President Uhuru Kenyatta has picked a new team of military commanders who will see his expected transition from power in 2022, with General Robert Kibochi creating history by becoming the first non-infantry officer from the Kenya Army to be appointed military boss.
General Kibochi, the new Chief of Defence Forces, with roots from Nakuru and Nyandarua counties, will oversee the 2022 power transition alongside Lt-Gen Levi Franklin Mghalu (Vice-chief of Defence Forces), Kenya Army Commander Lt-Gen Walter Koipatan Raria, Kenya Navy Commander Major-General Jimson Mutai and Kenya Air Force Commander Francis Ogolla.
The 2022 election that has elicited sharp divisions between supporters of Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga will be a testing moment for the new team and the military, which has traditionally kept off Kenyan politics.
The election will especially test the new KDF boss, who has risen to the top against all odds as he is not an infantryman.
Infantry, which is historically regarded as the anchor of any land forces as it’s among the teeth fighting units, has produced all the Kenya Army men, who became Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) chiefs – namely Bernard Penfold, Joseph Ndolo, Jackson Mulinge, Mahamoud Mohamed, Jeremiah Kianga and Daudi Tonje.
General Joseph Kibwana, the first Kenya Navy officer to become KDF chief, was a seaman just like the retiring General Samson Mwathethe. Seamen are the main fighting units of the Kenya Navy.
The only other military officer to have achieved such a rare fete like Gen Kibochi is Gen Julius Karangi, a former navigator in the Kenya Air Force.
Lt-Gen Kibochi belongs to the Corps of Signals, the military personnel responsible for conveying of information.
However, it was not a walk in the park for General Kibochi, who was staring at retirement in August had he failed to get the promotion.
People in the know revealed that intensive lobbying to fill the position in the last days pitted General Kibochi against the man who succeeded him as the Kenya Army Commander, Lt-General Raria.
Other than Kibochi and Raria, the other men in contention were Lt-Gen Leonard Ngondi, the Force Commander for the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and National Defence College (NDC) Commandant Lt-Gen Adan Mulata.
Lt-Gen Mulata was disadvantaged as he is from the Kenya Air Force, the KDF service that was not in line with the rotation policy for the picking of CDF.
Although very experienced, Lt-Gen Ngondi has failed to shed off stains from his tenure as the Officer Commanding of the Eastern Command when Kenyan troops fighting in Somalia suffered the greatest number of casualties and fatalities.
Political leaders behind the lobbying said that they pushed for Lt-Gen Raria, a native of Kajiado County, to break the “monotony” of the appointments of Mt Kenya people to the top positions.
After the announcement of the changes at KDF by President Uhuru Kenyatta, there were murmurs from some quarters, with Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina among the first leaders to cry foul.
“Even KDF is tribal? This is a truly a messed up country. The most qualified military man to succeed Gen Mwathathe was Lieutenant General Walter Koipaton Raria! But just because he is Maasai, he is left out and a staff deputy is appointed! Very unfortunate!” the Narok Senator tweeted.
However, those privy to the happenings said that the decision to pick Gen Kibochi was arrived due to his extensive experience and great professionalism.
Gen Kibochi was enlisted to the military on May 18, 1979, starting his career from the less prestigious Signals Battalion based in Kahawa garrison, the unit which oversees all military communications involving signals.
Within military circles, the signallers are referred to as LEGS (Low Energy Ground Soldiers).
From the Signals Battalion, Lt-Gen Kibochi went on to become the Commander of the Kenya Army, Assistant Chief of Defence Forces, Chief of Strategic Plans and Policy, Director International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) and Commander Corps of Signals.
Lt-Gen Kibochi was also the first Chief of Staff at the Eastern Africa Standby Force and served with the United Nations as Commander of Kenyan Contingent in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) from 2000 — 2001.
A father of four, he has a bachelor’s degree in technology, communication and electronics engineering, master of arts in international studies and another master’s in computer-based information systems. He is pursuing a degree in peace and conflict management.
Born in August 1959, the General studied at Koelel Boys, the secondary school inside the Gilgil military barracks.
Eloquent and open-minded, General Kibochi is said to be regarded as a commander who is friendly both to military personnel and civilians.
He is also said to carry the same work ethics of General Karangi, which includes embracing the media as a force multiplier and as a means of enhancing accountability and transparency in military operations.
During General Karangi’s tenure, KDF allowed the embedding of journalists in covering the Somalia war.
Last year, Kibochi was instrumental in the publication of the book, The Soldiers’ Legacy, the first such elaborate publication by the Kenya Army, which until then generally lacked written literature about itself.
With his new appointment, General Kibochi is expected to work alongside other State agencies in safeguarding Kenya’s security.
A key issue to look at will be how he will coordinate with the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in dealing with the Al-Shabaab menace.
Notably, General Kibochi served in the same signals unit with NIS boss Maj-Gen (Rtd) Philip Kameru.
The changes also saw the appointments and promotions of experienced military officers to the helm of KDF.
Gen Kibochi’s deputy, the new vice-chief of Defence Forces, Lt-Gen Mghalu, is praised for helping to minimise instances of piracy in the Indian Ocean when he served as Kenya Navy Commander.
Lt-Gen Mghalu is expected to inject his naval experience in dealing the security situation at Boni Forest and work hand-in-hand with the new Kenya Navy commander Major-General Mutai in dealing with the growing threats in the coastal belt, especially from Somalia, which has filed a case at the International Court of Justice over a maritime dispute with Kenya.
Both Lt-Gen Mghalu and Maj Gen Mutai are seamen, who are said to be very conversant with sea operations.
The new Kenya Navy deputy commander Brigadier Lawrence Gituma, who interestingly becomes the first deputy navy Commander from Mtongwe village, the place where the Kenya Navy headquarters is located, is also said to be experienced in sea operations.
Another interesting promotion was that of Charles Kahariri to Major-General and appointment as Senior Directing Staff Maritime National Defence College.
Both Maj-Gen Kahariri and Brigadier Gituma are sons of ex-Navy servicemen.
A combination of Lt-Gen Mghalu at the Department of Defence Headquarters, the two Navy commanders Maj-Gen Mutai and Brigadier Gituma and the Kenya Coast Guards Services under the command of Brigadier (Rtd) Vincent Loonena is expected to bring new energy to realisation of the potential of Kenya’s Blue Economy valued at about Sh430 billion.
At the Kenya Air Force, daredevil jet fighter pilot Brigadier John Omenda was appointed as the deputy of Commander Maj-Gen Ogolla.
In 2015, Brigadier Omenda was honored for flying straight to hell to save besieged KDF troops trapped by hundreds of Al-Shabaab militants in the Somali town of Hoosingo, managing to prevent the annihilation of the Kenyan troops.
At the Kenya Army, the new deputy Maj-Gen Albert Kendagor is a tactician of war strategies, having spent years at the Kenya Military Academy.
Maj-Gen Kendagor also served with Gen Kibochi at the East Africa Standby Force.