Military Wiki
Military of Kenya
Flag of the Kenya Defence Forces.svg
Service branches Kenya Army logo.png Kenya Army
Kenya Navy logo.png Kenya Navy
Kenya Airforce logo.png Kenya Air Force
Commander-in-Chief President Uhuru Kenyatta
Cabinet Secretary for Defence Rayechelle Omamo
Chief of the General Staff Gen. Julius Waweru Karangi
Military age 18
Active personnel 24,120[1]
Budget $843,000,000 (FY2012)
Percent of GDP 5.3% (FY2012)
Foreign suppliers United States
 United Kingdom

The Kenya Defence Forces are the armed forces of the Republic of Kenya. The Kenya Army, Kenya Navy, and Kenya Air Force comprise the national Defence Forces. The current Kenya Defence Forces were established, and its composition laid out, in Article 241 of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. The President of Kenya is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces.

The military is regularly deployed in peacekeeping missions around the world. Further, in the aftermath of the national elections of December 2007 and the violence that subsequently engulfed the country, a commission of inquiry, the Waki Commission, commended its readiness and adjudged it to "have performed its duty well."[2] Nevertheless there have been serious allegations of human rights violations, most recently while conducting counter-insurgency operations in the Mt Elgon area[3] and also in the district of Mandera central.[4] Kenya’s military, like many government institutions in the country, has been tainted by corruption allegations. Because the operations of the military have been traditionally cloaked by the ubiquitous blanket of “state security”, the corruption has been less in public view, and thus less subject to public scrutiny and notoriety. This has changed recently. In what are by Kenyan standards unprecedented revelations, in 2010, credible claims of corruption were made with regard to recruitment [5] and procurement of Armoured Personnel Carriers.[6] Further, the wisdom and prudence of certain decisions of procurement have been publicly questioned.[7]


1896 to 1900

The period between 1896 and 1900 saw the East African Rifles deployed in a number of campaigns in line with British colonial policies. In collaboration with Major Cunningham's Uganda Rifles, expeditions were organized against the Nandi who put up a strong resistance. It was not until 1906 that they were subdued. Another one in 1900 commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hatch, Commandant of the East African Rifles, followed this. Two medals were issued after these expeditions namely “1898” and “Jubaland 1900”. The East African Rifles also sent troops to help Uganda Rifles suppress a mutiny by Sudanese troops in Uganda. Captain Harrison who led this expedition was decorated. After being deployed on this expedition, he remained behind to form the 1st Battalion of the Uganda Rifles. This battalion later became 5 KAR.

In 1901 the British government decided to organize all the existing troops in Central Africa, East Africa, Uganda and British Somaliland under one command. Lieutenant Colonel Manning, an officer in the Indian Corps was appointed Inspector General for all the troops and promoted to the rank of general. After the troops based in different parts of British East and Central Africa territories were placed under a central command, the regiment born thereof was officially designated “King's African Rifles” on 1 January 1902. The composition of this regiment was as follows:-

  • The 8 companies of 1 Central African Rifles became 1 Battalion King's African Rifles.
  • The 6 companies of 2 Central African Rifles became 2 Battalion King's African Rifles.
  • The 7 companies and one camel company of East African Rifles became 3 Battalion King's African Rifles.
  • The 9 companies of the Uganda Rifles became 4 Battalion King's African Rifles.
  • The 4 companies of the Contingent of Uganda Rifles became 5 Battalion Kings African Rifles.


On 1 April 1902, 3 KAR moved its headquarters from Mombasa to Nairobi, and together with 4 KAR and 5 KAR, was used by the British colonial government in expeditions against those who resisted British rule. In 1904 5 KAR, which was mainly made up of Indian troops, was disbanded chiefly because of maintenance costs and also because the British felt they had contained the resistance to their rule. It was however reconstituted in 1916 during World War I and stationed in Meru.

Later in 1926, 5 KAR was again disbanded and their colours were handed over to 3 KAR for safe custody. On 1 March 1930 the unit was once again reconstituted, presented with their colours and stationed in Nairobi. After World War II both battalions were used by the colonial government to contain the Mau Mau rebellion. On the dawn of independence the Kenya National Assembly passed a bill (Kenya Bills 1963) to amend the status of the military forces in Kenya . Accordingly, the former units of the King's African Rifles were transformed to the Kenyan Military Forces and the Independent Kenyan Government was legally empowered to assign names to the units as deemed necessary with effect from midnight, 12 December 1963. Thus 3 KAR, 5 KAR, and 11 KAR became 3 Kenya Rifles, 5 Kenya Rifles, and 11 Kenya Rifles respectively. The transformation of King's African Rifles to Kenya Military Forces on the midnight of 12 December 1963 was a major milestone in the foundation of today's Kenya Army units.


Kenyan Navy vessels KNS Shujaa and KNS Nyayo at the Indian International Fleet Review in 2001

Between 1963 and 1967, Kenya fought the Shifta War against Somali residents who sought union with their kin in the Somali Republic to the north.[8]

On the evening of 24 January 1964, the failure of the Kenyan Prime Minister to appear on television, where 11th Kenya Rifles junior soldiers had been expecting a televised speech and hoping for a pay rise announcement, caused the men to mutiny.[9] Parsons says it is possible that the speech was only broadcast on the radio in the Nakuru area where Lanet Barracks, home of the battalion, was located. Kenyatta's government held two separate courts-martial for 43 soldiers. In the aftermath of the mutiny and following courts-martial, the 11th Kenya Rifles was disbanded.[10] A new battalion, 1st Kenya Rifles, was created entirely from 340 Lanet soldiers who had been cleared of participation in the mutiny by the Kenyan Criminal Investigations Division (CID). Hornsby writes that after the mutiny, '[Kenyatta] improved conditions, announced pay rises to the military, speeded Africanisation, and instructed the intelligence services to infiltrate and watch the army for signs of disaffection.' (Hornsby, quote, 98.)

Discussions began in March 1964 between Kenya and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations Duncan Sandys on defence, and a formal agreement was signed on 3 June 1964. All British troops would leave by 12 December 1964, the British would assist the army, resource and train a new Kenya Air Force, and create a new Kenya Navy. They would also provide RAF and Army units to support internal security in the north-east. Significant military loans would be cancelled, and much military property made over to the Kenyan Government. In return, British aircraft would be able to transit through Kenya, RN ships of the East Indies Station and other units could visit Mombasa, communications facilities could be used until 1966, and troops could exercise in Kenya twice a year[11] (of which the last commitment continues to this day).

Timothy Parsons wrote in 2002-03:[12]

'..Kenyatta did not have to worry about the political reliability of the Kenyan Army because expatriate senior British military advisors ran it along KAR lines throughout the 1960s. Following the lessons of the Lanet protects, African officers assumed operational command of all major units, but a British training team still oversaw the Kenyan Army for most of the decade. More significantly, an informal defence arrangement with Britain reassured Kenyatta that he could rely on direct British military support in the event of an army mutiny or attempted coup.'

Within months of British Brigadier A.J. Hardy handing over command of the Kenya Army to Brigadier Joseph Ndolo on 1 December 1966, British influence was underlined with the appointment of Major General Robert Penfold as Chief of the General Staff, a new position as senior officer of the entire armed forces.[13] Ndolo succeeded Penfold as Chief of General Staff in 1969, but was retired on 24 June 1971 after being implicated in a coup plot allegedly organised by Joseph Owino. The service chiefs thereafter reported directly to the Minister of Defence, James Gichuru.[14] The post of Chief of the General Staff was only filled again seven years later when Daniel arap Moi moved Lieutenant General Jackson Mulinge from Army Commander to CGS in November 1978.[15] Mahamoud Mohamed succeeded Mulinge in 1986, and was CGS until 1996. Mohamed was succeeded by General Daudi Tonje, CGS 1996-2000. (Hornsby 554)

The South African Institute for Security Studies wrote when Moi was still in power:[16] "the Kenyan armed forces’ reputation as a politically neutral establishment has been undermined by irrefutable evidence of tribal favouritism in the appointment of key posts. In the military (and also the Police and GSU), there is a virtual monopoly of President Moi’s ethnic group, the Kalenjin, in the top brass. Of 18 military generals, at least a third are Kalenjin; of 20 brigadiers, 7 are Kalenjin - an ethnic group that accounts for only a tenth of Kenya’s population. This obviously works to the disadvantage, especially, of the Kikuyu and the Luo."

From the 1990s the Kenya Army became involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations, which, Hornsby says, 'offered both experience and a source of income for the army and its soldiers.'[17] (The United Nations reimburses troop contributing countries for each soldier contributed.) Kenya's first peacekeeping deployment was to UNTAG in Namibia; from 1989 to 2001, Kenyan troops took part in UNTAG, UNOSOM, UNPROFOR, UNCRO (Croatia), UNTAES, UNOMIL, UNPREDEP in Macedonia (1996-1999), MONUA in Angola (1997-1999), and UNTAET in East Timor (1999-2001).[18] In 2000, women were integrated into the regular units of the military, and the Women's Service Corps disbanded. In the early twenty-first century, the Ministry of State for Defence, just like that of Internal Security and Provincial Administration, is part of the presidential machinery. All but senior military officers are appointed, promoted, and, if necessary, removed by the military's personnel system. The president appoints and retires senior military officers. Under the authority of the president as Commander-in-Chief, the Minister of Defence presides over the National Defence Council. The Chief of General Staff is the tactical, operational and administrative head of the military. Under the 2010 constitution, the defence forces can no longer be deployed for combat operations within Kenya without the approval of Parliament.

In October 2011, following a weekend preparatory meeting between Kenyan and Somali military officials in the town of Dhobley,[19] a coordinated operation between the Kenya Defence Forces and the Somali Armed Forces began against the Al-Shabaab group of insurgents in southern Somalia.[20][21] The mission was officially led by the Somali military, with the Kenyan forces providing a support role.[20] In early June 2012, Kenyan forces were formally integrated into AMISOM.[22] Analysts expect the additional AU troop reinforcements to help the Somali authorities gradually expand their territorial control.[23]

As of August 2012 Major General Maurice Oyugi is the army vice commander.[24]

Kenya Army

As of 2004, the Kenya Army had five brigades: two infantry, one with three battalions and one with two battalions; one armoured, with three battalions; one independent infantry, with two battalions; and one engineer, with two battalions.[25] In addition, the army included air defence artillery, airborne, and independent air cavalry battalions. The army's organisation consists of two armoured brigades, four infantry brigades, one engineer brigade, one armoured reconnaissance battalion (76th), three artillery battalions, three engineer battalions, one independent air cavalry battalion with 35 armed helicopters (Embakasi), five infantry battalions, one parachute battalion and one ranger battalion for low-intensity warfare.

The official Ministry of State for Defence lists the following Army formations and services:[26]

Kenya Army Formations

  • Kenya Army Infantry
  • Kenya Army Paratroopers
  • Kenya Army Armour (includes 78 Tank Battalion, Isiolo)
  • Kenya Army Artillery (includes 77 Artillery Battalion)
  • Kenya Army Engineers
  • 50 Air Cavalry Battalion

Kenya Army Services

  • Kenya Army Ordnance Corps
  • Kenya Army Corps of Transport
  • Kenya Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineering
  • Kenya Army Corps of Signals
  • Kenya Army Military Police Corps
  • Kenya Army Education Corps
  • Medical Battalion
  • Armed Forces Constabularies

Ranger D Company of 20 Parachute Battalion is the only commando unit in the Kenyan Army trained to fight terrorist activities by the US through Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and its predecessors. Main tasks include reconnaissance, raids, ambushes, infiltration and border patrol in joint operations. The unit was deployed for counter insurgency operations in the Mt Elgon area in 2008 amid accusations of torture and illegal detention.[27]

The Kenya Ranger Strike Force initiative began in 2006 with a request from KMOD; creation of KRSF highlighted extensively in KMOD White Paper on Military Cooperation for 2011-2016.[28] The total U.S. investment was $40M. Leveraged IMET courses for Ranger and Ranger Instructor courses, Section 1206 funding to secure training and equipment, multiple Joint Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) events, and East African Regional Security Initiative (EARSI now PREACT) to fund training and equipment. The first class taught by all Kenya Army Ranger Instructors graduated on 18 March 2011. Kenya formed a Special Operations Regiment composed of 30th Special Operations Battalion and 40th Kenya Ranger Strike Force Battalion.

Combat vehicles

The acquisition of T-72s has caused significant controversy. Thirty-three vehicles ordered from Ukraine were hijacked by Somali pirates.[29] The ship they were being carried in, MV Faina was released and the tanks unloaded in the port city of Mombasa in February 2009. There have been doubts expressed as to whether the T-72s imported by Kenya are intended for use by the Kenyan Army. Instead, popular opinion is that they were being clandestinely imported for the southern Sudanese army, which has an arms embargo against it.[30] The Kenyan military has dispelled speculation by publicly showing these tanks (and other hardware) as part of its arsenal on 22 August 2010, during rehearsals for the passing of the new Constitution of Kenya.[31] Nevertheless a cloud of doubt will persistently hang over the initial intent of this acquisition. Recent revelations by Wikileaks provide that "it is a badly kept secret" that there has been an ongoing process of armaments purchases on behalf of the Southern Sudanese government by the Kenyan government.[32] The leaks go on to speculate that these clandestine operations were motivated by the Kenya political leadership's desire to support Southern Sudan, but not in a way that would openly provoke Khartoum or potentially threaten South Sudan's eventual independence.

Equipment of Kenya Defence Forces

Name Type Quantity Origin Notes
Vickers Mk3 Main battle tank 76 United Kingdom 105mm gun L-7
Vickers ARV Recovery tank 7 (4 with crane) United Kingdom
BRDM-3 Wheeled amphibious armoured personnel carrier 8x8 8+80 on order Russia
BTR-60 Wheeled amphibious armoured personnel carrier 8x8 24 USSR
Panhard AML Light armoured car 72 France AML-60\90 60 Mortar\90mm Gun 4x4
Panhard M3 Armoured personnel carrier 15 France In store 4x4
Ferret armoured car Wheeled armoured fighting vehicle 20 United Kingdom
Saladin armoured car Wheeled 6x6 10 United Kingdom FV601 76.2mm gun
Shorland armoured car Armoured car 8 United Kingdom
Saracen 6x6 APC FV-603 15 United Kingdom Out of service?
BRM Armoured personnel carrier 85-105 USSR
WZ551 Armoured personnel carrier 35 China
BOV M11 Armored reconnaissance vehicle On order Serbia Part of a larger order that includes Nora B-52 artillery systems and logistic support vehicles.[33]
Humvee APC 4x4 100 United States
Thyssen Henschel UR-416 Armoured personnel carrier 52 Germany
Land Rover Defender ??? United Kingdom
Mercedes Benz LA-911 Trucks Germany
Steyr Sinotruck Troop carrier truck Initial Delivery 400 China/Austria
Leyland trucks UK
ACMAT 4.20 4x4 and 6.20 6x6 trucks France
MAC AFV Transporters United States
Grider Medium bridges United Kingdom
PUMA M26-15 MRAP Initial Delivery 150 South Africa
Nora B-52 Self-propelled artillery 30 Serbia

Air Force and Navy

The Kenya Air Force was established by 1966, and revolted in 1982.

The Kenya Navy is composed of:[citation needed]

  • 2 offshore patrol vessels (During the 2011 refit Otomat missile systems were removed)
  • 6 inshore patrol vessels
  • 2 amphibious craft
  • 12 support vessel including patrol boats, landing ship, tug boats.

Other Security Forces are covered at Kenya Police and Law enforcement in Kenya


  1. IISS Military Balance 2012, 438.
  2. Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence
  3. Kenya National Commission on Human Rights
  4. [1]
  5. The Standard 31 October 2010 Activists give military 5 days to re-admit recruit INTERNET Cited on 3 January 2011
  6. The Standard Sh 1.6 billion tender rocks the DoD INTERNET Cited on 3 January 2011
  7. For example the decision to acquire ex-Jordanian F5 fighter aircraft. See The Standard Kenya's 'new' fighter jets cannot take off INTERNET Cited on 3 January 2011
  8. Bruce Baker, Escape from Domination in Africa: Political Disengagement & Its Consequences, (Africa World Press: 2003), p.83
  9. Timothy Parsons, The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa, 120.
  10. Parsons, The 1964 Army Mutinies, 161.
  11. Hornsby, 98-99.
  12. Timothy Parsons, 'The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa,' Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 0325070687, 169.
  13. Hornsby, Charles (2012). Kenya: A History Since Independence. London/New York: I. B. Tauris. p. 180. ISBN 978-1-84885-886-2. 
  14. Hornsby, 228-229.
  15. Hornsby, 335-6.
  16. Kenya: Security Information. Retrieved July 2012.
  17. Hornsby, 554.
  18. Peacekeeping Operations: Kenya Mission to the UN
  19. Kenya launches offensive in Somalia
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Joint Communique – Operation Linda Nchi". Kenya High Commission, Tanzania. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  21. "Somalia government supports Kenyan forces' mission". 
  22. "Kenya: Defense Minister appointed as acting Internal Security Minister". 19 June 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  23. "Kenya agrees to join AMISOM". China Daily. 2011-12-07. 
  25. Library of Congress, Country Profile, via
  26. "The Kenya Army Formations". Kenya Government, Ministry of State for Defence. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  27. "Trained in terror". Human Rights Watch (republished from The Guardian article of 30 July 2008). Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  28. U.S. Embassy Nairobi briefing slides
  29. Somali pirates warn off rescuers access date 27 September 2008 by the BBC. The Ukrainian Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov confirmed 33 Russian T-72 tanks and "a substantial quantity of ammunition" were aboard the captured cargo ship, called the Faina".
  30. [2] Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 November 2008
  32. "Sudan "arm-twisted govt" to get tanks". All 10 December 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 

Further reading/References

  • Charles Hornsby, (2012). Kenya: A History Since Independence. London/New York: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-886-2.
  • Irving Kaplan, Area Handbook for Kenya, American University (Washington, D.C.). Foreign Area Studies, United States. Dept. of the Army, for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976.
  • Timothy Parsons, 'The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa,' Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 0325070687.
  • David A. Percox, Britain, Kenya and the cold war: imperial defence, colonial security and decolonisation, Volume 13 of International library of African studies, Tauris Academic Studies, I.B.Tauris, 2004, ISBN 1-85043-460-3, ISBN 978-1-85043-460-3

External links

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