General Francis Ogolla: Final salute

President William Ruto and Chief of Defence Force Francis Ogolla

President William Ruto and Chief of Defence Force Francis Ogolla during the 60th Madaraka Day national celebrations at Moi stadium in Embu on June 1, 2023. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

He chose aircraft as his preferred tool of trade while serving the country’s defence forces.

Sadly, his demise was as a result of a plane crash. At 2.20pm on April 18, Gen Francis Omondi Ogolla, who was 40 years into his career in the Kenya Air Force, perished in a Huey helicopter he was using for a mission in the North Rift.

The death of the general, who was just a year into his tenure as the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), was announced by President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi, in the evening. 

The announcement was a chilly affair as a downpour had caused a reduction of temperatures in the Nairobi Metropolitan.

As the rain poured, Dr Ruto was chairing an urgently convened meeting of the National Security Council. The fact that the President read his message without salutations and left the podium immediately after the last word of his written speech punctuated the coldness of the moment.

There were 12 people aboard the helicopter. Maj George Benson Magondu, the pilot, was among the 10 fatalities. The others who died were Brig Swale Saidi, Col Duncan Keittany, Lt-Col David Sawe, Capt Sora Mohamed, Capt Hillary Litali, Senior Sgt John Kinyua Mureithi, Sgt Cliphonce Omondi and Sgt Rose Nyawira. 

The two survivors of the crash, President Ruto said, were receiving treatment.

“This is a moment of great sadness for myself, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, the KDF fraternity and the nation at large,” the President said.

“Our motherland has lost one of her most valiant generals, gallant officers, servicemen and woman.” The President declared three days of national mourning from today.

“During this time of national mourning, the Kenyan flag, the KDF flag and the East African Community flag shall fly at halfmast in Kenya and Kenyan missions abroad,” he added. The crash was in Sindar, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

The President said an Air Force team had been dispatched to the scene to establish the cause of the tragedy.

Gen Ogolla had a busy schedule that required air movement. He had visited a multi-agency team in Chesitet, Baringo County; addressed soldiers in Kainuk, Turkana County; launched the rehabilitation of Cheptulel Boys High School in West Pokot County; and was heading the Recruits Training School in Uasin Gishu when his helicopter came down. 

“Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off,” said the President, without adding that it burst into flames upon hitting the ground.

There was an outpouring of tributes from all quarters of the country.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta said Gen Ogolla’s death is a significant loss to Kenya, describing him as an accomplished military leader and patriot.

“His leadership, bravery, and unwavering commitment to duty have made a lasting impact on our armed forces and our nation as a whole,” the former president said.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga said General Ogolla’s death had shocked him.

“Our hearts go out to his family, his colleagues in the KDF, and the entire nation as we grieve this immense loss. We also extend our very heartfelt condolences to the families of the KDF team who were accompanying General Ogolla,” he said.