Kenya mourns defence chief killed in helicopter crashFri, 19 Apr 2024 16:40:36 GMT

Kenya began three days of mourning on Friday after its defence chief and nine other senior officers were killed in a helicopter crash, the latest military accident involving a high-profile figure.A 19-gun salute will take place on Saturday in a military tribute to the former Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (CDF), General Francis Omondi Ogolla, in the presence of President William Ruto, the defence ministry announced.Ogolla was killed when his helicopter went down shortly after takeoff in a remote forested area of northwestern Kenya on Thursday.”A distinguished four-star general has fallen in the course of duty and service of the country,” Ruto said as he announced the deaths that evening.He said the Air Force had dispatched an investigation team to establish the cause of the accident.Ruto condoled with Ogolla’s family at a ceremony in Nairobi on Friday as the nation began observing the mourning period, with the Kenyan flag flying at half-mast across the country and at missions abroad.”Yesterday was truly a very, very tragic day,” the president said. “This is a big loss to the country because General Ogolla made a whole difference in the security of the country.”The family said in a statement that a funeral would be held Sunday at Ogolla’s home in Siaya in the west of the country, followed by a memorial service in a Nairobi suburb on April 26.”Final salute” was the front-page headline in the leading Daily Nation newspaper.The bodies of the victims, draped in Kenyan flags, were returned to a military base in Nairobi on an air force plane late Thursday.One of the officers, Brigadier Swale Saidi, was buried in the Indian Ocean town of Kilifi on Friday and other funerals are expected in the coming days.- ‘Trying to keep Kenya safe’ -Ogolla, a trained fighter pilot, had been promoted to the defence chief role by Ruto just a year ago and was about to mark 40 years of military service.He had been visiting troops deployed in a security operation in the North Rift region, which is plagued by violence caused by armed bandits and cattle rustlers.Ogolla’s daughter Lorna Ogolla said in a poignant post on LinkedIn that her father died “doing what he did best for the better part of the last 40 years — trying to keep Kenya safe”.Messages of condolence were sent from across the country and the African continent as well as the United Nations, the United States and other Kenyan allies.”From combatting terrorist threats posed by Al-Shabaab to leading efforts to bolster regional cooperation across a range of domains, he has left an indelible mark,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. – High profile accident victims -The Standard newspaper said it was the fifth armed forces chopper crash in 12 months, with claims that Kenya’s military aircraft were old and poorly maintained.In June 2021, at least 10 soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed during a training exercise south of Nairobi.Ogolla is among a number of high-profile victims of air accidents in Kenya.In 2012, internal security minister George Saitoti, seen as a possible presidential candidate, was among six people killed in a police helicopter crash.Kenya has one of the largest military budgets in the East Africa region, at 150 billion shillings ($1.1 billion) for the financial year ending in June 2024, according to government statistics.The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated in its 2024 report The Military Balance the total number of active armed forces at 24,100.The East African nation is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and also deploys troops for missions in the region. Ogolla, a married father of two, joined the KDF in April 1984, rising through the ranks to command the Kenyan Air Force in 2018, a post he held for three years before becoming vice chief of the defence forces in 2021 and then chief in April 2023.Under Kenyan military regulations, the defence chief normally retires at 62 or after four years in the post, whichever comes first.