Gen Francis Ogolla

Chief of Defence Forces, General Francis Omondi Ogolla.

| Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

How General Francis Ogolla is demystifying Chief of Defence Forces position

When the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Francis Ogolla was invited to a student’s mentorship forum by his former classmate and Muhoroni MP Onyango K’Oyoo, he almost turned down the invite until he heard of the touching beneficiaries’ testimonials.

The resilience and success stories warmed his heart, and perhaps showed the soft side of an army general who has risen through the ranks in his near-four decades in the military.

From the onset, when the convoy with the guests made their way into Chemelil Academy, the grounds for the annual Sub County education retreat, it was clear that the CDF is a laid-back person.

For someone of his stature, one would have expected ‘boots on the ground’ to protect a man who holds the power devices to one of Africa’s powerful armies.

Except for a few uniformed police officers who mostly were engaged in crowd and traffic control, one could not quickly and openly establish the presence of any military personnel.

The CDF is the highest-ranking military officer in the Kenya Defence Forces and the principal military adviser to the President and the National Security Council.

He outranks all respective heads of each service branch and has operational command authority over the service branches.

He leads the meetings and coordinates the efforts of the Service Commander, comprising the CDF, the Commander of the Kenya Army, Air force, Navy and the Commandant of Military Intelligence.

The chain of command is from the president directly to the CDF.

In the past, military bosses were only seen at the airport seeing off presidents or during public holidays joining the Head of State in inspecting the guard of honor. Rarely would they be seen interacting, freely, with civilian.

Chief of Defense Forces General Francis Ogolla

Chief of Defense Forces General Francis Ogolla (right) and Muhoroni MP Onyango K'Oyoo during a student’s mentorship forum held at Chemilil Sugar Academy in Muhoroni, Kisumu on December 16 ,2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

But the current holder of the office, General Ogolla has demystified the position or at least attempted to, organising and attending public events as was the case in Muhoroni on Saturday.

The first high time a high ranking military official was handed a civilian job, while still keeping his job as the Department of Defence was when former President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Lieutenant General Mohammed Badi to Nairobi Metropolitan Services as the Director General running Nairobi for two years.

The assignment ‘smoked’ the general from the barracks in one such step of demystifying them and their positions.

And when Mr Ogolla appeared in Muhoroni on Saturday, many were seeing him for the first time, while those who knew him were perplexed to see such a high ranking military officer in public.

Francis Omondi Ogolla

Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Francis Ogolla.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When he finally alighted from his Nissan Patrol V8, his lean and tall frame was probably the only outstanding element about him. Dressed in a fitting black pants, black shoes and a black and white prints, vintage long-sleeved shirt to match, he was soon lost in the crowd of hosts who were at hand to receive him.

As is almost norm with such ceremonies, the hosts were draped in shouting colours and the army boss in his subtle colours that would obviously not draw attention to him was soon ‘lost’ in the crowd.

As he made his way to the tents, he walked with measured steps and composure that spoke to his military background and the military precision that comes with the job.

But as soon as he occupied his designated seat, he sublimed into the chief guest that he was and let the program be run wholly by the host.

Unlike military events that run by the clock and are keen on details, one would have expected that the program would stick to a set order of events.

But that was not the case as the program at the mentorship session was changed at least two times, 'in the interest of time’; a common phrase used to refer to overstretched events.

General Francis Ogolla

General Francis Ogolla, Kenya's new Chief of Defence Forces, addresses participants during the change of guard ceremony at the Ulinizi Sports Complex in Langata, Nairobi, on May 5, 2023. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Accompanied by the wife, Ms Aileen, a rare public display of tenderness, he would intermittently turn to her to whisper a word as he keenly followed the proceedings.

And when he rose to speak, he affirmed his love for family by acknowledging the presence of his spouse. Going further to state the products of the love- two children. Pausing to ask if there are any grandfathers in the house, confirming that he now has a grandchild and boasts of being one himself.

Until then, CDF Ogolla had displayed a demeanour of a man who has his soft side away from the battle-hardened military man that one would have expected to carry around a stiff face.

But with a rather smiley face, he starts by telling the crowd that he has been able to attend the event, thanks to his boss who granted him permission.

He also reveals to the student beneficiaries of the Muhoroni sub county development funds that he will be speaking briefly.

“I want to be very brief, if my coming here, and mentioning just one thing will help you make the right choice, then I will be glad, if you don’t catch me early, I will soon be done,” he said as he goes forward to thank the learners for being attentive.

CDF Ogolla reveals to the learners that he will be celebrating 40 years working in the military in the next four-month time.

His speech circulates around resilience, making the right choices, sacrifices and putting one’s best foot forward.

He goes on to advise the learners that their age group, zero to 20 years is time for them to learn while age of 20 to 30 will be time to learn their skills.

When he finally left, locals were left murmuring in groups but happy to have hosted such a high profile guest.

Apart from the Muhoroni event, General Ogolla has hosted the president at his home in Siaya County during the latter’s four-day tour of the region.

In early October 8th this year, President Ruto spent time at the rural home of the CDF in Siaya County taking his dinner there.

Dr Ruto had just completed his tour of Migori County on Sunday when he retreated to the home of Gen Ogolla where he spent time with the family before leaving late at night.

Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Francis Ogolla

Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Francis Ogolla during the Muhoroni annual education retreat at Chemilil Academy on Saturday. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

In the visit where no photographs were taken, only a few local leaders were invited.

Another public event was on May 7, 2023, where General Ogolla hosted an elaborate thanksgiving service at the saint Michael’s Cathedral at the Defence Headquarters, Nairobi presided over by the Archbishop of the Anglican Church Jackson Ole Sapit.

During the service, he thanked God and the president for the promotion to the pinnacle of military leadership and sought God’s guidance to lead the military as the eleventh CDF.

During the service, he recalled how in 1984, his mother came with a calling letter from the university and implored him not to join the military and instead pursue further studies.

He however had made up his mind to serve the country and that’s why when he did his Master’s degree, he dedicated it to her.

Gen Ogolla joined the Kenya Defence Forces on April 24, 1984 and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant on May 6, 1985 and posted to Kenya Air Force. He trained as a fighter pilot with USAF and as an instructor pilot at the Kenya Air Force (KAF).

On April 28, 2023, President William Ruto promoted Mr Ogolla to the rank of General and appointed Chief of the Defence Forces. Mr Ogolla’s swearing in ceremony and investiture of ranks was held on Saturday 29th April 2023 at State House Nairobi.

Prior to his appointment General Ogolla was the Vice Chief of the Defence Forces.

He also trained in other fields including imagery intelligence, counter terrorism and accident investigation.

Gen Francis O Ogolla is a graduate of ÉcoleMilitaire de Paris and National Defence College of Kenya. He holds a Diploma both in International Studies and Military Science from Egerton University, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Armed Conflict and Peace Studies (First Class Honours) and Masters of Arts in International Studies from the University of Nairobi.

The ages of 30 to 40, he says are meant for the learners to put to practice the skills they have been taught.

 “Do what you enjoy, and you will enjoy what you do, give your best to whatever you are doing and learn to compete with yourself,” said the CDF who spends his free time reading books and playing golf.

 General Ogolla rose through ranks to become a Major General and appointed the Commander Kenya Air Force on 15 July 2018 a post he has served for three years.

Previously he has held various appointments in Training, Command and Staff including Deputy Commander Kenya Air Force, Base Commander Laikipia Air Base, Commanding Officer of Tactical Fighter Wing, Chief Flying Instructor at Kenya Air Force Flying Training School and Operations Desk Officer at Kenya Air Force Headquarters.

He also served in the former Yugoslavia as an Observer and Military Information Officer from 1992 to 1993, as chairman of Military Christian Fellowship from 1994 to 2004 and co-Chair of Association of African Air Chiefs between 2018-2019.

He is married to Aileen, and blessed with two children and a grandson.