Uhuru Kenyatta: President who brought military out of barracks

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta salutes the military at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi during the Jamhuri Day celebrations.

Photo credit: PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta set an assailable record in the East African region in expenditure on military and intelligence services, driven by the terrorism threat that hung on his administration. His penchant for the servicemen and spy agency is undeniable.

In the last 10 years of Uhuru’s leadership, the budgetary allocations for Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), the police and the National Intelligence Services (NIS) have in some instances more than doubled, with their pay, pension and working conditions improving dramatically.

Cumulatively, Kenya has spent more than Sh1 trillion on the country’s defence and intelligence personnel, and the modernisation of equipment and facilities.

In seven years alone between 2015 and 2022, the budget allocation for NIS has grown by 130 percent, from Sh20.1 billion in the 2015/2016 financial year to Sh46.1 billion in the current financial year.

During this period, the budget for Defence has bulged from Sh92.3 billion to now Sh128.4 billion, a 38.5 percent increase.

Data from the World Bank shows that Kenya’s expenditure on the military grew by 40 percent in just five years between 2014 and 2019.

As he retires after this week’s election, President Kenyatta will leave behind the best-funded military and intelligence services in the history of the country, outdoing his predecessors.

Budgetary allocations for the two entities have increased steadily every year in the last decade. In the four years between 2015 and 2018, for instance, the budget for Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) grew by an average of eight percent each year from the previous year.

The only outlier is the 2020/2021 financial year, when the quota for the police, defence and intelligence fell to Sh167.9 billion, down from 326.5 billion the previous year.

At the time, the country was battling Covid-19, and the government’s priority then shifted to the mobilisation of resources for the healthcare sector and to cushion Kenyan from economic shocks brought by the pandemic.

Notably, the Kenya taxpayer has paid nearly Sh100 billion for the modernisation of security institutions and organs that the current administration has been implementing since 2013. The money has been spent to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and secure Kenya’s borders.

“We have undertaken modernisation of our institutions of state and security organs to an extent that is unparalleled in our nation’s history,” President Kenyatta admitted in April while opening the Isiolo Regional Hospital for the military.

The Level 4 facility will provide healthcare services to serving military personnel, veterans and their families in Isiolo, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Meru, Laikipia and Samburu counties.

At the same time, the government has spent billions of shillings to establish the National Communication and Surveillance System and for the construction of the National Forensics Laboratory.

There has also been heavy expenditure on surveillance cameras in major cities to boost intelligence gathering.

Established under the National Intelligence Service Act (2012), the NIS performs three functions, namely to gather and analyse intelligence and to advise the government accordingly on national security threats based on that intel. NIS gathers intelligence on three fronts; domestic, foreign and counterintelligence.

Thanks to its work, the country has experienced fewer terror attacks in the last 10 years, with the agency neutralising multiple threats.

There is, however, scanty information in the public on how the NIS works, with some querying the morality of a taxpayer-funded agency that operates in opaqueness.

In February this year, KDF opened the Military Intelligence (MI) Corps headquarters in Nairobi. The MI Corps was established in 2016 to support the Directorate of Military Intelligence in gathering ‘‘timely, accurate and actionable intelligence’’ in response to the evolving nature of threats to national security.

Globally, modern military operations are dependent on the provision of precise and well-timed intelligence. While the MI corps constitutes a small fraction of the army personnel, its contribution influences the work of the entire military and its units.

Said Gen the Chief of Defence Forces Robert Kibochi: “Intelligence is one and the most important among the functions in combat thus the need for its capacity development cannot be overemphasised.”

In 2017, Privacy International published an article Track, Capture, Kill: Inside Communications Surveillance and Counterterrorism in Kenya that shed light on the tools and techniques used by the spy agency in its surveillance work, some that border on human rights abuses, including disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings of individuals, in Kenya’s counterterrorism operations.

One of the arguments made for the steep increase in military and intelligence spending by the Jubilee administration is the growing terror threat that the country faces from Al Shabaab and other extremist organisations. President Uhuru’s government came to power two years after KDF had crossed over to Somalia to pursue Al Shabaab fighters in the Operation Linda Nchi.

It costs about Sh7,000 to keep a soldier in Somalia per day, or Sh210,000 per month. This money caters for their food, transport and medical expenses. With about 4,000 KDF troops in Somalia, the country spends more than Sh10 billion to maintain the soldiers fighting the Al Shabaab war. This is excluding emergency and other miscellaneous costs, making Operation Linda Nchi a costly undertaking.

More than 10 years later, there is no sign of withdrawal from Somalia by Kenyan troops that are also part of the Africa Transition Mission in Somalia, formerly Africa Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom). This incursion

While presenting budget highlights to Parliament in 2019, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said the government recognised Kenya’s security as a precondition for the attainment of the Big Four agenda on which President Uhuru Kenyatta pegged his legacy.

Besides hefty budgetary allocations, the tenure of President Kenyatta has witnessed the highest number of appointments to public service of serving and former military officers.

Former Chief of Staff General Julius Karangi is the chairman of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) board while Maj Gen (rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa is the Principal Secretary, Energy. There is also Maj Gen Mohamed Badi, who in charge of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS).

These appointments have captured the public imagination, with some noting that the president was militarising the country.

Political and public policy analyst Ochieng Kanyadudi argues that the development in infrastructure, technology and industrialisation for global powerhouse countries such as Israel have a strong link to the involvement of their sophisticated military.

Kanyadudi describes Israel’s acclaimed technologies in agriculture and healthcare as the product of the symbiotic partnership between the academic and the military.

‘‘Israel has had the fortune of having many of its military leaders joining politics and occupying senior positions in civil government,’’ he says.

The analyst argues that recruitment by KDF of doctors, engineers and accountants as cadets gives it the ability to run affairs professionally.

He adds: ‘‘The government has invested considerably in the military’s laboratories for cutting edge research that would spur innovation.’’

To him, KDF should be involved in Kenya’s public service through ‘‘strategic approach’’ that taps into their personnel and technical skills that have lied idle for years ‘‘which is not economically viable for a developing country like Kenya.’’

Opponents of this strategy, on the other hand, claim that soldiers’ involvement in civilian governance erodes liberties and, therefore, the democracy of a country. They cite Egypt, Pakistan and Russia where, military elements have taken over leadership, ruling with an iron fist.

Writing in the Nairobi Law Monthly in 2020, one commentator said: ‘‘Although military men swear their allegiance to the Republic first, in the practical sense their fidelity lies with the President as the commander in chief of the armed forces. It’s worrisome that people who owe their allegiance to an individual — one beholden to the deep state as we have come to understand it — are now tasked with running the affairs of the most important county in the Republic.’’

The commentator went on to describe the arrangement as ‘‘an illegality that should concern us all.’’

This story was first published in Business Daily


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