Friday, 01 May 2015 00:00

Navy General takes over as new Chief of Kenya Defence Forces

By Khatib Ramadhan
[Mombasa, Kenya] Kenya’s highly decorated Chief of the Defence Forces (CDF) General Julius Karangi has retired. After four decades the Air Force general has left the scene and Lt Gen Samson Jeffa Mwathethe who deputized him under the title Vice Chief of the Defence Forces has been promoted to a full General.

In a few weeks General Mwathethe will be sworn in as the new CDF marking yet another smooth handover of power within Kenya’s defence echelons. Under Kenya’s 2010 constitution, Gen. Mwathethe becomes the second person to occupy the CDF position.

Gen. Samson Mwathethe [Image Credit: DoD]

And in another second, General Mwathethe becomes the second naval officer to rise to the apex of Kenya’s military command. Replacing Mwathethe as the new Vice-CDF is Lt.Gen Joseph Kasaon who moves from his previous post as Commander of the Kenya Army. Maj-Gen Leonard Ngondi is the new Commander of the Kenya Army and has been promoted to Lieutenant-General.

Combat Pilot Lt.Gen Jackson Waweru remains as the Commandant of the National Defence College (NDC). Maj-General Ngewa Mukala remains at the helm of the Kenya Navy and Maj-Gen. Samuel Thuita remains the Kenya Air Force Commander.
Gen. Mwathethe who was born in the coastal county of Malindi joined the Kenya Navy in 1978. Two years later he was commissioned as a Seaman Officer after successfully completing the rigorous naval course at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, United Kingdom.

After his commissioning into the naval world Gen Mwathethe has over the years attended various other courses in Italy, UK and the USA. The courses included missiles defence systems, naval warfare, military strategy and defence management. He is an alumni of East Africa’s premier defence institution the National Defence College (NDC).

Gen. Samson Mwathethe being congratulated by the Commander in Chief President Uhuru Kenyatta [Image Credit: PSCU]

In his rise to the top Gen Mwathethe previously served in different command positions including Kenya Navy commander, naval logistics commander, fleet commander among other senior posts both in the navy and at Ulinzi House (Department of Defence headquarters).

Even though Gen. Mwathethe rose to the post of CDF by both merit and the rotational rule of Kenya’s defence system, the unspoken reason for his rise is courtesy of enhancing and boosting the capacity and prowess of the little known Kenya Navy “Commando Unit” officially known as the Clearance Diving Unit (CDU).

The Kenya Navy headquarters acknowledges that “the Clearance Diving Unit (CDU) is an important component of Kenya Navy and is therefore considered the ‘fist’ of the Navy on land, sea and air.” This has been achieved courtesy of “intensive physical and warfare training, both individual and as a group; special psychological conditioning and their bravery and courage,”

The Navy further describes the nature and work of its elite force. “In the Navy, apart from the huge and sophisticated warships and weaponry systems, the CDU has some of the most expensive equipment. Due to the complex nature of its activities, environmental conditions being so adverse and risks high, the costly equipment in their yards enable them to accomplish near-impossible missions. Those could be at the beaches, in harbours or out of channel clearances. They could involve, disposal of IED’s, inserting, extracting by sea, air and land and other numerous tasks that may be given in a joint operation scenario.”

“Operation Sledge Hammer” an amphibious assault where “CDU” teamed up with RSF and 20th Paras to capture Kismayu Port from Al Shabaab [Image credit: DOD]

Gen. Mwathethe’s ascendancy to the top of the Kenyan military was assured when together with Lt.Gen Mukala the current Navy commander marshaled Kenya Navy’s anti-piracy warfare and  “Operation Sledge Hammer” an amphibious assault in September 2012 which liberated Somalia’s port city of Kismayu from the grip of al Shabaab extremists. “Operation Sledge Hammer” saw the Kenya Army’s Special Forces, the 20th Paras, and Ranger Strike Force jointly firming up with the Air Force and the Navy’s CDU in taking over Kismayu.

That the Kenya Navy is proud of its accomplishments is seen in the way it describes the CDU. “The CDU has continued to be reviewed and expanded, and more equipment acquired to make it ‘Blue Navy’ compliant the very reason this small section of the fleet was formed. More men were recruited into the unit while those already in service received advanced training, covering areas like deep sea diving, parachute dropping, explosive disposal and more. This evolution led to the change of name from Ships Diving Section to its present Clearance Diving Unit (CDU). This Unit currently boasts of one of the most prestigious and elitist departments in the Kenya Navy and its population continue to expand gradually. The unit today boasts of men trained in special warfare in overseas institutions that has seen them graduate as the war machines of the Kenya Navy. They have accomplished respected courses like SEAL, EOD, Deep Sea diving, Mine Clearance and Laying, IED, Salvage and Oceaneering, amongst others.”

The rise of Gen. Mwathethe is a major boost not just to the CDU but also to the naval fraternity and signals Kenya’s renewed oceanic interests projected by naval power.

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