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Kenya Defence Forces

Kenyas military reflects the rich cultural mix of the nation with virtually all ethnic groups represented in it. The Kenya Defence Forces traces its origins to the 19th century era of the Kings African Rifles The last quarter of this period was characterized by the active involvement of the British Government in the enforcement of the abolition of the slave trade in the East African region. Their main ally in this campaign was the Sultan of Zanzibar.

However, the Sultan was under great pressure from a variety of interest groups not to end the trade, it being a major source of income. At the same time, other European countries were actively developing their spheres of influence in Africa. To deal with these challenges, the British Government established the Imperial British East Africa Company to safeguard its interests. As these interests expanded, the need arose to create a strong force that could both project power and expand influence. It is out of this private force that the first indigenous land forces, the precursor of the present Kenya Defence Forces, can be traced.

The Kenyan armed forces were organized to provide defense against external enemies; they could also be used in support of the police to contribute to the maintenance of internal security. In the late 1970s and early 1980s all the military services were expanded and reequipped so that their ability to defend the country against external attack was substantially enhanced. In 1983 the reequipment program was nearing completion, and the military was mainly concerned with reorganizing, recruiting, and retraining personnel in order to rebuild the air force, which had been disbanded after the 1982 coup attempt.

The present structure of the Defence Forces is provided for by the Constitution, which places the Head of Stateas the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, namely the Kenya Army, the Kenya Air Force and the Kenya Navy. The Kenya Defence Forces contribute to the overall capability on land, in the air and at sea. Each service consists of three basic elements of a headquarters organisation, support and field forces.

The Defence Headquarters functions as the technical department for national defence within the policy guidelines laid down by Parliament and the Cabinet in accordance with the Constitution. It is the supreme administrative authority for the civilian and military departments.

Under the overall command of the president, who served as commander in chief, and working in concert with Permanent Secretary for Defence and Chief Secretary, the General Staff operated from the Armed Forces Headquarters Building in Nairobi. In addition to the chief of the General Staff, who served as operational commander of the armed forces, the General Staff included the service chiefs. A defense staff operated within the headquarters under the General Staff to coordinate the activities of the services and to administer the Women's Service Corps (WSC) and branches for joint operations and training, personnel, administration, and technical matters. Headed by an army brigadier, the defense staff was composed of officers from all three services.

According to the Constitution, the Defence Forces:

  • Are responsible for the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic;
  • Shall assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster, and report to the National Assembly Whenever deployed in such circumstances; and
  • May be deployed to restore peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability only with the approval of the National Assembly.

It is a constitutional requirement that the composition of the command of the Defence Forces reflects the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya. The supreme organ overseeing all matters pertaining to the Defence Forces is the Defence Council, which is also a constitutionally established body.

The top soldier in the Kenya Defence Forces is the Chief of the Defence Forces (CDF). He is the only officer who holds the rank of four-star General. The first officer to hold the post, still then known as Chief of Defence Forces, was Maj Gen J .M.L. Ndolo who left office after being implicated in a coup against the Government of President Jomo Kenyatta in 1971. Maj Gen J.K. Mulinge, who later became the first officer to assume the rank of a full general, succeeded him.

Of the three services, only an officer of the rank of Lt Gen commands the Army, which is next in line to that of a full general. Major Generals command the Kenya Air Force and the Kenya Navy. Traditionally, two other officers also carry the rank of Lt General in the nations defence structure. These are the Vice Chief of General Staff and the Commandant of the National Defence College, the militarys top higher education institution.

Assistance to Civil Authority

Kenya Defence Forces role prior to the promulgation of the new Constitution was two fold the primary role was to defend the sovereignty of the Republic and the secondary one was to assist the civil authority when called upon. The process of calling upon the Defence Forces entails a decision that the breach in law and order is such that the police services can no longer contain it.

In the case of general breaches, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of the Republic of Kenya may directly invoke the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 57. For large but isolated breaches, the Minister for Provincial Administration and Internal Security may invite the Defence Forces, through an order issued under the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 57; Subsidiary Regulations, Public Security (Armed Forces) Order section 2(1) and confer them the full powers, protection and privileges of police officers in the designated area.

After calling upon, the Defence Forces employ the appropriate means (minimum necessary forces), to bring the situation back to a condition where police can once again operate effectively. The invite is formalised by a gazette notice that is issued after but not more than 21 days; or prior to the employment. Calling upon requires Parliamentary sanction. Therefore both the President and the Minister may seek parliamentary authorisation post facto before twenty one days expire, or abinitio.

Kenyans have called on the Defence Forces when they become victims of external aggression; such as the Todenyang in Turkana and the Migingo Island (Nyanza) cases.

The new Constitution defined the roles of the Kenya Defence to be the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic, assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster, and the restoration of peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability, when approved to do so by the National Assembly.

The forces so committed shall perform these roles under the supervision and control of the Defence Council but being directly answerable to the National Assembly. This subordinates the Defence Forces to civil authority, or put more clearly, the people of Kenya.

Since independence, the Government has often called upon KDF to help in disasters such floods, collapsed buildings, terrorist attacks, fires and to supplement civilian efforts in the provision of services such as water and medical care. KDF has also been deployed in the construction of many public Works, including bridges and schools. Its Engineers Battalion has sunk boreholes in arid lands in Eastern and Northern Kenya.

Generally, standard military employment in support of the civil power includes assisting the police in dealing with riots and other civil disturbances, guarding key points, helping to maintain essential supplies and services and to bring relief during natural disasters. The military in this role operates under the domestic law of Kenya, together with accepted international law provisions relating to the protection of basic human rights. The military is expected to observe existing law on use of force, powers of arrest and search as well as liability for Wrongful acts; No employment of the armed forces, either in international or noninternational armed conflict, may be executed Without due regulation of the law.

As in all democracies, the Kenya Defence Forces are a tool of the civil power. The President, with the constitutional designation of Commander-in-Chief, is empowered to retain responsibility for organisation and command of the military. The President and the Defence Council control all attachments and employment in the military or cooperation with other forces locally and abroad. In addition, Parliament retains supervisory power over the defence forces in funding. All military expenditure requires parliamentary authority through the annual financial approvals. Scrutiny of this expenditure is ensured through the annual report of the Controller and Auditor-General.

The lines, limits and controls over the Kenyan Defence Forces by the civil power are clear and represent the constitutional intention to control military intervention through the democratic processes of the country.

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