When I first heard the accusations that the KDF were involved in looting during the tragic Westgate siege, I was stunned. Like the rest of Kenya, I firmly believed that people tasked with protecting innocent citizens would not have been using that time to line their own pockets. Once videos of the alleged looting surfaced, showing our brave soldiers leaving Nakumatt supermarket carrying loaded plastic bags, I was left with more questions than answers.
Being out of the fashion loop myself, I briefly wondered if the plastic bags had recently become a hot new accessory; white is, after all, said to match with just about anything. Could it have been a new military technology, adopted for camouflaging weapons?
You can imagine my relief when it was finally announced that the plastic bags simply contained bottles of mineral water. As I had thought, our armed forces had not betrayed our trust, they were simply doing their part to protect and conserve Kenya’s clean water reserves by liberating them and bringing the water to safety.
My unquestioning faith in the KDF has been, in part, due to the African obligation to support and believe in your ancestors. The armed forces, of which KDF is a part, can be considered one of the earliest and most influential ancestors of the logistics industry as it stands today. Before humanity mastered the complicated art of major logistical functions, we first figured out mechanics of war. Expansion of territory, protecting our amassed assets or just as a show of strength, what grew into modern day war has existed for about as long as our species has.
The first aspect military forces of old needed to establish was how to get personnel from one point to the next and back again. This logistical function required seeking out the most favorable route and strategic transportation method, much like current logistics must consider. Method of travel was likewise a key consideration: in deciding whether soldiers were to raid on foot, on horseback or even via sea-faring vessels, taking into account the need for soldiers to arrive in top condition with minimal casualties.
The myth of the Trojan horse is a feat for the logistics industry, with careful planning helping the cargo, in this case soldiers, get to the location, here being the soon to be razed city of Troy via an out of the box freighting option, a massive wooden horse.
Soldiers also needed supplies to keep them going for the duration of travel, as it was not always guaranteed that food or water would be available along the way. Ancient armies had to factor in meal rations that were easy to transport and not vulnerable to rot. Men off to war had also to consider freighting of their weapons, more so in situations where travel was to be on foot. American soldiers fighting in the marshy wetlands in Vietnam quickly found out how important supply chain management planning is when their food and weapons were claimed by the constant damp conditions, leaving many without crucial resources at the worst possible times.
Related, it has been necessary to find ways to transport very sensitive and volatile cargo that requires special attention so as to remain potent and not pose a danger to the logistics personnel, in this case soldiers, as well. Aside from the risk of damaging or contaminating cargo, such as getting gunpowder wet and therefore unusable for older weaponry makes, transporting military supplies sometimes becomes a literal life or death situation.
A hydrogen bomb accident in 1961, in which a bomber ferrying two atomic bombs broke apart mid air, could have had an unpleasant end for North Carolina, in a vein similar to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thankfully, one bomb fell harmlessly to the ground while the other came very close to detonating, halted by a solitary failsafe switch. It is these precautions that have grown and matured into the current logistics industry niche for transporting specialty cargo, such as ancient cultural artifacts that are sensitive to jostling and very easily damaged.
Military forces throughout history are also pioneers in applying logistics under extreme conditions. Delivery of goods or personnel in areas rocked by conflicts and monitored by opposing forces determined not to allow supplies to reach enemy combatants is hands down the top nightmare of any supply chain manager, next to facing the wrath of mother nature in the course of delivery.
For Germans soldiers under Hitler attempting an invasion of Russia, these two factors colluded to guarantee a shameful defeat: between the incomparable frozen Russian landscape and inability to replenish resources under opposition from Russian forces, Germany was forced into a retreat that lives on in history books today. Logistics strategizing that took climate and hostiles into account helped Britain and her allies deliver supplies to the Red Army through unique Arctic Convoys under conditions similar to what the Germans faced, to great success. Modern day logistics therefore further evolved by learning a valuable lesson from both examples regarding adapting to extreme situations.
Logistics today also employs innovation in our various functions, such as the continued improvement of security technology for transporting valuable cargo. Similarly, the armed forces that came before us found imaginative ways to get things from point A to point B as needed.
The use of animals in war has been well documented: from carrier pigeons tasked with ferrying wartime communications, to employing dogs to sneak supplies in to troops under siege. In the First World War, the Belgian army is said to have used dogs to pull carts of weapons, food rations and even wounded soldiers, saving countless lives in the process. This ability to find innovative solutions to problems thus persevered and shaped the face of modern day logistics.
As far as origin stories go, the logistics industry can be said to be doing well: each supply chain manager can proudly trace his roots back to the brave Spartan warriors tasked with ensuring the safe travel of soldiers and munitions as they went off into battle. The same Spartan blood that flows through our veins runs in the modern day troops as well, up to and including the quoted military force.
One key difference exists: where the soldiers of old partook in the spoils of war, our modern day forces would never consider it, least of all in the glare of surveillance cameras doubtless covering every inch of a popular mall. As for the soldiers captured on tape checking if safes had been left open? Simply confirming that no water was trapped inside and in need of urgent assistance. Do have an honorable weekend ahead, won’t you?