Francis Omondi Ogolla succeeds Robert Kibochi as Chief of Defence Forces

Lt Francis Omondi Ogolla

The then Vice Chief of the Defence forces, Lt Francis Omondi Ogolla, before the Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee at Continental House in Nairobi on November 7, 2022, regarding the deployment of the KDF to the DRC. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • General Kibochi has retired after 44 years of "illustrious" military service, three of which he served as the Chief of Defence Forces.
  • The President has also appointed Lt-Gen Jonah Mwangi as the Vice Chief of Defence Forces succeeding Gen Ogolla.

President William Ruto yesterday made his first changes in the military command, promoting Lt Gen Francis Ogolla to the rank of General and subsequently appointing him as Chief of Defence Forces (CDF).

He succeeds army veteran General Dr Robert Kibochi who retires after 44 years of an illustrious career in military service, three of which he served as CDF and previously as Vice CDF, Commander Kenya Army among other ranks.

Gen Ogolla will be deputised by Lt General Jonah Mwangi who has been serving as the Vice Chancellor, National Defence University, who now takes over as the Vice CDF. 

There had been speculation that the Ruto administration would try all tricks to bypass Gen Ogolla after he was sucked in political and legal controversy in the aftermath of last year’s disputed presidential elections.

As Kibochi term nears end, what comes next?

This would have meant going against military tradition, generally referred to as the ‘Tonje Rules’. But in recent months it has been apparent the career soldier had not been isolated as he made public appearances with Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale. 

General Kibochi leaves behind a rich legacy including overseeing the modernisation and expansion of military services, the revival of Kenya Meat Commission and the rehabilitation of Uhuru Gardens into a state-of-the-art monument and museum facility.

The position of CDF rotates among the three services (navy, army and air force) in what is commonly referred to as the Tonje Rules—in honour of Gen Daudi Tonje, who came up with them. The rules state that the position holder serves a period of one term (four years) with a possible extension of one year at the pleasure of the commander in chief.

Based on Tonje rules and with Kibochi’s retirement drawing closer, President Ruto was only left with the option of picking a successor from the air force.

At the Air Force, its two senior most officers were Lt General Ogolla and Lt Gen Mohammed Badi (60).

Lt Gen Badi, who was picked by then President Uhuru Kenyatta as Director General of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) to manage key functions the city county, was a trusted ally of the former president.

Lieutenant-General Jonah Mwangi

Lieutenant-General Jonah Mwangi, then the vice chancellor of the National Defence University of Kenya (NDU-K), during an interview in his office in Lanet, Nakuru County, on July 15, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Sources said General Ogolla’s excellent educational background also made him an ideal candidate to navigate the challenges of modern day-to-day defense duties in, among others intelligence analysis, countering terrorism and accident investigations.

For Gen Ogolla, however, his rise to the top military job is a lot more than just his experience.

In the run-up to the August 2022 elections, Gen Ogolla was dragged into the elections dispute pitting President Ruto and his closest challenger Raila Odinga, with the electoral commission—and subsequently the President’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance—using him to paint a picture of how the State dragged the military into the polls in an attempt to change its outcome.

Gen Ogolla was adversely mentioned by former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati and ex-commissioner Abdi Guliye for being part of a delegation from the National Security Advisory Council (NSAC) that allegedly attempted to influence the presidential results in favour of Azimio candidate Raila Odinga.

In their affidavits before the Supreme Court in the presidential petition, Mr Chebukati and Prof Guliye claimed that NSAC said that a result against Mr Odinga would plunge the country into chaos.

They claimed that NSAC sent a team of Gen Ogolla, former Principal Administrative Secretary in the Office of President Kennedy Kihara, ex-Solicitor General Kennedy Ogeto, and former police boss Hillary Mutyambai to Bomas of Kenya that served as the national tallying centre.

NSAC in its replying affidavits denied the allegations.

The organ, however, admitted to meeting with Mr Chebukati on August 15 at the Bomas of Kenya.

Mr Kihara said that the NSAC team only went to Bomas to discuss security concerns in relation to delays in results transmission for the Presidential election, before briefing the IEBC chair on Kenya’s safety situation.

The Supreme Court while delivering its verdict that affirmed President Ruto’s election said it could not make definitive findings on the allegations.

But Mr Chebukati, later while exiting office, asked President Ruto to establish a commission of inquiry on what transpired at Bomas. Mr Chebukati described the alleged intimidation of poll officials by the NSAC members as a grave issue that cannot be swept under the carpet.

“The outcome of the inquiry we believe will bolster the independence of the commission and make sure it maintains the stature contemplated in the constitution. It will also enable a future election environment devoid of harassment, intimidation, profiling and harm of commission staff while discharging their duties,” said Mr Chebukati. 

The calls for an inquiry have since dissipated.

After the elections and the swearing-in of the new government, Gen Ogolla developed what was seen by observers as a close working relationship with Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale, with Gen Kibochi seen to have taken a back seat.

Gen Ogolla, however, gets into office with his retirement not too far from the horizon.

The KDF Act stipulates that a CDF shall retire upon the completion of his term or attainment of the retirement age of 62, whichever comes first.

The country has no record of a CDF officer who went to retirement before the completion of their term. However, the decision to retire him after his attainment of the retirement age is a prerogative of the commander-in-chief.

With Gen Kibochi having come from the Army, and Gen Ogolla from the Air Force, the next CDF will come from the Kenya Navy.

The unit’s highest-ranking officer is Major Gen Jimson Mutai.

General Ogolla, who was sworn into office at State House yesterday, will become the 11th man to head the defence forces after Major-General Benard Penfold (1966 to 1969), Major-General Joseph Ndolo (1969 to 1971) and Generals Jackson Mulinge (1971 to 1986), Mahamoud Mohamed (1986 to 1996), Daudi Tonje (1996 to 2000), Joseph Kibwana (2000 to 2005), Jeremiah Kianga (2005 to 2011), Julius Karangi (2011 to 2015), Gen Mwathethe (2015-2020) and his predecessor Robert Kibochi (2020-2023).

General Ogolla brings in vast experience having commanded the service for three years and served as Vice CDF since July 2021.