Eyes on General Kibochi as Amisom mandate expires

By Daily Nation

General Kibochi go home peacefully Somalia is responsible its own security

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) may not withdraw from Somalia in the next few months as earlier planned.The African Union (AU) has appealed to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which was to end on December 31.In a communique issued this week, the Peace and Security Council of the AU) appealed to the UNSC “to consider approving a technical roll over of the mandate of Amisom in order to (provide) the required time and space for reaching the desired consensus”.

The Peace and Security Council is the decision-making organ of the AU for preventing, managing and resolving conflicts. It reiterated the proposal to establish an AU-UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in Somalia, a position that Mogadishu opposes, accusing Kenya of meddling in its affairs.

If established, a hybrid AU-UN mission would see more countries sending troops to Somalia, in addition to the current numbers from Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda.The Somalia Transition Plan (STP) envisions that security responsibilities will have been transferred to the Federal Government of Somalia by the end of 2023. the next course of Kenya’s national security interests.

Request to extend mandateAU’s request to extend the Amisom mandate will likely see the KDF leadership under General Robert Kibochi face its greatest test yet.Notably, the Somalia government has indicated that it wants KDF soldiers out of its borders whether the Amisom mandate is extended or not.Whereas in October 2011, retired General Julius Karangi set history as the Chief of Defence Forces who led Kenyan troops to war, this time the spotlight is on General Kibochi, who as Kenya’s top soldier and national security adviser, will counsel the President and the National Security Council on the next steps in the Somalia military intervention.

As in diplomacy and politics, defense bosses help to shape the journey and destiny of military operations, largely based on their personal persuasions, competence and thinking.In May last year, Gen Kibochi became the 10th man to head the Kenyan armed forces.Among KDF generals, only Mr Karangi,

Mr Mwathethe and now Mr Kibochi were at the helm when Kenyan troops undertook a military offensive in a foreign country.Jeremiah Kianga, an infantry general, handed over the command of the defence forces to General Karangi in August 2011, about two months before the start of the Somali incursion.SLDF headache Before that operation started, the major issue for KDF was the insecurity created by the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a guerrilla militia operating in the Mt Elgon region.SLDF was accused of killing more than 600 people and committing various atrocities including murder, torture, rape, and theft and destruction of property.General Kianga led KDF in crushing SLDF by smoking its members from their caves, culminating in the killing of the group’s deputy leader, Wycliffe Matakwei.

The success of the SLDF operation later helped security agencies in dealing with other criminal groups like Mungiki and the Mombasa Republican Council.The legacy of General Kianga’s successor, General Karangi, is heavily influenced by the early years of the Somalia incursion when KDF recorded key gains in dealing Al-Shabaab.The bold General Karangi, who was deeply disturbed when Shabaab operatives raised their flag near a mosque in Nairobi, frequently failed to agree with the then director of the National Intelligence Services (NIS),

Michael Gichangi, on security issues.In August 2014, Maj-Gen Gichangi, already under pressure from a series of terror attacks and intelligence failures, resigned from office.Although he said that he left the job for personal reasons, media reports cited a rift between him and General Karangi.As KDF boss, General Karangi swore to deal with Al-Shabaab militants to the end, at one time saying,

“It is better for a soldier to die honourably by a bullet than a road accident.”20 towns liberatedAnd true to his word, the general oversaw the successful liberation of more than 20 towns in Somalia from the Shabaab, including their bastions Hoosingo and Kismayu.General Karangi, who worked well with those who mattered during his tenure, is said to have carefully made use of military intelligence to hit the enemy hard, including in the historic Operation Sledge Hammer,

Which saw KDF forces conduct the first beach landing of soldiers in Africa in which the port city of Kismayu was taken.General Kibochi also seems to be borrowing from General Karangi, who intensified the sharing of information about KDF and the Somali incursion. KDF was historically reluctant to share information with the public about its activities.

A friend of the media, General Karangi was the first to allow Kenyan journalists to be imbedded with soldiers on the warfront. He ensured updates on the war were made weekly, with reports relayed by the then KDF spokesperson Col (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna, now the government spokesman.Credited as the father of military modernisation in Kenya,

General Karangi, in July 2014, was awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit (or Degree of Commander) by US President Barack Obama on account of the successes in the Somalia war.The Legion of Merit is a rarely-awarded, prestigious decoration that can only be bestowed by the US president for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.

Modernising militaryGeneral Mwathethe, the military boss who succeed General Karangi, continued from where the latter had left off, especially with modernising the military.It is during General Mwathethe’s tenure that the infamous Kolbiyow and El-Adde attacks took place.Having learnt lessons from the attacks, General Mwathethe helped in developing a robust campaign and strategy for defending KDF Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) that still stand today.After taking over from General Mwathethe slightly over a year ago, so much now depends on General Kibochi in shaping the future of the Kenyan military and on what happens next in the Somali incursion.

Kenya will not leave Somalia with or without the Amisom mandate. Kenya entered Somalia unilaterally, and never forget that the hot pursuit of enemy combatants into foreign territory is allowed under the UN convention,” says retired Captain Collins Wanderi.

So far, General Kibochi, a well-read man, seems to be borrowing from his predecessors on how to shape the future of KDF and the Somalia operation.He is the first KDF general to develop and publish a “strategic intent” in leading KDF.The eight points of his strategic intent focus on strengthening mission readiness and embracing and enhancing the modernisation programme started by General Karangi and continued by General Mwathethe.While he is determined to modernise all the three services,

Gen Kibochi’s focus is on the engineers’ corps to provide support to civil authorities and participate in national development.KDF engineersHe recently helped establish the KDF Construction Company, which has helped revamp old railway lines, and Kenya Shipyards Ltd, both at the Mtongwe Navy base and in Kisumu.KDF engineers support the construction of roads, classrooms and hospitals in Somalia as part of its soft power in dealing with Al-Shabaab’s radicalisation agenda.

Military insiders say that General Kibochi also has a soft spot for programmes supporting soldiers’ welfare, such as the Wellness Centre and the KDF Sports Complex, both at Lang’ata barracks.Perhaps a pointer to the future of military accountability and openness, General Kibochi last month established the KDF Stratcom Centre at Ulinzi House. It houses a radio and TV station to meet the constitutional requirement that KDF provide information to the public.Whatever action he proposes in the next one month with the expiry of the Amisom mandate will shape his legacy and influence the next course of Kenya’s national security interests.