President’s appointments of senior military officers to public service positions deserve applause

  Few days ago President Uhuru Kenyatta made a number of important appointments to positions in the public service. Among those appointed were three senior military officers, namely Major- General Philip Kameru who was appointed as the new Director General of the National Security Service (NIS), Major- General Gordon Kihalangwa, who was appointed to the position of Director of Immigrations and Major- General Joff Otieno who was appointed as Kenya’s new envoy to Cairo, Egypt.

It was startling for many though, that the nominations of these, only three, and yet overwhelmingly qualified and distinguished Kenyan individuals received mixed responses, some unflattering. For example, regarding these nominations, Mr. Ndung’u Wainaina of the International Centre and conflict was quoted as warning that    “militarized   democracy is in the making; it is systematic” (Aug 24, DN. P10).it is unclear what he meant by the term ‘militarized democracy.’ While predicting  that the appointments of the two senior military officers to key security  dockets were highly likely to negatively affect the morale of the non-military officers, Col (Rtd) Benjamin Mwema argued that these appointments  “may look rosy from outside but it may not be the same internally,” adding the interesting yet both absurd and incorrect rider that in the military we were taught that there is only one way of doing things, we are not as flexible “(Aug 23,STD,P3).

It is advisable that those making such uninformed comments about the three appointments to learn to see the forest and the trees and keep one eye on the big national picture and the other on specific events and individuals without mixing the two. While on the big picture, soon as a country we will be celebrating our fifty one (51) years of independence on December, 12, 2014. Because of fifty years of relative peace, unity, social stability and national focus, our institutions both in the public and private sectors have grown in strength and capacities. It is these new found capacities that are enabling the nation and its people to be in a strategic position to pole - vault the numerous socio- economic hurdles emerging on the country’s path to national prosperity and competitiveness.

We may not be in the same league as South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia in terms of GDP and infrastructure.  But Kenya, like a few other African nations, is in the race and the gap between them and us is not widening, rather it is reducing. In order for Kenya to do a successful, strategically developmental ‘catch-up’ and in a relatively short time, it is imperative that the best brains be head-hunted in all sectors and righty deployed in the manner of “square pegs in square holes.” The President’s appointments of the three military officers have to be seen in this light.

As Prof Peter Kagwana never tires to remind us, whereas “ Kenya is in dire need of world class  intelligence   juggernaut,”  we should avoid the trap of profitless  “populist security discourses”  and instead aim to have fruitful public debate, if  we must, on security grounded on solid  knowledge (Aug 24,DN.P19). When a country recognizes that it is in a dire need of world class talents for its vital institutions, to where does it go to engage such talent and competencies? The answer is simply anywhere- as there is no Chinese wall between Kenyans in different departments of   state or even those in the Diaspora. Hon Joseph ole  Nkaissery, MP, himself a highly respected retired senior military officer, alluded  to this  logic when he  supported the President’s appointment, saying,  “not only does the President has the prerogative of appointing people he can trust, but his recent appointments were the best anybody would have done.” 

It is quite in order to digress a little and mention a few special merits why majority of professional military officers  are  suitable for jobs so nominated in public service anywhere. First, any military worth its reputation as instrument of national survival is “professional intensive institution.” Here competitively selected young officers are developed and trained and rated on more than fifty (50) dimensions or attributes for acceptance into the institution and career progression. Some of these attributes range from integrity, physical fitness, loyalty , passion and skills. Others include ambition, military bearing, professionalism, pedagogy, scholarship, adaptation, initiative and teamwork. 

Secondly, the military is one of the best places in the world to develop all round national leaders. Leaders with acute sense of competency, mission, team and only then self. In the military academies the young officers get at their earliest opportunity time to develop culture of honor, duty, patriotism and loyalty for their country and people.  The three senior officers who the President appointed are therefore products of that background.

In the Harvard Business Review of March, 2008, a two-time Pulitzer prize winner, David McCullough, wrote on ‘’ timeless leadership’’, emphasizing that the modern world needs not only brain power but leaders, ‘’ not just political leaders but leaders in every field, at every level, in every institution in all kinds of situations.’’ There is no two way about it. History has taught us that quality of leadership is what differentiates the great organization or country from the good, the not-so -good, the stragglers, the mediocre, the marking-timers, the messy, the institutional drags and the outright failures.

The three senior military officers in this case belong to the top one percent leadership category  of the members of the military profession and thus have the combined experience and knowledge in their fields exceeding two hundred years! That makes them abundantly qualified for those positions they were appointed to.
Therefore the President’s appointments of the three senior military officers deserve our applause, not populist unhelpful verbal grenades. 

Meanwhile, I believe it is in order for me to send my personal congratulations to the three Generals and say “well done. Never drop the baton and keep believing that at all times your efforts make great difference for Kenyans.’’