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Military shake-up looms as Samson Mwathethe retires

Friday April 19 2019

Chief of Defence Gen Samson Mwathethe

Chief of Defence Forces Samson Mwathethe. His four-year term has ended. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

 NYAMBEGA GISESA
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
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The military top command is bracing for a shake-up over the impending retirement of Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Samson Mwathethe, whose four-year term ended this week.

Apart from the appointment of his successor, there will be changes in the top echelons of the military.

The Nation has learnt that there is anxiety among senior military officials over the expected reshuffle.

On Wednesday, there was word that the National Defence Council had held a meeting to deliberate on the promotions of various commanders, and who was likely to succeed Gen Mwathethe.

On Thursday, Department of Defence spokesperson Bogita Ongeri and his KDF counterpart, Col Paul Njoroge, declined to respond to the Nation’s queries on Gen Mwathethe’s succession.

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Interviews with military and security experts pointed to four lieutenant-generals, the second-highest-ranking military officers, in contention to replace Gen Mwathethe.

Those in pole position are Lt-Gen Robert Kibochi, the vice-chief of defence forces, and Lt-Gen Leonard Ngondi, the force commander of the AU-UN Hybrid (Unamid) Operation in strife-torn Darfur in Sudan, two respected military commanders who enlisted the same year.

It remains unclear whether the latter will be considered for the position because he is seen as being in the “superpool”, a term referring to those serving in military assignments abroad and who are normally not considered during regular promotions.

Then there are Lt-Gen Walter Raria, the Kenya Army commander, and Lt-Gen Johnstone Ondieki, the former force commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), who left the mission unceremoniously.

But following Lt-Gen Ondieki’s appointment to a diplomatic position in Turkey, he stands little chance since he has no army to command.

MERITOCRACY

One of the four lieutenant-generals from the Kenya Army is likely to replace Gen Mwathethe, a seaman who took over from Gen Julius Karangi, a former Air Force commander.

This is based on the Tonje Rules, so-called in tribute to former Chief of General Staff Daudi Tonje, that have helped to eliminate unnecessary lobbying for the four-star general position, instead advocating for assessment based on merit, expertise and talent.

The new CDF will oversee the transition from the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency in 2022 and most likely the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia by 2021 in line with the Somali Transition Plan.

Under the Kenya Defence Forces Act, the CDF serves for a single four-year term or retires upon attaining the mandatory retirement age, whichever comes first.

But the Act says that the President may, on the recommendation of the Defence Council, extend the CDF’s term for a period not exceeding one year in times of war or emergencies like political uncertainty.

QUALIFICATIONS

Since we are not in a time of war or emergency, Gen Mwathethe’s tenure is unlikely be the extended.

Insiders also say that Gen Mwathethe would like to retire and go home. The salary and other perks for a serving and retired CDF are the same.

In appointing the next CDF, the Act states, the President shall take into account the service, seniority, military and formal civil education, the possession of a degree from a university and military and security experience.

That favours Lt-Gen Kibochi, who enlisted in the military on May 18, 1979, from where he started his career at the Signals Battalion at Kahawa garrison.

Following closely is the battle-hardened Lt-Gen Ngondi, who served as commandant of the National Defence College and force commander for the UN mission in Liberia before his appointment to the Unamid operation in Darfur.

The two are from Nakuru County.