What you need to know:
The National Defence University of Kenya is not your regular public institution of higher learning. There is an air of order, vigilance and security as one approaches the gate.
Guests are screened and leave their identification documents at the heavily guarded gate.
Unlike the bedlam that characterises entrances to public universities, with kiosks and matatu touts calling out for passengers, there is no stop for public vehicles here.
The gate is manned by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers, not Administration Police officers or guards from private security firms.
Once in the expansive lush compound, motorists must observe a 30kph speed limit.
Lecturers and administrators are in military and civilian attire since some employees are not soldiers.
However, students are in jungle uniforms and shining boots. They march to their respective areas as if they are on a parade rehearsal and salute their superiors respectfully.
The National Defence University of Kenya in Lanet, Nakuru County, is the only institution of its kind in East and Central Africa.
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President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded it a charter on May 27, 2021, making it the first specialist university in Kenya. Mr Kenyatta is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The institution will train army, navy and air force cadets intellectually, physically and psychologically. The aim is to make the trainees grow into future KDF leaders. It is also designed to train civilians in the wake of evolving international security threats.
“The university aims to produce the best and brightest brass in the coveted military career,” Vice-Chancellor Jonah Mwangi told Higher Education.
The university is a silver bullet that could be a solution to the management of national security as it will also serve as a think-tank.
The National Defence University of Kenya is also expected to address geopolitical security threats like cybercrime, terrorism and pandemics like coronavirus, he said.
These challenges have no boundaries and overcoming them requires specialised military education, research and innovation.
“The establishment of the National Defence University of Kenya comes when conflict resolution requires modern measures. We will provide strategic defence and security education towards bringing up a well-grounded generation of officers with new ideas and technology,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
Lt-Gen Mwangi, who was appointed VC on August 5, 2021, added that the institution would give students pursuing a military career a chance to acquire skills in intelligence, military technology even on the frontlines of battle.
The university has already admitted 179 officer cadets pursuing Bachelor of Science in Defence and Security Studies.
It will also offer specialised certificates and diplomas in areas related to defence and national security.
Due to the rigorous recruitment and thorough background check of potential students, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service will not be involved in the choosing and admission of students at the Lanet-based institution.
“We shall only have specialised students. We need to know their background well,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
However, he added that he National Defence University of Kenya offers an open master’s course in crisis response and disaster management at the International Peace Support Training Centre.
It is open to civilians and other members of the military.
“Approach to security is inclusive but we will diversify programmes. We expect to go into engineering in an effort to contribute to the body of knowledge and development,” the VC added.
As part of diversification, the National Defence University of Kenya has blended its teaching and management staff with military officers and civilians.
It also hired Prof Ann Muigai as the Deputy VC (Academic Affairs and Research), Dr Stephen Nzioki (Registrar) and Ms Miriam Nginga as the Director of Finance and Accounts.
“These important staff members in our management board will help steer the National Defence University of Kenya to greater heights,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
Other key staff members are Deputy VC (Administration and Finance) Rtd Maj-Gen Patrick Amogola, Deputy VC (Applied Research and Military Strategic Studies) Maj-Gen Rashid Elmi and Brigadier Elizabeth Omollo who is Director of Examinations.
The National Defence University of Kenya is the umbrella of five military colleges – the National Defence College, Defence Staff College, Kenya Military Academy, Defence Forces Technical College and International Peace Support Training Centre. It has 446 students in total.
The National Intelligence Research University College under the National Intelligence Service is a constituent college of the National Defence University of Kenya and offers a master’s degrees in security and intelligence.
“We provide a comprehensive and balanced curriculum to impart knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for one to be a sophisticated fighter. The course also address any challenges the cadets may face,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
Students who complete undergraduate programmes at the National Defence University of Kenya will have a chance to pursue a master’s degree in Crisis Response and Disaster Management at the International Peace Support Training Centre.
Lt-Gen Mwangi says the institution will continue to work with other higher learning institutions like Kenyatta University, which has been training cadets in military science for 12 years.
“The last cohort of cadets to be trained outside this university was admitted to Kenyatta University last month. This collaboration will continue as we also fill gaps when growing our capacity,” the VC said.
Apart from KU, the National Defence University of Kenya has partnered with the University of Nairobi and South Eastern Kenya University.
The university will train officers for the Kenya military and others in the region who meet the requirements.
“This is a specialised military institution and its rigorous three-year training will prepare officers who will join as cadets for leadership in their careers,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
“Our purpose is to develop character in the cadets and commissioned officers who will provide selfless service and leadership to the KDF and the nation in general.”
He added that there will be an opportunity in future for service men and women to join the National Defence University of Kenya.
“We’re looking into policies. Already there is a committee constituted by Chief of Kenya Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi to see how best servicemen and women benefit from programmes at the university,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
The VC added that the National Defence University of Kenya is a centre of excellence and the pride of the country.
“Setting up of the National Defence University of Kenya is a milestone. It has shown that as a country, we can provide that niche in terms of national and global security,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
According to the VC, opening up of the university comes at a time armed conflicts have drastically evolved beyond the physical approach.
“Warfare has broadened. There are threats that surpass physical security. There is terrorism in cyberspace and we need people who have the capacity to critically think, conduct analysis and provide solutions,” he said.
“Beyond that, there is a link between development and security. These two are intertwined. None can survive without the other. We need to prepare soldiers to offer solutions for security and development and contribute more meaningfully to society.”
He, however, added that the officers would continue to go for specialised training outside the country when need arises.
“Security is an international concern and our officers will still need to go out. Security matters keep evolving,” he said.
“We will continue to get the best practices from outside as they also learn from us.”
The National Defence University of Kenya, the VC says, will play an important role in producing specialised professionals whose expertise will be needed to defend the nation from threats.
The university has embraced modern technology too. The Defence Technical College is already running programmes for on IT systems.
“The college has brought on board innovations that can in future be used in the industry and be part of generating revenue streams of this country,” the VC said.
Lt-Gen Mwangi says he is aware of the expectations Kenyans have on the first specialised university in the country.
“My appointment as VC is historic. Though some of us are soldiers first and have no experience in the academic world, we are equal to the task ahead. We have benefited from mentorship programmes from professors and other academics and will rise to the occasion,” Lt-Gen Mwangi said.
He added that the work ethics in the military will be an added advantage to the management team of the National Defence University of Kenya.
The university will be a boon to Nakuru county residents and the business community as most of the perishable goods and services that will be used at the institution will be sourced from locals.
“The National Defence University of Kenya will contribute a great deal to the economy of this region,” the VC said.