By MARY WAMBUI
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday received final honors from the military, ahead of departure for retirement scheduled for Tuesday, and called on the disciplined forces to support the incoming government of William Ruto.
It was a colorful farewell that was infused by messages of service, patriotism.
The President, who will be replaced by his current deputy, now President-elect William Ruto, used the occasion to reiterate that Kenya’s long-term peace will depend on the unity and patriotism of its citizenry, as well as the commitment of the forces to guard its borders.
“I will miss you but we will still be together,” the President told the soldiers and thanked them for their selfless service to the country.
The event kicked off with the president conducting a lap of honor in the Ulinzi Sports Complex, off Nairobi’s Lang’ata Road, aboard the official Commander In Chief’s ceremonial vehicle flanked by his aide and Chief of Defense Forces General Robert Kibochi as Maroon Commandos serenaded him with his favorite music band UB40’s song “Cherry Oh Baby.”
He then inspected a guard of honor mounted by the army, navy and airforce and enjoyed entertainment by defense forces schools, the military and a Puma helicopter fly-past with the banner “Hongera Rais Wetu”.
Tributes, gifts galore
Both he and the First Lady were gifted with 12 mementos of honor by retired military generals, Military Wives Association, serving soldiers and the Ministry of Defence.
The gifts included full golfing sets, hybrid dairy cattle, goats, lambs and other items.
Kenyatta has not yet formally congratulated his deputy for his polls victory, having endorsed his first opponent Raila Odinga. But on Friday, he implored the Kenya Defense Forces to continue defending the country with vigor as they have done so far by themselves and in collaboration with other security agencies.
“I ask that you, KDF remain steadfast and support the incoming administration just like you have supported mine and that of my predecessors.
“As we depend on God to protect our beloved country, we all look up to you to implement this prayer by defending our territorial integrity and sovereignty and by always bringing mission ready,” the President said.
During his term, he continuously roped in the military into civilian service, profiting from the strong bond he enjoyed with military officers. The KDF was drafted into reviving the Kenya Meat Commission, which had long wallowed in debt.
The soldiers also repaired the dilapidated meter gauge railway and were managing specific sectors of Nairobi County as the Nairobi Metropolitan Services. Additionally, retired soldiers were hired to run the Intelligence service and other key government departments.
At the time, he defended the move as meant to fight corruption and save government funds.
Chief of Defense Forces General Robert Kibochi said; “Your excellence you must be proud as you release your command on Tuesday to have left behind one of the finest military institutions in this continent.”
Gen Kibochi added that the military will have fond memories of President Kenyatta’s 10 year as Commander-In-Chief.
“It is true that as you retire we will be left with many fond memories of your trust and confidence in this institution. We have as an institution developed over the last 10 years huge capacities and capabilities across the entire defense spectrum and this is manifested to a large extent in the number of troops we currently have, evidence documented in the documentary and it’s evidence for anyone to see how far we have come,” said Gen Kibochi.
At the end of the event the President was symbolically pulled out of the Defense Headquarters by Major Generals, Lieutenants-General and service commanders.
His family followed slowly behind him as he excited the Defense headquarters summing up an entire day’s ceremony attended by former Chief of Defense Forces General Mwathethe and Julius Karangi, Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, past defense Cabinet Secretaries Monicah Juma and Raychelle Omamo and the current Eugene Wamalwa among other military generals and senior government officials.
During his term, KDF increased troops presence in all parts of the country with the elevation of Manda Bay Base into a full military base, and launched Modika Baracks in 2019 — the first military barrack in Northern Kenya.
More troops will be stationed in the region with this year’s decision to set up camps in Turkana county.
In line with the KDF’s mantra of having a mission-ready force, Mr Kenyatta’s government established the National Defense University in 2021.
The university aims to equip personnel with training to enable them to tackle modern day defense challenges through research and innovation.
During President Kenyatta’s term KDF also acquired MD 530F attack helicopters and the C-37J Spartan Medium Lift to ease air operations and movement of personnel and cargo.
On the same note the government set up a National Air Support Department at Wilson airport two years ago to facilitate the maintenance and management of all aviation air assets owned by the government including National Police Service aircraft’s following increasing cases of accidents and mismanagement of the resources.
The move has increased the number of usable aircraft by bringing back to use two Cessna 208 aircraft and four AB206s helicopters belonging to NPS. It has also refurbished the KDF’s Hughes MD500 helicopters.
The establishment of the Kenya Shipyards Ltd to enable local production and maintenance of ships and other sea-going vessels in Mombasa and Kisumu is poised to save the country costs previously incurred in servicing maritime vessels abroad.
Regarding the soldiers welfare, President Kenyatta’s government kicked off the establishment of a defense forces level six hospital at Kabete, upgrading of the Defense Forces Memorial Hospital, Nairobi, Isiolo regional hospital, Eldoret regional hospital to level six facilities as well as the setting up of an 80 bed specialized wellness center for soldiers coming back from war missions
“The infrastructure development during my tenure was affirmation of my promise to transform Kenya as a strategic frontier in the region featuring specific prioritized projects. This includes construction of SGR network across the country, the expressway, Kenya’s new Shipyard Ltd Company which have put the country on a global trajectory,” said President Uhuru.
During his term President Kenyatta has elevated women’s role in leadership with the appointment if the first female defense cabinet secretaries Raychelle Omamo and Dr Monica Juma since independence and the appointment of the first female Major General Fatuma Ahmed.