KDF deeply thrust in polls; but is there truth in Nasa claims?

The rundown to the August 8 General Election has been dominated by accusations that have thrust a traditionally apolitical Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) right into the maelstrom of electioneering.

Allegations last Friday that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaign had incorporated sections of the military into a plot to rig the elections represented an escalation of claims by Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga that security agencies were being used to ensure Jubilee retained power.

READ: Nasa dossier on plot to ‘rig’ polls – VIDEO

Mr Odinga claimed on Friday that President Kenyatta was plotting a virtual military coup to remain in office, giving details of a meeting allegedly held at State House in furtherance of the plot.

As with the previous claims that also touched on the Police Service, he gave details of meetings and events, officers involved quoted from briefing notes and minutes.

In each case it turned out that the documents were genuine, but Mr Odinga was accused of twisting facts to suit a Nasa political propaganda offensive.

READ: Ruto dismisses Nasa on KDF rigging claims

On the first accusations about a “secret” military training at Embakasi, the official explanation was that it was regular joint manoeuvres involving military forces from East African region, and there was nothing secretive as the launch of the exercise had been freely covered by the media.

The next set of accusations revolved around deployment of officers, with names and service numbers provided from various units of the National Police Service who had been discharged and then sent out on “special duties” that Nasa claimed involved election rigging.

The official response concurred that the officers had indeed been released by the Police Service, but that was because they had been recruited by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), denying that they were on political assignment.

Then came the latest allegations around an alleged plot to use the military to interfere with the elections by forcibly suppressing the vote in Nasa strongholds, inflating the vote in Jubilee zones, interfere with the electoral management bodies electronic vote transmission system; and ultimately using force to install President Kenyatta back in office if he lost the elections.

Again, the official response conceded that the documents quoted were genuine, but Mr Odinga was accused of deliberately twisting details on a legitimate military exercise to insert a false political element.

Mr Odinga has also been hitting out at what he claims are government plans to deploy military units during the election period, against direct provisions of the law, which restrict the KDF to combating external threats.

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The military can only be deployed in domestic security operations with a formal Kenya Gazette notice and the sanction of Parliament, which is currently adjourned and unlikely to be recalled before the elections.

The accusations touching on the military have drawn strong rebuttals from the Jubilee administration, which accuses Mr Odinga of maligning a highly respected and professional institution that has always kept out of politics.

While the Nasa allegations remain unproven, they have managed to pull the military into the elections campaign spotlight as polling day draws near.

The military in Kenya, unlike other security agencies such as the Police and Intelligence services, has traditionally been insulated from politics.

During the one-party Kanu regimes of President Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel arap Moi, the top ranks were often filled with political appointments based on ethnicity, but the military still remained detached from politics.

By contrast, the Police and Intelligence were often used as political tools to harass and intimidate dissenters.

Even with the changes that transformed the intelligence service from the dreaded Special Branch of the Kenya Police to the autonomous professional civilian service of today, the NIS has continued to render political support to the regime of the day.

It keeps tabs on the political opposition, and offers advice on political strategy.

These tendencies reduced with the comeback of multi-partyism in 1992, and ultimately exit of the Kanu regime in 2002.

The 10-point Nation Agenda captures the role of the military basically in regard to national security, specifically in securing Kenyan borders and defending the country from external aggression.

Both the Jubilee and Nasa campaign manifestoes also reference the military only in that specific role; which does not involve domestic operations except in extraordinary circumstances such as the terrorist threat in north-eastern Kenya and parts of the coast, and national disasters.

That none of the documents even envisages the military in a political or any other role is in itself testament to the fact that the KDF has largely succeeded in keeping away from politics or being used to prop up the governing party.

That is why the accusations by Mr Odinga are so serious.

If there is even a modicum of truth, that would be a severe indictment of both the KDF leadership, as well as a government that tries to subvert the role of the military for political goals.

But if the allegations are no more than baseless politics designed primarily to aid the Nasa campaign by discrediting the electoral system and besmirching both the government and the military, that might well amount to an irresponsible and even dangerous escalation of campaign propaganda.

The onus will be on Nasa to offer real proof of its accusations beyond political rhetoric and conclusions that might not quite be supported by the documents displayed.

The government and the institutions mentioned will also need to offer more cogent responses beyond angry counter-accusations at political campaign rallies.

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