianga who has served for six years as Kenya’s top military general but who will now start the handing over process before retiring at the end of August to become chairman of Kenya Railways.
His new deputy is Samson Mwathethe and has risen to the rose rank of Lieutenant-General. Lt Gen Mwathethe’s title is Vice Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces.
The Kenya Army is now commanded by Lt General Joseph Kasaon, previously the commandant of the National Defence College (NDC).
He has swapped places with former Army commander Lt General Njuki Mwaniki, who loses command after being at the helm for less than a year.
Maj Gen Joff Otieno is the Air Force commander, moving from the Defence Staff College (DSC) where he was commandant.
New Navy commander is Maj Gen Ngewa Mukala, who rose from the rank of Brigadier and had been second in command at the navy.
At 58 and if the “Tonje rules” are strictly followed by the next president, Gen Karangi will serve until 2015.
The rules which were introduced by former Chief Of General Staff Daudi Tonje (the position has since been renamed Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces in accordance with the new constitution) require the top military officer to serve a maximum four-year term or retire at the age of 62, whichever comes first.
Had he missed out on this promotion, General Karangi would have had to retire at 58 because of the provision that officers of the rank of Lt-Gen retire at 58 or after serving for four years whichever comes first.
But President Kibaki temporarily set aside the “Tonje Rules” and allowed both Gen Kianga and Gen Karangi to serve beyond their stipulated time.
It is the first time a career Air Force officer has been named to head Kenya’s military. After the 1982 coup attempt, Gen Mahmoud Mohammed from the Kenya Army was posted to command the Kenya Air Force. He was later promoted to Chief of General Staff.
The Kenya Air Force lost prestige in 1982 when airmen and junior officers attempted to overthrow the government of retired President Moi.
The coup was crushed by the Kenya Army and the General Service Unit, an elite formation within the Kenya Police.
Wednesday’s military changes were arrived at during a meeting of the National Defence Council which recommended the appointments to the President.
Gen Karangi, who has been Gen Kianga’s deputy, will take office on September 1, a day after his predecessor’s term ends.
The defence council was chaired by minister Yusuf Haji and attended by permanent secretary Nancy Kirui.
Appointments are provided for by Section five of the Armed Forces Act which reads: “The President may appoint officers to be Chief of General Staff and commanders of each service of the armed forces.”
The Constitution is silent on the appointment of Force commanders as well as chief of Defence Forces, but section 241 reads in part:
“The composition of the command of the Defence Forces shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya.”
In other changes, Maj Gen Harold Tangai, who has been the Air Force commander moved to the National Defence College as a senior director.
Maj Gen J Waweru was moved from the NDC and appointed commandant of the DSC. Both colleges are located in Karen, Nairobi.
Maj Gen P Kameru, the director of Intelligence at military headquarters, was promoted from the rank of Brigadier. Brigadier J Waweru was appointed deputy Navy commander.
Service rules stipulate that Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals must retire at the age 56 and 58 years respectively.
However, the holders of those ranks can leave office younger if they are appointed as Service or Force commanders.
This is so because the rules say they have to leave office either after serving four years or attaining the age limit, whichever comes first.
There are three service commanders, each for the navy, army and air force. The army boss is always a rank higher than the other two commanders. Other officers of equal rank might head other military units, such as the military colleges.
The President, as the commander-in-chief can extend the mandate of commanders, as President Kibaki did with Gen Kianga.
Lt Gen Mwathethe joined the Navy in April 1978 and inducted as a seaman the following year after graduating at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
He had served as deputy Navy Commander, Kenya Navy Logistics Commander and Base Commander at Mtongwe, among others.