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Kenya Defence Forces

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Their role prior to the promulgation of the new Constitution was twofold — the primary role was to defend the sovereignty of the Republic and the secondary one was to assist the civil authority when called upon.

The process of calling upon the Defence Forces entails a decision that the breach in law and order is such that the police services can no longer contain it. In the case of general breaches, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of the Republic of Kenya may directly invoke the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 57.

For large but isolated breaches, the Minister for Provincial Administration and Internal Security may invite the Defence Forces, through an order issued under the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 57; Subsidiary Regulations, Public Security (Armed Forces) Order section 2(1) and confer them the full powers, protection and privileges of police officers in the designated area. After calling upon, the Defence Forces employ the appropriate means (minimum necessary forces), to bring the situation back to a condition where police can once again operate effectively. The invite is formalised by a gazette notice that is issued after but not more than 21 days; or prior to the employment. Calling upon requires Parliamentary sanction. Therefore both the President and the Minister may seek parliamentary authorisation post facto before twenty one days expire, or ab initio.

Kenyans have cried on the Defence Forces when they become victims of external aggression; such as the Todenyang in Turkana and the Migingo Island (Nyanza) cases. The new Constitution has now defined the roles of the Kenya Defence to be the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic, assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster, and the restoration of peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability, when approved to do so by the National Assembly.

The forces so committed shall per- form these roles under the supervision and control of the Defence Council  but being directly answerable to the National Assembly. This subordinates the Defence Forces to civil authority, or put more clearly, the people of Kenya.

Women in the defence forces

The Constitution also requires all public institutions to observe a gender ratio of not more than two thirds of one gender in any recruitment exercise. Up to 2000, the Kenya Defence Forces had a battalion known as the Women’s Service Corps. The Corps was formed in 1971 with a pioneering staff of six officers and 155 service- women. The Corps was formed to:

  • Support fighting units during war-time by providing personnel for military installations where women were assigned roles such secretarial, clerical, logistics, medical and communication.
  • Perform administrative roles during peace time.
  • Provide employment opportunities to women in a male dominated field.

In disbanding this Corps in 2000, the KDF seemed to anticipate the constitutional requirement of including all citizens rather than viewing them as interest groups. Previously, it was a policy requirement that women could not be assigned roles in the fighting units and could only offer back-up and support services.

But with massive strides in the technological evolution of warfare and leaps made in an education system that offered equal opportunities to men and women, this policy slowly became redundant. Women were as good as men in operating the new systems that were becoming part of the KDF inventory. They are now recruited and assigned roles into all the units of the Defence Forces, just as are the men.

The last Commanding Officer  of the Women’s Service Corps was Lt-Col Martha Waithaka, a nurse by profession.

Arising from the national values and principles set out in the new Constitution, Kenya has set out a foreign policy containing a clear set of objectives that she has defined and endeavours to achieve to ensure maximum protection and promotion of the national interest. Security and defence policy is an integral part of this foreign policy.

National interests in general may be summarised as follows:

  1. Acceptable degree of independencce
  2. Integrity of national territory
  3. Traditional life style
  4. Fundamental institutions.
  5. Value and honour

Survival of the state in peace and freedom within the national territory is the supreme interest and the primary objective of foreign policy is to ensure this survival. Thus, foreign policy objectives include:

  1. Preservation of Kenya’s freedom, her political identity and the institutions that form the foundation of freedom and political identity.
  2. Protection of Kenya’s territory, her citizens and its vital interests from armed attacks
  3. Fostering a regional and international order supportive of the national interests through cooperation relationships.
  4. Protection of Kenya’s markets to maintain national productive capacity and the nation’s economic well being.

The primary objective of Kenya’s security and defence policy is the maintenance of peace by:

  1. Ruling out the threat or use force as a means of settling disputes between states.
  2. Promoting cooperation between states.
  3. Achieving a stable balance of forces at the lowest possible level to ensure securi

Kenya’s defence policy is determined by the country’s national interest as defined by the Constitution. It is articulated by its people and shaped by the country’s political leadership. The policy guarantees the nation’s indepen- dence and national dignity.

The policy fosters economic interests and activities. It is designed to guard the national political boundaries against both internal and external armed aggression. Importantly the defence policy encompasses the historical, political, social and economic interests that the nation harbours.

The Defence Forces, therefore, could be  used to influence threat as is perceived across the borders or otherwise. Consequently, the forces are configured to counter aggression, or better still, to deter potential adversaries from launching any attack by ensuring the outcome is acceptable. Modernising and updating of the forces to cater for contingencies is essential and an ongoing programme across all services.

Operation Linda Nchi

It is against this background that the Kenya De- fence Forces launched an incursion into Somalia in October, 2011. The campaign, code-named Operation Linda Nchi, had as its primary objective the annihilation of the grave threat posed to Kenya’s territorial integrity and particularly its tourist industry by the Somali Islamist militia known as Al Shabaab.

It was the first armed campaign that Kenya had launched outside its borders since independence in 1963. In keeping with the principles, values and objectives laid out in the constitution, the Kenya Defence Forces transformed the mission from one of purely national self-defence to one of a multi-national security campaign by bringing in the African Union and giving Amisom, the AU’s military arm, the lead role in prosecuting the war.

Kenyas defence posture

Kenya’s defence policy is derived from the need to defend itself against any external aggression. However, it is now recognised that the threat to a country’s stability can also be internal. The mission of a nation’s security and defence organisation is to ensure security by effectively implementing the nation’s policies on security and defence. Military power is the surest means of protecting the national interest, for justice without force is impotent.

Economic and political power are imperilled without the military power to back them up and a well heeled military organisation is a source of pride, prestige and respect for the nation. The security and defence forces of a nation are the final guarantee for the nation’s territorial integrity and other interests. The forces are designed and structured with two principal objectives in mind:

  1. Ensure national security by deterring war and other forms of violent conflict involving the nation.
  2. Should deterrence fail, resolve the conflict on terms most favourable to the nation.

Security and defence policy dictates that the forces should be held in operational readiness and their organisation, equipment and procedures for exercising command and control should be tailored towards meeting the role and missions of the forces in peacetime, national emergency or crisis and in war.

The forces should be organised and deployed to defend national territory and other interests. However, an offensive capability is an essential component of an effective defence posture, and the force should there- fore be capable of projecting power on to the territory of an adversary. This is precisely what happened in the case of the Al Shabaab threat. After determining that containing the threat was not enough, the forces rolled across the border but only in accordance with the strict terms set forth by the Constitution which dictate parliamentary approval of the action. Importantly, the campaign had all three components in balance – land, air and sea – as dictated by the defence policy.

The Kenya Defence Forces structure

The present structure of the Defence Forces is provided for by the Constitu- tion, which places the Head of State as the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, namely the Kenya Army, the Kenya Air Force and the Kenya Navy. The Kenya Defence Forces contribute to the overall capability on land, in the air and at sea. Each service consists of three basic elements of a headquarters organisation, support and field forces.

Command and control

The Defence Headquarters functions as the technical department for national defence within the policy guidelines laid down by Parliament and the Cabinet in accordance with the Constitution. It is the supreme administrative authority for the civilian and military departments.

The political authority over the Defence Headquarters is vested in the Minister of State in charge of Defence. The Constitution refers to him as the Cabinet Secretary responsible  for Defence. All directives and instructions are

issued on his behalf, thereby extending political control over the defence forces in their day to day functions.

The Secretary organises his responsibilities over the Defence Headquarters through the Defence Council, whose members are:

  1. The Secretary as the chairperson
  2. The Chief of the Defence Forces.
  3. The three commanders of the Defence Forces
  4. The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence

The duties and responsibilities of the Defence Council are overall policy, control and super- vision of the Defence Forces; and performance of any other functions prescribed by national legislation.

Military command and control of the Defence Forces is vested in the Chief of the Defence Forces (CDF). He is the highest representative of the Defence Forces and the Chief Military Adviser to the Government. He is responsible to the Cabinet Secretary responsible for Defence, or, if need  be, to the Commander-in-Chief for:

  1. Development and implementation of overall concept of military defence;
  2. Education and training of the defence forces;
  3. Military planning; and Day to day administration of the Defence Forces.

Command and control of the Army, the Air force and the Navy are exercised by the Service Commanders who are appointed by the Commander-in-Chief.The Service Commanders are responsible to the CDF for operational readiness of the individual services and the development and implementation of an overall concept of military defence.

The Kenya Army

The army has the main responsibility for the defence of national territory from aggression across land borders. The Kenya Army is organised into a Headquarters and field.

The headquarters

The Kenya Army headquarters, manned by specialist staff officers, acts as a source of information and advice for the Commander and super- vises the implementation of the Commander’s decisions. The Army head- quarters has the following branches:

  1. Operations
  2. Logistics
  3. Personnel
  4. Legal

The Kenya Army formations are 3 Kenya Rifles stationed at Nanyuki, 5 Kenya Rifles, 7 Kenya Rifles at Gilgil, 1 Kenya Rifles, 9 Kenya Rifles at Moi Barracks, Eldoret and 15 Kenya Rifles at Nyali, the 2nd Brigade which was transformed from the Western Brigade, 4 Brigade, Eastern Command and Western Command.

Others are 20 Parachute Batallion, 50 Air Cavalry Battalion, 76 Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion, 78 Tank Battalion, 81 Tank Battalion at Lanet 81 Tank Battalion, Armoured Brigade, School of Armour, 66 Artillery Battalioin, 75 Artillery Battalion, 77 Artillery Battalion, School of Artillery, 10 Engineers Battalion, 12 Engineers Battalion, Engineers Brigade, School of Combat Engineering, Kahawa Garrison, Kenya Army Medical Services, Kenya Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Kenya Army Ordnance Corps, School of Ordnance, Kenya Army Corps of Signals and Kenya Army Corps of Transport

The Army also has a School of Infantry, a middle level military training institution for officers, servicemen and service women.

Kenya Air Force

The mission of the Air Force is to protect the nation against attacks from the air, support land and sea operations and undertake any other task it may be assigned.


The Kenya Air Force is organized into a headquarters in Nairobi and two operational bases in Nairobi and Laikipia. The headquarters consists of appropriate staff organisations and assists the commander in the command, control and administration of the Air Force.

The two major bases are Moi Air Base in Nairobi and Laikipia Air Base in Nanyuki. At MAB, there is the transport aircraft and the train- ing school, while the fighter wing is located at LAB. There are two Forward Operating Bases in Mombasa and Wajir. The Kenya Air Force has both fixed and rotary wing aircraft organised for both combat and transport roles.

Kenya Navy

The mission of the Kenya Navy is preparation of naval forces necessary for effective prosecution of war within the overall guidance provided by the Constitution. To fulfill this mission the Navy is assigned the following roles:

  1. To organise, train and equip forces for the conduct of prompt and sustained combat operations at sea and specifically to seek out and destroy enemy naval forces, to gain and maintain supremacy of coastal waters and harbours, and control of vital sea lines of communications.
  2. To formulate doctrinal, procedures and tactics for equipping, training and employment of forces operating in harbours or at sea.
  3. To provide timely and reliable naval intelligence
  4. To undertake any other specific projects such as relief tasks or civil duties as may be directed by competent authorities.




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