Kenya: Under Kibochi, KDF Engages More in Civilian Duties

At the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC), machines that are as old as the country's independence are back in shape as the facility roars to full operational capacity, the first time in several decades.

And for the first time, the agency, which only made a profit shortly after it was set up sometime in the 1950s, is hoping to bury its long streak of losses.

In the coming weeks, President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to share the meat processor's extraordinary story of revival, which became possible after its operations were handed over to the Kenya Defence Forces last year.

The handover was as shocking as when the government - a few weeks before - announced that all government-owned aircraft would be under the military.

For the past one year, KDF and Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Robert Kibochi have increasingly become more visible in the running of the country.

This month marks one year since Kibochi was picked to replace General Samsom Mwathethe as CDF.

An analysis of his first one year in office paints the portrait of a military general whose work has so far been impressive and who has been spared the misfortunes of his predecessor, who witnessed the worst attacks on KDF troops.

"General Kibochi has performed fairly well. He has not been vocal but his performance speaks loudly," says Captain (Rtd) Collins Wanderi, an advocate and security analyst.

Interviews with security and defence experts have pointed out mission readiness, welfare of soldiers, modernisation and offering support to civic duties as among the top priorities for KDF under General Kibochi.

In his first 12 months in office, General Kibochi has emerged as a tough military leader in terms of shaping KDF operations.

This year alone, the General has twice visited deep operation zones in Somalia, where KDF troops are battling al-Shabaab militants, travelling to Billis Qooqani, Tabda, Hoosingo and then to Kuday, Sarira, Sankuri, Baure and Manda.

Wanderi argues that ensuring proper coordination between intelligence, command and deployment has so far been General Kibochi's biggest achievement.

Mr Chekai Musa, a security analyst, offers that the General's performance has been exemplary, especially in upholding professionalism and ethical standards in performing key missions in the military of safeguarding Kenya's airspace sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"One thing that has stood out so far is the link between KDF and civic authority. For instance, the Kenya Air Force has been very key in deployment of firefighting capability at Gikomba market and airlifting stranded Kenyans from Ethiopia. He has managed to transform the military into a technical-oriented service," Mr Musa argues.

Civilian matters

Just like his predecessor, the General is continuing the legacy of offering support in civilian matters, with President Uhuru Kenyatta urging other government institutions to emulate the military's record of delivery and efficiency in the implementation of public projects.

Other than KMC operations, some of the civic duties in which KDF is engaged are spearheading the National Security Telecommunications Service (NSTS) located at Embakasi Garrison, revival of the old railway line and the National Air Support Department (NASD).

The NSTS provides an integrated platform for efficient communication for security agencies while NASD was created to consolidate and ensure efficient utilisation of national aviation assets.

Last year, KDF engineers helped rehabilitate the old Nairobi-Nanyuki 240km line, which had been non-operational for more than two decades and they are almost done reviving the Nakuru-Kisumu railway line.

The Kenya Navy Engineers are also credited with the revival of MV Uhuru ferry, which was facing demolition after years of disuse. Also, the Kisumu Port is being refurbished by the Kenya Navy.

Within military circles, troops speak well of General Kibochi for spearheading their welfare issues.

One of the major reforms initiated by General Kibochi is the recognition of children of single parents as legitimate beneficiaries of medical insurance and other benefits that children of married couples benefit from.

KDF is also focusing to alleviate the strain on KDF families living with dependants and children living with special needs by offering them improved health services.

In October last year, the President inaugurated the Lang'ata Wellness Centre, which is offering psychosocial, mental health, visual, hearing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and orthopedic services. The facility has a bed capacity of about 70.

Further, after years of neglect, the military has moved to renovate KDF-sponsored schools and build new housing units for their personnel and their families.

Notably, both General Kibochi and Defence CS Monica Juma are alumni of KDF sponsored schools, Moi Forces Academy and Koelel High School, respectively.

Last year, the KDF Corp of Engineers renovated 31 schools in an exercise that lasted 90 Days at a cost of Sh129 million.

Early this year, KDF, through its Infrastructure Branch, held a public partnership meeting to create a merger that will see KDF build more than 6,000 housing units for KDF personnel and their families.

KDF is also constructing a 7,500-capacity sports centre known as the Ulinzi Sports Complex, which will host a world-class football pitch and training ground, an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts and an indoor arena, among other ultra-modern facilities.

Further, the military is building two regional hospitals in Nairobi and Isiolo. Also with the increased demand for military competencies across government offices, there has been a Defence Forces Standing Instruction guiding the duration (it has been set at two years) and conduct of military personnel on secondment assignments.

To bolster mission readiness, General Kibochi is overseeing a shift in the KDF training cycle from what is known as individual soldier training to joint forces training.

Under his command, the tri services' (Kenya Army, Kenya Navy and Kenya Airforce) training cycle has been reviewed and plans are underway to deliver on joint training.

In military parlance, the best form of welfare a commander could give his troops is training so that the soldier is ready to undertake his duty while well-kitted, well-trained and well-equipped.

In the past few months, the military has embarked on modernisation of combat systems, physical infrastructure and the upgrading of the equipment support system.

Last month, the Kenya Air Force commissioned the American bird C-145 Skytruck, which will replace the Chinese-made Harbin Y-12, also known as the Yunshuji-12, as a transport aircraft of choice.

KDF is also procuring new Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), at a time when there have been questions on the efficacy of the APCs currently in use.

Recovering unserviceable APCs

Already, the military has settled on the custom Katmerciler HIZIR, a tactical armoured vehicle designed for high performance in extreme operational conditions. KDF plans to purchase 118 of them.

The APCs will also offer troops operating across and along the Kenya-Somalia border with protective mobility, coupled with day and night early warning mechanisms to aid in operations.

The Katmerciler HIZIR will be a worthy addition to the current APC fleet in the KDF, which consists of Puma M26-15, WMZ 551BSI, Mamba MK5, Bastion and CS/VP 14, all introduced into the service between 2010 and 2019.

The tactical wheeled armoured vehicle to be obtained from Turkey has a proven track record in Syria where the Turkish forces operate and face similar threats as KDF troops face in Somalia.

As from October, KDF embarked on recovering unserviceable APCs, tanks and military vehicles.

Last year, the 81 Tank Battalion, which is based in Lanet, revived more than 30 tanks into serviceable condition.

In October last year, Gen Kibochi launched a programme at the Kenya Army Corp of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Wing, ordinarily known as the KDF Corp of KAEME, located in Kahawa Garrison, which is now recovering unserviceable APCs and other vehicles.

The programme targets a first batch of more than 400 vehicles for restoration in the first six months.

KDF Corp of KAEME and the Corp of Transport have been deployed to repair Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) vehicles, many of which had been grounded.

By the end of October last year, KDF and NMS had rehabilitated a total of 83 vehicles that had been grounded at the government garage in Industrial Area for more than eight years.

The vehicles included 21 tippers, 24 fire engines, six ambulances, three hydraulic platforms for the street-lighting programme, two scrub street sweepers and two graders.

Last month, President Kenyatta formally inaugurated the new Small Arms Factory at the National Security Industries in Ruiru, the beginning of the country's plans to become a significant weapons manufacturer.

And the Kenya Ordnance Factories Corporation in Eldoret is expected to add a new ammunition production line before the end of the year.

Since he came into office, the military has spiced up its website and social media accounts as it seeks to embrace accountability and visibility of its public undertakings.

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