Retired generals owe Kenyans their memoirs
Kenyan soldiers are celebrated here at home and whenever they go to serve.
Thousands of Kenyan soldiers have served this country diligently and retired honourably. Others have travelled beyond the country’s borders to serve in peacekeeping forces in many parts of the world. Yet, these men and women often retire without ever telling their stories.
Maybe because they are practical people, ready to pick up a gun and ammunition, and march to war, soldiers don’t have time to tell their stories of battles, of casualties, of friends and colleagues lost, of wars won or lost, or of the scars of war that they carry back home.
If ordinary men and women of the army rarely tell their stories, their commanders tend to be more silent. It takes years for a book written by a senior Kenyan military officer to appear in bookshops. Indeed, only a few memoirs have appeared in the recent past.
Retired Lieutenant General Lazaro Kipkurui Sumbeiywo and Retired Lieutenant General Daniel Ishmael Opande have penned their memoirs in the recent past. Retired Lieutenant General Humphrey W. Njoroge has recently added his memoirs to that thin library from old soldiers, Promises to Keep and Miles to Go: Memoirs of the 11th 3 Star Kenyan General (Three Legs Consortium, 2023).
In this lucidly told and captivating story, Lt Gen Njoroge invites the reader deep into his life, from childhood, school, joining the military as a cadet, experiences of war, rising in the command structure, training soldiers, to the professionalisation of Kenya’s army, his experiences during elections and retirement.
But Lt Gen Njoroge has a special place for the family in his memoirs. He writes about the family thus: “That the family is a pillar is a very strong perspective that has deepened my beliefs. This belief and connection when I joined the military helped me to develop a very strong personal character and ethical belief as a military officer. It is clear to me that the family is a very important nucleus and the basis on which a strong military institution is formed.”
Not often does one come across such sentiments by soldiers, serving or retired.
The story of Lt Gen Njoroge is one of sheer diligence. This is a man who was born to poor parents in Nyandarua. Like many people who were born and raised under colonialism in Kenya, Njoroge went to school at a time when Africans were not encouraged to study subjects beyond practical skills that would ensure they provided labour to the colonial system of economic production.
But through the sheer determination of his mother he would avoid the predetermined life of his contemporaries and proceed to the next level of schooling, from primary to intermediate and secondary school.
From the church/school on a white settler’s farm where he started schooling, Njoroge would transfer to Tulaga Primary School, which he says was about 8km away from his home. From there he was admitted to Njambini (sic) Primary School in Class Three.
He then proceeded to Kijabe Intermediate School after performing well in the Common Entrance Examination. After passing the Kenya African Preliminary Examination (KAPE), Njoroge was admitted to Kapsabet High School, where he sat his Cambridge School Certificate Examinations (CSCE). Njoroge was then admitted to Kagumo High School for ‘A’ Level studies in Economics, Geography and History.
However, he did not complete his ‘A’ Levels because he opted to join the Kenya Military Training College as an army cadet in 1966. This happened after a chance encounter with a “Military Operational Convoy platoon” which had “stopped near the school (Kagumo) gate for lunch”. Like many stories of this kind, there must have been something in the deportment of the soldiers to impress the young high schoolers. In Njoroge’s case, it was the combat uniform.
Njoroge would report to the Kenya Military Training College at Lanet to attend the cadet course, which he describes as “the most rigorous training in the military.” The training involved “weapons, drill, field craft, battle drills and tactics.” There was also academic training on “military history, tactics and war theory.” The cadets would also study law and the constitution. After six months of training and graduating from Lanet, selected cadets would go to Mons Officer Cadet School in Surrey County, UK, where they trained with other cadets from the Commonwealth.
The family, school and military training backgrounds would later be the backbone of Njoroge’s stay and rise in the military to a three-star general on retirement in 2004 at 58 years. Presented to the reader in Promises to Keep and Miles to Go is a man who had been raised by a hardworking mother; a man with a burning ambition to succeed in school; a man committed to a career that he chose at a time when most of his agemates would have preferred to continue with school and become some of the earliest Kenyan professionals in various fields; a disciplined man who would later play an instrumental role in raising the bar of hard work, discipline and professionalism in the Kenyan military.
It is these values that Promises to KeepandMiles to Go offer the reader. These values would serve Lt Gen Njoroge quite well as his crop of fellow African officers transitioned the army from its colonial roots into a Kenyan one. These same values would serve him well during the Shifta War and the Ogaden War, and even better as a trainer of military men, from when he was tasked to establish a School of Infantry in Maralal to when he was posted to Nanyuki as the Base Commander Colonel of the Air Force when he was an army man, to when he was “posted as the Commandant of the Defence Staff College” in 1991 after being promoted to Major General at 44 years of age.
To read Promises to Keep and Miles to Go is to encounter the first major lesson for a non-military Kenyan on the history, structure and operations or practices of Kenya’s military. Lt Gen Njoroge’s memoirs are a provocation to retired soldiers to chronicle their experiences during service and life as civilians.
Indeed, General Kibochi, the Chief of the Defence Forces of Kenya, urges members of the military service to write about their lives in the Foreword to the book, which message he repeated at the National Defence College in presence of all former CDFs and a majority of generals, retired and serving, during the launch of the memoir.
The writer teaches literature, performing arts and media at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]