Female Colonel Breaks Ranks to Become Defence Forces Spokesperson

A woman will henceforth be the mouthpiece of the army in Kenya. The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have entered the annals of history by picking a woman as their spokesperson. This is the most outstanding breakthrough for the womenfolk since Kenya acceded to independence more than 50 years ago, on December 12, 1963.

 Defence Cabinet Secretary, Monica Juma announced Col Kioko’s appointment Friday during a hand-over ceremony of the outgoing KDF Chief of Defence Forces, General Samson Mwathethe. General Mwathethe was retiring after serving in the country’s forces for more than 40 years. He handed the baton of command over to Major General Robert Kibochi.

 Speaking at an event at the defence headquarters in Nairobi, Ms. Juma noted that Col Kioko’s appointment was in line with streamlining of gender changes in the military through the National Defence Policy, and Gender Policy, launched by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, Uhuru Kenyatta, in 2017. The outgoing KDF Chief of Defence Forces initiated the mainstreaming process.

Kenyan Defense Secretary Monica Juma

“The National Defence Policy forms a basis on which KDF strategies are anchored while the Gender Policy adopts the global best practice in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security,” Ms. Juma explained.

 She thanked General Mwathethe for supporting gender mainstreaming in KDF, where for the first time, she noted, some women officers were promoted to serve in senior positions.

 "I am delighted that we in this cohort have the first woman spokesperson of the KDF," said Juma.

 The news of Col Kioko’s appointment was greeted with mixed feelings as Kenyans took to social media to express their thoughts.

 “I am overwhelmed with joy – a woman Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, announcing the appointment of another woman to a high-ranking position,” wrote Patience Nyange, a gender ambassador, and a 2019 Chevening Scholar.

“It is barely two weeks after we loudly questioned the 16 new appointments, and why there was no woman in the list, and finally one has been fished out,” said Anne David, a journalist and member of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK).

Echoing her words Lilian Nduta, also a member of AMWIK noted: “We are finally on a gender equality path in the military, today, Col Kioko is first, tomorrow there will be two, three, and so on. Once this trend starts, women will be valued in this country”.

Colonel Kioko joined the military in 2018 and was promoted to a spokesperson on April 30 by President Uhuru when he made promotions, and appointments affecting 138 senior, and general military officers. She has also been promoted to a full colonel, thus joining the community of the few senior military officers that rank and above.

Although women in Kenya have made progress in other spheres of life, they reportedly still lag in the military. According to available data, since the country’s independence, no woman had risen beyond the rank of Colonel until 2018 when Major General Fatuma Ahmed became the first female to be appointed to this rank. Before this, she had become the first female Brigadier in 2015. Now, Colonel Kioko joins her in this cadre of decorated ranks.

Other pacesetters include Lt Col Rachel Nduta, who was appointed in August 2018 as the country’s first female aide-de-camp to the President. Later, Major (Dr) Stella Mwangi became the first female doctor to handle surgery while on a mission in April 2019. The two significant appointments were closely followed by the appointment of Major Faith Mwagandi, who last year became Kenya’s first female pilot in the Air Force.

Before the Presidential policy was launched, women had found it difficult to rise in military ranks due to KDF’s patriarchal hierarchy, in which all top commanders in the Navy, Airforce and Army, the Chief of Defence Forces and head of National Defence College were men.

“Indeed, the male-dominated military culture has forced women, soldiers, to 'stay in their lanes' as those in uniform like to say – the bottom line being that the women for decades have spent time trying to blend in, not stand out,” Mildred Otieno, a gender activist among those celebrating Col Kioko’s appointment commented.

The Colonel is among more than 100 KDF senior and general officers who were promoted to higher responsibilities. The new officers took the oath of office Monday May 11 at a ceremony officiated by President Uhuru.

Col Kioko is taking over from Col Paul Njuguna and will take charge of the Public Affairs Department of KDF. She takes over at a time when the military is continuing, although slowly, to embrace public interactions, sharing of information with the Media about its activities while at the same time documenting its history.