General Francis Ogolla: The first Kenyan military chief to die in office

Chief of the Defence Forces General Francis Ogolla

Former Chief of Defence Forces the late General Francis Ogolla.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

General Francis Omondi Ogolla has become the first chief of defence forces in post-independence Kenya to die in office, following a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine other Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) personnel.

President William Ruto made an official announcement of the deaths on Thursday evening, also announcing that the country would observe three days of mourning in honour of the fallen KDF personnel before retreating behind the walls of State House.

While President Ruto remained silent on the way forward, the Defence Council could have already met and made its decision on who will take over from General Ogolla.

According to Section 23 of the Kenya Defence Forces Act, the Chief of Defence Forces is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Defence Council.

The Defence Council, according to Article 241 of the Constitution, consists of the Defence CS, the Defence PS, the Chief of Defence Forces and three Commanders of the Defence Forces.

Following major reforms led by former Kenya Defence Forces Chief of Staff Daudi Tonje, who served under former President Daniel arap Moi, the Chief of Defence Forces rotates between the Army, Navy and Air Force.

But this is the first time that a Chief of Defence Forces has died in office, less than a year after taking up the post.

This unique situation leaves the door open for two options - the Defence Council could choose a successor from the Air Force to ensure it completes the term General Ogolla was due to serve, or it could continue the rotation of power under the Tonje rules, which would mean it is the Navy's turn.

General Ogolla was due to retire in 2025. 

Major General John Mugaravai Omenda is currently the Commander of the Kenya Air Force, having been appointed in 2021.

Major General Thomas Njoroge Ng'ang'a is the Commander of the Kenya Navy, following one of several changes made by President William Ruto on 8 March 2024.

Until President Ruto makes a substantive appointment based on the Defence Council's recommendation, Deputy Chief of Defence Forces Charles Muriu Kahariri will take over the big job.

Although acting to avoid a vacuum, Lieutenant General Kahariri will have all the powers of the Chief of Defence Forces until the succession process is completed.