Some 22 brigadiers and major-generals used two heavy white ropes to symbolically “pull out” the outgoing Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) General Samson Mwathethe from the Department of Defence (DoD) headquarters Friday, dramatically ending his term as Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) boss.
Gen Mwathethe, riding in a ceremonial Land Rover, watched pensively as the senior military officers, attired in the Number 1 dress, designated forage caps and media – the official military attire worn during such ceremonies – paid their respect to a commander they praised having cared for the welfare of his troops.
“Your concern for the welfare of KDF personnel will continue to inspire us all to work harder. We, as a leadership team, undertake to continue this very good effort towards raising KDF’s mission readiness to higher levels,” his successor, General Robert Kibochi, said.
Dozens of soldiers lined up the streets saluting the outgoing general until a few minutes past 4pm when the convoy reached the DOD main gate.
Just outside the gate, a ceremonial function was held in which Gen Mwathethe was ushered into his private car for his ride home while his successor rode back to the Defence headquarters in CDF 1, the official vehicle of the Chief of Defence Forces.
“I wish you good health and good luck. And as you have always said, some bit of good luck and hard work has worked well for you,” Gen Kibochi told the outgoing general, who said he was retiring to his home in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, where he hails from.
In his last speech as KDF boss, the general, who has served the military for 42 years, described himself as a career military officer.
“When I was joining the military, I was told to join the Navy and see the world. I did more than that in my military career lasting 42 years,” he said.
Speaker after speaker during the farewell at the defence headquarters in Nairobi praised Mr Mwathethe for his leadership, terming him as a leader who remained calm in a raging storm.
“Mwathethe is a true gentle giant. A calm, purposeful person that even in the midst of a crisis leaves one reassured — because all will be well as he would calmly put it. And indeed, it does turn out well,” Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma said.
Recalling an episode from a conversation with one of the KDF commanders, Dr Juma said: “What struck me was the observations about General Mwathethe shared. In one instance, a commander observed: “I have learnt a lot from you sir, especially in what you do not say …”
Dr Juma highlighted some of the achievements made by Mr Mwathethe as CDF, which included enhancement of welfare of serving, retired and families of the KDF fraternity, establishment of a psycho-socio health facility and the launch of the National Defence Policy and the Gender Policy.
He was also praised for contributing to the Big Four Agenda through the launch of a food processing factory in Gilgil, re-establishement of the Kenya National Shipping Line, establishment of the Kenya Coast Guard and development of the Kenya Navy Slipway.
“You have also led the team, together with the civilian side, to finalise a number of other critical policy documents that include the Ratification of Energy Management and Environmental Conservation Policy, the Defence Industrialisation Policy, Peace Support Operations Policy and the Military Land Use Policy, among others,” CS Juma added.
National Defence College (NDC) Commandant Lt-Gen Adan Mulata said that Gen Mwathethe was instrumental in the college getting a new dining hall and in the acquisition of 10 acres of land in Karen to be used for expansion.
“Recently, we unveiled the NDC Hall of Fame. General Mwathethe is the first officer to be inducted to the Hall of Fame,” Gen Mulata announced.
During the ceremony, Gen Mwathethe launched a book calling for the use of soft power in dealing with the AL-Shabaab militants.
The book – War for Peace, Kenya’s Military in the African Mission in Somalia, 2012-2020 – “takes a long view of the past, present and future of the Kenyan troops in Africa’s trail-brazing response to violent extremism in the wider context of the rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the Horn”.
“The book delves into the unfinished agendum of Amisom’s coming exit — and what it means for Kenya. It is a worthy tribute to our soldiers who fought and even paid the ultimate price and an invaluable read for students, experts and practitioners of military history and strategy,” Gen Mwathethe writes in the book.
The event started with the outgoing CDF and the CDF-designate inspecting an old and new guard at the Department of Defence headquarters, followed by Gen Mwathethe handing over the KDF flag to Gen Kibochi and the singing of one stanza of the national anthem.
Thereafter, there was a 17-gun general salute in honour of the outgoing CDF and then the signing of a change of command certificate at the entrance of Ulinzi House.
As their appreciation, the general who was accompanied by his wife and daughter, were presented with various gifts and mementos including portraits and drawings.
The Kenya Navy presented him with an Arab Chest, the Kenya Air Force gifted him with a cow, while the National Defence College gave him a sheep and a sculpture of the lions of Tsavo – signifying his strong leadership.
Officers from the Department of Defence headquarters presented his wife with a washing machine, a rocking chair and a heifer, which they said originated from Scotland.
The change in command event will be followed by another one on Monday, when President Uhuru Kenyatta will preside over the taking of the oaths of office by the incoming CDF and other senior military officers, who form the top echelon of KDF, at State House, Nairobi.
The change of command ceremony is a military tradition deeply rooted in history and dates back to the times of the Roman Legion, where the organisational banner or military flag was exchanged for the public to see that the one who holds the flag is the unchallenged leader of the armies.
Despite farewell ceremony, it is until after the Monday oath of office ceremony at State House that General Kibochi will officially take over.
Gen Mwathethe succeeded Julius Karangi on May 4, 2015. Previously, he was the vice-chief of defence forces since 2011.
He joined Kenya Navy in April 1978 and was commissioned in 1980 as a Seaman Officer after attending Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, UK.
Friday’s event was attended by Foreign Affairs CS Raychelle Omamo, Attorney-General Paul Kihara, former CDFs generals Jeremiah Kianga and Julius Karangi, KDF service commanders and members of the National Assembly Defence Committee.