President Kenyatta has quietly extended the contract of Kenya’s top military general by a year.
Kenya Defence Forces Chief Julius Karangi, 62, was due to retire this month after serving a one-year extension to his contract given by then President Mwai Kibaki last year so that the transition in the military would not coincide with the General Election.
Mr Kibaki gave Gen Karangi a two-year contract split into two terms of one year each so as not to tie the hands of his successor in picking the top general after the March General Election.
But President Kenyatta chose to keep Gen Karangi for 12 more months – perhaps to buy time as he assesses who among the ranking generals to promote.
Ideally, and should the President stick to tradition, the next KDF boss will be picked from the Vice-Chief of KDF, Lt-Gen Samson Mwathethe, the Army Commander, Lt-Gen Joseph Kasaon and Lt-Gen Jackson Waweru who heads the National Defence College.
Kenya Air Force Commander, Maj-Gen Joff Otieno, and Kenya Navy Commander Maj-Gen Ngewa Mukala are not in the ranking to immediately succeed Gen Karangi as they are two ranks below the top position. However, the pair and other Maj-Generals are in line for serving in more senior positions if they don’t clock the retirement age first.
By delaying a reshuffle in the military, President Kenyatta is following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Mr Kibaki and Mr Daniel arap Moi, who did not always make changes when time was due.
The delays have ended up disrupting a tradition set by former military boss Daudi Tonje to professionalise the military, boost morale and ensure smooth succession.
Among other things, the so-called Tonje Rules demanded that officers were either retired or promoted when they attained a certain age.
The Chief of Defence Forces is to retire at 62 years or on serving one term of four years or whichever comes first. Gen Karangi will be 63 in April next year.
Senior officers in the rank of Lieutenant-General and Major-General retire at the age of 58 and 56 respectively if they are not promoted to the next rank, according to the rules.
The rules are applicable to the Chief of Kenya Defence Forces, the Kenya Army Commander, the Kenya Air Force Commander and the Kenya Navy Commander.
But an officer can be retired at a younger age if he has been a service commander for four years, or at the pleasure of the President.
The appointment of key military officers is an elaborate process which begins from the lower ranks all the way to the National Defence Council, which advises the President on the top appointments. The National Defence Council is normally chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Defence, Ms Raychelle Omamo.
Gen Karangi’s new term coincided with the creation of a third KDF command, the Nairobi Metropolitan Command, early this month. The KDF was previously divided into Eastern and Western commands.
The announcement came with a number of promotions and retirements. President Kenyatta appointed Maj-Gen L.M. Ngondi the Force Commander, UN Mission in Liberia, while Maj-Gen JM Ondieki was appointed the Deputy Army Commander.
Maj-Gen FK Nthenge was made the Amisom Deputy Force Commander and Maj-Gen MO Oyugi Assistant Chief of the Defence Forces.
Nthenge and Oyugi replaced Maj-Gen S. Karanja and Maj-Gen (Dr) G.O. Kihalangwa who retired. Also promoted were Brigadier CM Kahariri to Deputy Navy Commander, Brigadier D.C. Bartonjo to Commander 4th Brigade, Brigadier A.G. Matiri to Armoured Brigade Commander.
Brigadier C.M. Kang’ethe is the new Deputy Commandant at the Defence Staff College.
In September, the military was accused of bungling the Westgate rescue after terrorists seized the shopping mall and killed at least 67 people.
As police battled the attackers, the military rolled in.
Various accounts have suggested that the military’s entry was hurried and confused the chain of command in the ranks responding to the emergency.
BATTLE THE TERRORISTS
Eventually, the police crack squad called in to battle the terrorists was recalled with the military taking over.
But the crisis rose to a new level after CCTV footage emerged showing soldiers who were supposed to have been battling the attackers looting shops.
In an article published by the Saturday Nation two months ago, Lieutenant-General (rtd) Humphrey Njoroge, one-time Commandant of the National Defence College, said the military lost the plot in the Westgate siege.
Lt-Gen Njoroge cited a broken command structure in responding to the attack, poor screening of people fleeing the mall and outright incompetence, which handed the attackers the upper hand.
An alumnus of the US Army War College, Lt-Gen Njoroge had in the 1980s recommended in an academic paper that the Kenyan police and the military should train together in order to handle situations in urban areas.
But there was a caveat. “The Army must also be trained to be able to live and fight under urban conditions to avoid undue harassment of children, women and the aged and the looting, which comes about when an inexperienced Army is exposed to these things,” he wrote.
Military insiders who spoke to the Sunday Nation said the Nairobi Metropolitan Command will be framed along the lines suggested by Lt-Gen Njoroge and will be primed to respond to Westgate-type incidents in liaison with police and civilian authorities.
The Westgate saga cast a long shadow on Gen Karangi’s tenure. His profile had previously been on an unprecedented high after his troops successfully pursued al-Shabaab militants – who had repeatedly struck Kenyan targets – to the port of Kismayu in Somalia.
The move to quell al-Shabaab attacks and pursue attackers inside Somalia earned admiration and respect at home and abroad.
KDF troops now run the port under the Amisom auspices as the soldiers pacify residents of the war-torn country.
In June, a UN monitoring mission accused KDF and local allies of exporting charcoal from the port of Kismayu “in flagrant violation of the [UN] Security Council ban”. KDF rejected the report at the time.