How Uhuru's militarisation of public service can modernise economy

The strict and clear hierarchy of leadership ensures fidelity to authority, obedience to command and respect for rank in the military

In Summary

• The public service has been associated more with graft, ineptitude and impunity, and officers are considered to pursue personal aggrandisement.

• On the other hand, soldiers espouse a public image of discipline and purpose. 

Nairobi Metropolitan Services director general Mohamed Badi.
NMS BOSS Nairobi Metropolitan Services director general Mohamed Badi.

In his second and last term in office, President Uhuru Kenyatta has brought into his government senior military personnel. They occupy key government sectors with direct influence on their operations.

Major General (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa was promoted as Principal Secretary, State Department of Immigration, when it had issues. He is now Public Works PS, a department that is a key delivery pillar of the Big Four agenda.

Then later came in Major General Mohamed Badi, tasked to fix Nairobi city. The county had been reeling from the pendulous management style of Governor Mike Sonko, who is also facing graft charges.

However, what jolted the public attention was the recent transfer of the ailing Kenya Meat Commission from the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry to the bastion of the Kenya Defence Forces. Except for the Kenya Ordinance Factory in Eldoret, no other parastatal is within the ambit of the KDF.

President Kenyatta has gone further to place all government airplanes and helicopters hitherto outside the KDF under military management of the elite Kenya Air Force. These include the Police Air Wing, Kenya Forestry Services, Kenya Wildlife Services and the Kenya Pipeline Company.

It is generally considered prudent to keep the military in the barracks and outside of the civilian laissez  faire lifestyle. The military personnel are accustomed to a programmatic and almost robotic way of executing their duty. They spend more time in planning and proceed to implement assignments with mathematical precision. These are traits that have been almost alien to the public service as it is known in Kenya.

The public service has been associated more with graft, ineptitude and impunity. Civil servants are considered to pursue personal aggrandisement to the detriment of the public good. Soldiers espouse a public image of discipline and purpose. The strict and clear hierarchy of leadership ensures fidelity to authority, obedience to command and respect for rank.

States have deployed the military in their development agenda with varied success. The contemporary principles of democracy, including civil liberties and participatory governance, have their origins in the Greek city-states’ government systems.

The civilisation of Ancient Greece emerged into the light of world history in the 8th Century BC. Normally, it is regarded as coming to an end when Greece fell to the Romans, in 146 BC. However, major Greek or 'Hellenistic' kingdoms lasted longer than this.

As a culture and as opposed to a political force, the Greek civilisation lasted longer still, continuing to influence the Roman rule right to the end of the ancient world. The Roman empire thrived because of extensive use of the military in their civilian rule. They used solders to modernise civil service and develop the empire. They were able to translate the Greek philosophies into pragmatic solutions to the Empire’s developmental needs.

Greek civilisation had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire. Indeed, some modern scholars see the Roman era as a continuation of the same civilisation, which they label 'Graeco-Roman'. In any case, the Roman conquest carried many features of Greek civilisation to far-flung parts of the Mediterranean world and Western Europe. Through the mediation of the Romans, therefore, Greek civilisation came to be the founding culture of Western civilisation.

However, the distinguishing factor between the Greek and Roman civilisations is deployment of the military in public service management soon after Caesar Augustus succeeded Julius Caesar. The Greek and early Roman leadership promoted the Aristotelian concept of deliberative and participatory governance through the city state and Senate respectively.

However, the conquests of Julius Caesar elevated the role and place of the solders in day-to-day governance of the Empire. Soldiers were henceforth made governors of conquered lands and new provinces. They built roads and other public service systems such as water urban planning.


In recent times and during the 20th century, Turkey and Israel have provided the best examples of military-led developmental states. The history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the republic on October 29, 1923, with Kemal as its first President.

The government was formed from the Ankara-based revolutionary group, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues. The Treaty of Lausanne of July 24, 1923, led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly formed 'Republic of Turkey' as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire. The republic was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923, in the new capital of Ankara.

The Turkish military has been a pivotal actor in the political life of modern Turkey, domestically and abroad. The country’s military industrial complex has played a critical role modernising the new republic. The sophisticated programmes in the navy and air force have given rise to technological advancements in the aviation, electronics, telecommunications and shipping industries.

These advancements have transformed the economy to an extent that Turkey belongs to NATO and will soon achieve full membership in the European Union. Israel is relatively unique in the sense that it has emerged as a rapidly growing and relatively developed economy over the last six decades. It remains one the celebrated democracies of the world, yet it continues to rely heavily on the military for public service management and development.

Further, Israel’s defence industrialisation and its high ranking among developing countries implies that macroeconomy is capable of benefiting from the spin-offs that the innovations in the defence industry can bring to the whole economy.

If there is any one country where military spending would potentially increase economic growth, it should be Israel. The technology spin-off from high-tech industries has had a receptive relationship with civilian industries, and there have been a reciprocal and virtuous interactions with human capital-intensive industries feeding into the defence sector.

Israeli technology in agriculture and health solutions is world acclaimed. The technological advancement has been led by the symbiotic partnership between the military and the academia. Israel has had the fortune of having many of its military leaders joining politics and occupying senior positions in civil government. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu are examples.

Kenya could thus benefit by borrowing from the best experiences of military involvement in public service management. It is expected that President Kenyatta hopes to tap into the professionalism of the military to turn around the lethargic public service.


Every year, KDF recruits Kenyans with various professional backgrounds. Though claims have been of some unscrupulous brokers swindling unsuspecting applicants in the recruitment, the exercises have largely remained above board.

Within its ranks are top-notch medical, engineering, planning and other cadres of professionals. KDF also enjoys huge budgetary allocations and this has enabled it acquire some of the most modern machinery and equipment useful for development. The technology they have in information, electronics and communication is unrivalled.

The government has invested considerably in their laboratories for cutting-edge research that would spur innovation. It is, therefore, advisable that the President establishes a strategic approach to engaging the military in public service.

Since Kenya is hardly at war, the military’s human and equipment resources remain largely idle. This is not economically wise for a developing country. Further, the country risks sliding into military dictatorship, if the resources are not harnessed for national development.

Returning the soldiers to the barracks once they get entangled in public service delivery is a delicate balancing act. Power is sweet and once tasted, it becomes intoxicating. The temptation to get more and surrender none becomes irresistible.

This is the situation that Egypt, Pakistan and Russia have found themselves in. These countries have maintained relative technological advancement since they began to involve the military strategically and centrally in their development agenda.

However, the civil liberties have greatly been eroded. This has made the gains in technology elusive to the general population. Even Ethiopia, which was able to return to civilian rule, continues to retain the repressive character of military rule.