When he was elected in 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta did not publicly indicate his love for the military. But during his second term, he trusted the military with many functions.
The seed may have been planted after the uncoordinated response to the September 2013 Westgate attack in Nairobi led to the loss of more than 70 lives.
Authorities’ poor response to the siege brought the country’s preparedness under sharp scrutiny and sparked transfers of security chiefs, the enactment of the controversial Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 and the establishment of a Multi-Agency Taskforce (MAT) to help security agencies share intelligence and improve government responses to national threats.
Months later, President Uhuru Kenyatta began appointing former spies and retired military men as heads of key government parastatals, some of which were on the verge of collapse.
Those appointed to security-related agencies became part of the taskforce that includes officials from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Directorate of Criminal Investigations, National Intelligence Service (NIS), Financial Reporting Centre (FRC), Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Asset Recovery Agency (ASA), Kenya Prisons (KPS), Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and the Attorney General.
Currently, MAT has at least four former and serving military officials; FRC Director Capt (Rtd) Saitoti Ole Maika, EACC’s Twalib Mbarak, ASA’s Brigadier Alice Mate, Brigadier (Rtd) John Warioba and NMS boss Lt-Gen Mohammed Badi.
President Kenyatta established NMS and appointed Kenya Airforce Lt-Gen Badi, who he later co-opted to the Cabinet to fast-track improvement of health care, transport and public works within a period of 24 months. It has been credited for the implementation of the Nairobi rail commuter system, setting up 24 hospitals, improved water supply in informal settlements, professionalised county council policing, and streamlining garbage collection.
With the choice of military men and women to key positions, President Kenyatta’s appointments have since increased during his second term. In his Executive Order No. 4 of 2019 President Kenyatta appointed former Navy officer Brig John Waweru to lead reforms at the Kenya Wildlife Services.
Around the same time, officers from KDF were deployed at the Ministry of Lands to spearhead the digitisation of land records under the Joint National and Resource Mapping that developed the ArdhiSasa digital platform to speed up land transactions. This fast-tracked issuing of title deeds across the country, which has helped the Ministry of Education map out schools, and the Ministry of Transport identify road reserves. KFS established encroached forest reserves in the country and established a system that maps out the location of Kenya’s minerals to protect them from theft.
Through Executive Order No. 3 of 2020, President Kenyatta transferred the Kenya Meat Commission from the Ministry of Agriculture to that of Defence, placing it under Brig James N Githaga.
In mid-2020, the President further deployed KDF to secure Uhuru Gardens and refurbish it into a modern-day 21st-century district.
In December 2020, President Kenyatta inaugurated the National Air Support Department, a multi-agency unit that was placed under the Ministry of Defence to coordinate all government aircraft and services, including the National Police Air Wing, KWS, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company and Kenya Forest Service aircraft and maintenance following a string of accidents that claimed lives in the past.
Various human rights groups claimed the President was turning the country into a military state and even went to court to object to some of the changes, but that did not stop his resolve to tame wastage in public institutions, as today, military chiefs hardly miss slots in major key government appointments.