Upon taking office in November 1978, President Daniel arap Moi promoted Jackson Mulinge from army commander to lieutenant-general and appointed him Chief of General Staff, the role in armed forces that his predecessor Mzee Kenyatta had abolished in 1971.
He also appointed Lt-Col John Sawe, the then head of transport services, to deputy army commander.
The appointment of Lt-Col Sawe created a curious situation in which a junior commanded his superior officers, brigadiers.
CREATED A PATH
Soon after, Moi created the path for the rise of Lt-Col Sawe by retiring three brigadiers — Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lucas Matu, Deputy Army Commander Brigadier Peter Kakenyi and Kenya Navy head Brigadier Jimmy Kimaro (he died in an accident), and appointing them to various parastatals, after which he promoted Lt-Col Sawe to a brigadier in 1979.
One of the retired brigadiers, Lucas Matu, died soon after. Another brigadier known as Kathuka Nzioka also died in 1979.
Lt-Col Sawe’s rise saw him promoted to head the army, jumping from lieutenant-colonel to major-general in a year, a meteoric rise that is yet to be beaten.
Tugen Daudi Tonje’s rise, like Sawe’s before him, had been rapid, with four promotions from head of the Defence College to Chief of General Staff in three years”
Following the 1982 coup attempt, the military, like other security services, saw major realignments. But by 1985, there was discontent about the increased number of Kalenjins in senior military ranks.
Upon the retirement of General Mulinge in 1985, rather than make Lt-Gen Sawe CDF, Moi decided to retire him and instead appointed coup hero Mahamoud Mohamed to the position. Major-General James Lengees, a Samburu, took over the army command.
But it was not until 1996, upon the retirement of General Mahamoud Mohamed, that a Kalenjin was appointed as the military chief.
That man was General Tonje, a Tugen just like Moi. Tonje was not just from Moi’s community, he was also married to the President’s sister.
“Tugen Daudi Tonje’s rise, like Sawe’s before him, had been rapid, with four promotions from head of the Defence College to Chief of General Staff in three years,” historian Charles Hornsby writes in the book, Kenya: A History Since Independence.
In his aspirations (General Tonje) wanted a modern and more transparent military. Moi felt that some of the changes were too radical”
Tonje, goes down in history as the general who carried out the greatest reforms in the military since independence.
At some point, Moi had to step in to stop the Chief of General Staff (now known as Chief of Defence Forces, CDF) from carrying out further reforms in the military.
General Tonje also refused an extension of his contract as the military chief, recalls former National Security minister Julius Sunkuli.
“In his aspirations (General Tonje) wanted a modern and more transparent military. Moi felt that some of the changes were too radical,” Mr Sunkuli says.
The reforms initiated by General Tonje included repealing a rule that banned women from leading commands in units where men were based. He also oversaw the Kenyan military shift from a British to an American model of command.
General Tonje also created the position of Vice-Chief of General Staff, to whom all service commanders reported. After the creation of the position, Lt-Gen Jackson Munyao was appointed as the first Vice-Chief of Defence Forces.