Shame of KDF soldiers paid Sh20 daily to battle Shabaab
In a typical day they receive intelligence on Al-Shabaab presence from an aerial reconnaissance unit and quickly jump into choppers to be inserted into the forest, where they quickly “neutralise” the fighters.
But it’s not always a walk in the park. The Nation has been talking to a young soldier who has seen action and has a body pockmarked by scars to show for it.
The scars are not from bullets but the millions of ticks that suck blood from animals in the jungle and have probably found human blood a delicacy.
But while any soldier will comfortably live with insect bites, fighting Al-Shabaab is another matter. Death is a constant companion and many young men routinely lose lives or are maimed by enemy fire and improvised explosives.
“I recently buried two friends and I wonder what will become of their families,” says the soldier, who has engaged the terrorists many times.
And this is where the big problem lies: For some reason, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) pays a daily hardship allowance of Sh20 to bachelors fighting the Al-Shabaab internally and Sh40 to the married ones — a far cry from the Sh106,000 Kenyan soldiers of the same rank get under Amisom in Somalia monthly.
“We are very demoralised,” says the soldier. And he has a litany of reasons why he thinks something must be done.
“Generally, KDF is unable to compensate the injured and the dead,” says the soldier. “The injured have been filling in compensation claim forms only for them to be returned by the insurance company.”
The latest communication from the military headquarters is that compensation will be lumped together with the retirement benefits, he claimed, adding: “But you may not live to see your retirement day.”
Although the soldier appreciates that the military has never been swamped with so many compensation claims before, he doesn’t see anyone leading a happy life after losing a limb in action and have to wait for 20 years for compensation — like his colleague who was recently maimed.
“When I look at him, I sometimes wonder what went wrong,” he says.
Our subject reveals yet another shocking detail: Your salary is stopped the day you are felled by the enemy’s bullet.
“It would be more humane if the military paid a three-month or a year’s salary to help the dead soldier’s family to more easily transition to self-sufficiency,” he reasons.
And he has a point.
“Most young soldiers are married to housewives, who cannot easily cope with widowhood,” he says, sketching out the unenviable situation of a young widow who suddenly finds herself unable to pay kindergarten fees and suddenly has to move the children to her husband’s rural home.
The soldier adds that his colleagues’ collective feedback is that the KDF compensation for death is far from enough. He explains that the figure for a soldier earning Sh40,000 a month will be Sh4 million.
This is equivalent to eight years’ pay, which, he says, will still leave a young family vulnerable.
The common position by his colleagues is that widows should be put on the half-salary of their husbands up to the time they would have retired.
Military families also find themselves in a difficult situation when a soldier dies only for them to lose access to free treatment at the Forces Memorial Hospital.
From personal circumstances to matters of blood and iron in the battle front, the soldier points at inadequacies that wouldn’t augur well for service to Motherland.
He doesn’t understand, for example, why the military would buy Chinese-made bullet-proof vests that cave in on impact — meaning that the body soaks up some of the impact from a bullet — when the ones supplied by Americans don’t.
It is the sort of “oversight” that makes a difference between life and death.
Transport in Chinese armoured personnel carriers is considered something of a death warrant because they are not entirely bullet-proof like the American Hummers.
He says: “They get quite hot inside and the armour-plating gives in to sustained fire.”
Were it not the duty of a good newspaper to tell the truth, we wouldn’t let this pass. But we can’t. Certain things go wrong because those who are supposed to right them are in the dark.
One such case is the complaint that soldiers in the field cook their meals on firewood but the military routinely writes huge cheques for cooking gas. The corruption aside, smoke is a dead giveaway in the battlefield.