Gen Kibochi opens up on his personal, official military life
In his first interview as CDF, Kenya’s top soldier sheds light on his daily itinerary, looking after cows and goats, playing with grandson and lows and highs in his distinguished career.
Mukalo Kwayera @kwayera
His is a life full of twists and turns. Though he had always wanted to join the military, his desire was to be in the air force and not in the army where he ended up. But he has no regrets.
He abandoned his secondary school classes in preference to soldering. But he now holds a Master’s degree in international studies and is about to complete his doctorate on Collective Security in the East African region. Summarily, his 40-year journey in the armed forces has paid off.
He is on the homestretch of his career in which he is now at the apex of the country’s disciplined forces and he has very little to complain about.
In his first ever interview as Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), General Robert Kariuki Kibochi opens up about his daily diary, limited free time he utilises looking after his livestock and playing with a grandson and the daunting assignments of a military officer, including his own highs and lows while in the line of duty.
Kibochi, respected in military and diplomatic circles for his knack for reading, writing and general scholarly works, and who has written a book titled A Soldier’s Legacy, says that - like any other soldier – he likes keeping fit and even takes part in the annual Lewa Marathon in Laikipia County and the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon.
He is the third head of military in the history of independent Kenya, after retired accomplished Generals Daudi Tonje and Julius Karangi, to grant interviews to the media though he is the first to open up about his personal life in and out of office. He is also the first head of the military to come from the Signals Department.
“My day starts when I wake up at 4am. Because we are also Christians, I begin with a prayer after which I go to the gym where I spend about 45 minutes before taking a shower and having breakfast.
My office is 15 minutes away from my residence so I am normally in the office by 6.15am,” said Kibochi.
In the office, he is brought into what he describes as ‘situational awareness’, which is a daily brief and titbits on “what is happening in the theatres that we are in” that include the welfare of KDF troops in Somalia and other trans-border engagements.
By 8:15am, Kibochi will be receiving the Situation Report at a meeting that encompasses his principal assistant, Vice-Chief of Defence Forces Lieutenant-General Levy Mghalu and for Major-Generals in charge of Operations, Intelligence, Logistics and Medical, after which he goes to meet his immediate boss, Defence CS Dr Monica Juma who he lavishes with a lot of praise as a steady, experienced, eminent and respected hand on issues of diplomacy and strategy.
Depending on the itinerary of the day, Kibochi says he leaves office not earlier than 6pm part of his dealings having been to engage external workers soon after meeting the Minister, though sometimes he goes out of his office at DoD headquarters to meet junior officers in the field in other parts of the country or even abroad, like those in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
In an internal interview segment dubbed KDF Leadership Profiles organised by the Department of Public Affairs office in the Ministry of Defence for an online technology and innovation news outlet known as Inquisitive, the General reveals he abandoned his A-Level classes at Nyeri High School to be drafted into the Army, thus starting a four-decade trek that would eventually perch him at the apex of Kenya’s military.
Kibochi says when growing up in Gilgil, Nakuru County, and even while attending classes at the nearby Koitalel School, he and his colleagues used to be fascinated by the military planes that overflew the area to and from Lanet Military Barracks, a phenomenon that attracted his deep but unfulfilled ambitions to become a military pilot.
At DoD where he is the 10th occupant since independence, the General merely executes his “critical” mandate with ease on grounds that his is a constitutional office established in 2010 by the current Statute Book and whose terms of reference are clearly stipulated in the KDF Act.
“Ours is a chain of command structure, right from the Constable upwards to the General. As CDF I am the head of the military.
I am assisted by my vice who is a Lt-General and three Service Commanders in charge of the Air Force, Army and Navy.
The CDF provides military defence advice to the National Security Council chaired by the President.
CDF is a key adviser to the council together with other members who are Internal Security and National Security Intelligence,” he stated.
On relations with the public, Kibochi says, the citizenry should expect comprehensive security cover “and nothing less” during his tenure that has an eye on the ball insofar as protecting Kenyan borders and territorial integrity are concerned.
KDF also engages in corporate social responsibility in addition to partnering with other arms of government to execute national duty such as rehabilitating the Kenya Railways line in different parts of the country.
He says that he rarely has free time such as being off-duty or taking annual leave, but within the limited time he gets, “I like keeping fit.
I like fit people. I also spend time with my grandson and look after my cows and goats. As you know, when you are out of this place, you must be able to do something productive.
So, I take care of the goats and cows which will keep me busy when I leave. I also run in the Lewa marathon and the [Standard Chartered] Nairobi marathon”.
Kibochi previously served as Communications Adviser to General Tonje and as Assistant Chief of Defence Forces in charge of planning, operations and doctrine under General Karangi.
He also served on a peace-keeping mission in Sierra Leone as Chief of Staff for the East African Force.
He discloses that at one point when the salaries and allowances of public servants were being harmonised by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), KDF took the agency’s chair Sarah Serem (now Kenya’s ambassador to China) on a familiarisation tour of Somalia where Kenyan troops are serving on a peace-keeping mission under the Amisom umbrella to witness what soldiers go through ahead of preparing salaries schemes for them.
The CDF says that unlike before, education has become an essential component of military training and officers once recruited are encouraged to go for regular courses to advance their intellect and widen chances of promotions.
Kibochi reckons that whereas he and most soldiers in his generation grew up in hardships and their recruitment and training was therefore much harder and tougher, today’s recruits are brought up by middle-class parents with means.
“We have therefore had to redefine our training doctrine. Our officers today have higher education and working in a much technologically evolved environment.
Unlike in the past, all the weaponry is now electronically control,” he observes.
Kenya’s top soldier picks out his tour of duty in Sierra Leone where he, then a Lt-Colonel, participated in the UN peace-keeping mission to liberate the West African country “which is now one of the most vibrant on the continent,” as the highest point in his career and a moment of great joy.
On the other hand, the 2016 attack on Kenyan troops in Somalia by the Al Shabaab terror group using Improvised Electronic Devices (IEDs) at El Adde, a raid in which scores of Kenyan soldiers lost their lives goes down in history as his lowest moment in the military, a development that devastated him so much.
Kibochi says he bases his work on military ethics of loyalty to the nation, duty and commitment ingrained in him at the start of his career and selfless service, a call to serve the nation.