GOVERNANCE

The danger of allowing soldiers in civilian spaces

Giving the military a taste for running the country would jumping from the frying pan into the fire

In Summary

• Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi asserts that the Constitution essentially allowed the military to be deployed in a nation-building capacity 

• But Kibochi misrepresents the Constitution. Article 241(3)(b) only provides that the military “shall assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster”

General Robert Kariuki Kibochi takes the oath of office as the new Chief of Kenya Defence Forces during the swearing in ceremony witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.
General Robert Kariuki Kibochi takes the oath of office as the new Chief of Kenya Defence Forces during the swearing in ceremony witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.
Image: PSCU

Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi gave a rare media interview, the contents of which make for pretty uncomfortable listening.

Aided by a pliant interviewer who did little to push back on the narratives being spun, the General asserted that the Constitution essentially allowed the military to be deployed in a nation-building capacity around the country, held up Kenyan soldiers as paragons of “discipline” and a “selfless culture”, and said KDF is establishing companies to compete for government tenders and participate in the economy.

All this is quite alarming.

First, Gen Kibochi misrepresents what the Constitution says. Article 241(3)(b), on which he based his argument, only provides that the military “shall assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster” and does not give blanket authorisation for deploying the military to solve civilian economic problems.

Worse is his attempt to justify such intervention by claiming “development” as the flipside of “security” and implying the KDF cannot provide the latter without involving itself in the former. He presents Pakistan, where military coups are not unknown, as an example Kenya should emulate in allowing the military free reign in the domestic economy.

Yet, it is precisely by looking at such examples and others around the world that we know what can happen when the people we have armed with guns, tanks and jets suddenly feel the country’s economy or politics or culture do not serve their business or other interests. It is by looking at how KDF has behaved when deployed internally and abroad that should disabuse us of the notion that military discipline is a panacea for civilian corruption.

Remember Westgate, which the CDF was careful not to address? A four-day looting spree disguised as an anti-terror operation. Or the invasion of Somalia, which was geared at taking control of the charcoal and sugar smuggling trade out of Kismayo but initially disguised as an attempt to rescue kidnapped tourists and aid workers?

According to the UN, al Shabaab, whom the KDF was supposedly fighting, actually made more money from the charcoal trade after KDF took over the port. This is not new. In the 1990s, Kenyan peacekeepers in Bosnia were believed to have stolen 25,000 gallons of fuel worth $100,000 and sold it to the same Bosnian Serbs from whom they were supposed to be protecting the civilian population.

Militarising civilian public services, as the government has been wont to do with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services headed by Lieutenant General Mohammed Badi, or by handing over the Kenya Meat Commission to the KDF, or by appointing ex-military folks to run the police or intelligence services, will not fix Kenya.

It is, in fact, burying our heads in the sand to imagine military discipline will bring order and an end to looting, or that the gun-toting folks will generate revenue for the government and return quietly to their barracks after fixing Kenyans’ bad culture of corruption.

According to the book Military Inc. – Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, Pakistan’s military runs a massive commercial empire with an estimated value of billions of dollars. Known as Milbus, it involves the soldiers in small businesses such as farms, schools and private security firms, and corporate enterprises such as commercial banks and insurance companies, radio and television channels and manufacturing plants as well as ventures such as toll collecting, shopping centres and petrol stations.

In contradiction to what Gen Kibochi asserts, the author says: “The value of public resources transferred to the military actually increases with increased military involvement in the economy and influence over state and society, incentivising the military to continue strengthening its power. The armed forces encourage policies and policymaking environments that increase their economic returns, and the accumulation of wealth also buys additional power, further contributing to feudal authoritarianism”.

If anything, giving the military a taste for running the country would jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It is critical that Kenyans take seriously the dangers posed by militarisation, not only to the constitutional order, but to their rights, freedoms and welfare.