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Kenya - Military Personnel

The military establishment was never a significant drain on the country's manpower resources. In 1982 there were 16,500 Kenyans in the armed forces, or about 0.1 percent of the national population. With an estimated 3.5 million males between 15 and 49 years of age, 2.1 million of whom were considered fit for military service, conscription had never been necessary to fill the ranks of the armed forces.

At independence Kenyatta inherited an army overwhelmingly officered by Kamba, and he moved rapidly to transform the ethnic balance in the armed forces in favor of his own ethnic group, the Kikuyu. However, it was not possible for him to create a largely Kikuyu army in a country where the group was in a minority (21 percent), and where other groups (the Kamba, Kalenjin) had historic claims to military careers. In view of this reality, Kenyatta began to pack the officer corps at junior levels – for the long run.

The thrust behind Kenyatta’s policy was to attain a balance of power whereby a move by the army as a whole would call for a degree of trust and cooperation between Kikuyu and non-Kikuyu officers. A move by Kikuyu officers alone would probably bring a reaction from non-Kikuyu in the lower ranks, while intervention by non-Kikuyu officers alone could be expected to bring a counter-move.

After Moi became president, members of his Kalenjin ethnic group moved into prominence. Most notably, J.M. Sawe, a respected Kalenjin lieutenant colonel at the time of Kenyatta's death, had by 1980 become a major general and army commander. (He was a lieutenant general in 1983.) In addition, particularly after the 1982 coup attempt, Kikuyu personnel in the security forces lost influence. In 1983, after Moi dismissed the Kikuyu chiefs of the air force and the police in the wake of the coup attempt, none of the uniformed service chiefs were Kikuyu, and morale among Kikuyu servicemen was reported to be low.

The policy of basing important appointments on ethnic considerations was similar to the pattern followed by Kenyatta, which had favored the Kikuyu. Immediately after independence and the 1964 mutiny, the government sought to increase the loyalty of the armed forces by redressing the colonial legacy of ethnic imbalance that had virtually excluded the Kikuyu from military service. By 1967 about 23 percent of the officer corps was of Kikuyu origin, compared with the 28 percent that was Kamba.

The increase in the Kikuyu ratio was attributed in part to their success in qualifying examinations for officer commissions because of the generally superior education system in areas of Kikuyu concentration. In addition, however, the influx was the effect of Kenyatta's Kikuyu-dominated government, which encouraged more Kikuyu influence in the armed forces, as well as in other parts of the state security apparatus.

Because of the former dominance and seniority of the Kamba and the Kalenjin in the armed forces, the Kikuyu for political reasons were never able to dominate the top ranks of the armed services completely; for example, Kenyatta chose to appoint Ndolo, a Kamba, as the first Kenyan chief of the Defence Staff. Similarly, Moi relied heavily on Kamba military appointments to fill the top ranks, as Kalenjin personnel accounted for less than 10 percent of the military's manpower in the early 1980s. These Kamba appointees included Chief of General Staff General Mulinge and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier J. Musombe.

According to observers, the army has strictly observed ethnic quotas. Although details of Kenya's preferred ethnic balance are not readily available, one report indicated that in the armed forces as a whole, Kikuyu personnel made up 19 percent of manpower levels, 12 percent were Kamba, and no other group had more than 10 percent of the total. The social differences between the two services also highlighted the fact that air force members were mostly Kikuyu. The army, although more ethnically balanced, had relatively high proportions of Kamba and Kalenjin personnel.

The officer corps was relatively well educated, but it was believed that military service had not significantly diverted educated manpower from more economically productive work because of the existence of high levels of unemployment among secondary-school graduates and even university graduates. The armed forces by the late 1970s were also thought of as a training ground for the development of skilled manpower that could be used in other sectors.

Kenya's armed forces have never needed conscription to satisfy manpower needs. The basic technique for recruiting both officers and enlisted personnel has been the periodic recruitment safari in which military teams visit rural communities, schools, and universities throughout the country to accept applications from potential recruits.

Publicity campaigns by press and radio have stimulated public interest in advance of the safari, whose arrival is a community affair. This recruitment method also has served the policy aim of enlisting a cross section of the nation's youth and maintaining an ethnic balance within the armed forces approximating the ethnic makeup of the population at large.

Limited manpower needs combined with high unemployment among civilians allow the armed services to be fairly selective in enlisted recruitment. The minimal initial term of enlistment ranged from two years for an infantryman to from seven to nine years for those who received technical training. Final acceptance was contingent upon applicants being able to meet specific height, weight, health, and education standards when they reported to the recruitment training center.

The level of health and education of armed forces personnel was reported to be considerably higher than that of the population at large. Educational requirements varied significantly among the services. Literacy was not a requirement for general enlistment in the army, although the service required that its men understand Swahili. Most soldiers came from the peasantry and were educated to no more than a primary level. The air force, on the other hand, obtained a majority of its recruits from technical and secondary schools. Most enlisted airmen had received their secondary-school certificates, some were university graduates, and all had passed tests measuring knowledge, learning potential, intelligence, and manual dexterity.

Like many other African armies, the Kenyan armed forces were highly susceptible to the attrition of HIV/AIDS. In August 2001, Kenyan Chief of General Staff Joseph Kibwana announced that all recruits joining the armed forces will have to undergo AIDS tests. By 2003 HIV/AIDS prevalence estimates in Kenya ranged from 13 to nearly 15% of the population with either HIV infection or AIDS; the number of people estimated to be living with HIV is 2.5 million. Relative to the civilian population, military personnel were at increased risk due to high mobility of troops, as well as the sexual culture found along the Trans-African Highway. The Kenya Department of Defense (KDOD) had not performed systematic screening of personnel.

Regular officer candidate enrollment was open to persons between the ages of 18 and 22 who had at least secondary-school certificates and high class standing and to qualified NCOs. The services recruited aggressively at secondary schools and colleges to compete for a fair share of the educated and future leadership elite. Reserve officer training programs did not exist in the schools or elsewhere. Special inducements were given to university graduates, including direct entry commissions and, upon completion of training, the backdating of seniority to date of entry. Short-service commissions limited to five years were available to certain categories of officers.

Since 1970 all recruit and basic officer training, as well as most technical and in-service training for the army, air force, and navy, has been consolidated in the Armed Forces Training College at Lanet, near Nakuru. Army recruits undergo an intensive basic training course of about six months. Recruits of the other services and officer candidates take shorter periods of basic training, after which they continue in specialized instruction.

Officer training has been carried out by the Cadet Wing of the training college. Full-term cadet training, including flight officer training, has been provided for most army and air force officers within Kenya by an all-Kenyan training staff. Officer training, including specialized training, generally has taken two years to complete before officers are commissioned.

By the early 1980s the armed forces were seeking to train their own personnel within Kenya without foreign assistance. To this end, in 1981 the Kenya Armed Forces Technical College was established to train personnel from all three services as electronics, mechanical, and maintenance technicians.

"A discontented soldier is a bad soldier," according to the Kenyan government in its Development Plan 1970-74. For this reason, Kenyan defense spending in the first decade of independence, especially after the end of the shifta war, was focused on improving the accommodations, food, pay, and medical care of service personnel. In the 1960s pay and allowances, for example, accounted for as much as two-thirds of the defense budget. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, conditions of service for most personnel became increasingly austere as the military establishment doubled manpower levels and shifted its spending priorities in order to procure more weapons.

Unlike the police who are allowed to live in civilian houses and interact with civilians, the law prohibits military officers from staying outside the barracks. In the early 1980s most of the army was housed on installations in rural areas where they lived in tents, self-built barracks lacking water or electricity, and old "temporary barracks," few of which could accommodate the married soldiers' families. In the air force, pilots and middle-grade officers were generally housed adequately, but enlisted personnel and technicians generally had to endure poor housing conditions. Some lived in tents on the air bases and, because they were not as a rule confined to barracks, many low-ranking members lived in the poorer sections of Nairobi without the benefit of a housing allowance.

Kenya’s military is a significant player in higher education for soldiers and other Government employees both for Kenyan citizens and friendly African nations. Its National Defence College, launched in 1997, provides participants with the opportunity to study, analyses and orchestrate national security issues relating to domestic, foreign, economic and defence policies.

The college is administered by an officer of the rank of Lt General as the Commandant and is divided into two divisions – Faculty and Administration. Four Directing Staff, all of the rank of Major General and coming from the Army, Air Force and Navy, assist the Commandant.

The Kenya Defence Forces have provided stable careers for hundreds of thousands of Kenyans. Some have risen to the highest ranks while others have left to become professionals in civilian life. A small but significant number have joined politics and become Members of Parliament, with a few serving as Cabinet ministers.

The Constitution required all public institutions to observe a gender ratio of not more than two thirds of one gender in any recruitment exercise. Up to 2000, the Kenya Defence Forces had a battalion known as the Women’s Service Corps. The Corps was formed in 1971 with a pioneering staff of six officers and 155 service women. The Corps was formed to:

  • Support fighting units during war—time by providing personnel for military installations where women were assigned roles such secretarial, clerical, logistics, medical and communication.
  • Perform administrative roles during peace time.
  • Provide employment opportunities to women in a male dominated field.

In disbanding this Corps in 2000, the KDF seemed to anticipate the constitutional requirement of including all citizens rather than viewing them as interest groups. Previously, it was a policy requirement that women could not be assigned roles in the fighting units and could only offer back-up and support services.

But with massive strides in the technological evolution of warfare and leaps made in an education system that offered equal opportunities to men and women, this policy slowly became redundant. Women were as good as men in operating the new systems that were becoming part of the KDF inventory. They are now recruited and assigned roles into all the Limits of the Defence Forces, just as are the men.

Kenya’s military has produced some of the World’s best-known athletes. Famed distance runners such marathoners Paul Tergat and World champion distance runners such as Henry Rono and John Ngugi began their careers in the Kenya Defence Forces.

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Page last modified: 10-05-2015 19:45:02 ZULU