In the early hours of August 1, 1982, exactly 30 years ago today, Kenyans woke up to a coup attempt by junior officers of the Kenya Air Force against the government of President Daniel arap Moi.
More than 100 soldiers and 200 civilians died, including two (West) Germans, an English woman and a Japanese male tourist and his child. Two Asian women committed suicide after being raped, and the economic damage hit the Sh500 million mark.
The madness lasted less than 12 hours. One of the masterminds, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka Rabala, was Kenya’s “president” for less than six hours.
But the adverse ripple effects of the abortive coup lasted more than two decades.
The national radio, the Voice of Kenya, announced that the military coup was because of among other reasons, the economy being in tatters. Thus a “...curfew has been declared and people are advised to stay indoors... all borders have been closed... all MPs to hide inside their homes for their own safety.”
Police were ordered to behave like any other civilians.
Yet, the poorly planned coup could have been crushed. The Special Branch, which had infiltrated the military, knew about it and had names of the perpetrators.
Two days to the coup, spy chief James Kanyotu asked then President Moi for permission to arrest, among others, Sergeant Joseph, Corporals Charles Oriwa, Walter Ojode, Bramwel Injene Njereman and Senior privates Protas Oteyo Okumu and Hezekiah Ochuka, the coup’s mastermind.
Monday August 2
But the President didn’t deem it fit that the police should get embroiled in military arrests, as that would have been tantamount to insubordination. The matter, he said, would be dealt with internally on Monday, August 2.
But at midnight on August 1, the coup, which involved seizing control of the VOK, the Central Bank of Kenya “to protect people’s money” and blowing up State House Nairobi was under way. Many Kenyans who witnessed the coup recall vividly how this event affected them.
That night for example, Captain Jorim Nyamor was in his house in Nairobi when a colleague, a Corporal Rono came and took forced him out.
He had a gun and threatened to kill Capt Nyamor if he did not follow his orders. Corporal Rono took him to the squadron at their operational base in Nanyuki, where he realised many other colleagues had been kept, too.
It was just a few hours after an announcement had been made over the VOK that the army had overthrown the government.
The announcement was made by the Senior Private Grade 1 officer, Hezekiah Ochuka and was backed immediately by a Nairobi University student leader, Titus Adungosi.
“At the squadron, we were about 20 officers, mostly pilots, who would later be sent to bomb different bases and State House,” Capt Nyamor said.
He flew the StrikeMaster plane with Capt John Mugwanja and Maj David Mutua who was also their leader.
After the realisation that the DoD had not been bombed, Capt Nyamor was directed by the forces to go and drop another bomb himself using the F5 aeroplane.
“I asked them to give me one or two hours because I had something important I needed to do. They agreed.
“When the F5 plane landed, the officers who were under direction to bomb several places subdued the rebels and took over the squadron, but several other army officers came over and arrested them claiming all.
“We were taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison, and after a few days transferred to Naivasha where we were tortured,’’ he said.
He said that the group was kept in cold water and under cages like lions for eight months, after which they were found innocent and retired compulsorily with Sh60 as benefits.
“I was employed by Kenya Airways in 1985, three years after we were retired by the Armed Forces,” Capt Nyamor said.
“Many of colleagues we were compulsorily retired with have remained jobless and live in poverty, but I thank God I got a job,” he said.
Moses Otieno Okong’o, 51, still believes he is lucky to be alive and free after being subjected to what he terms as the worst kind of torture.
The ex-soldier says that although he has not been living the life that he would wish for, he has never regretted what happened in his life.
He maintains that he is still bound by the Official Secrets Act and cannot reveal some of the information.
He joined the military a year before the attempted coup and was based at the Embakasi Garrison, where he was trained under “baptism of fire” and later posted to the Pioneer Assault Unit in Gilgil.
“I was aware of the coup plot a month before, as I was among the sworn members of the rebel group that was to participate,” he said.
He was among 13 rebel soldiers who were in two units that were to stage the attacks on top government officials and targeted populations. He was just 21 years and fresh in the forces when all that happened.
“Soon, we were defeated because the other soldiers were more and better organised. That is when we were arrested,” he said at his home in Rae, Kisumu County.
“I was taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison where I was questioned and confined for the next 11 days. I was released and returned to the base, but given a new serial number.”
“A month later in September 1982, I was re-arrested and taken to the army headquarters and confined under torture,” he said.
When he appeared in court on August 17, 1982, he was charged with mutiny, and was not entitled to a legal defence. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Mr Otieno was released on April 17, 1984, and went back to his home in Nyando to stay with his mother. He was given a summary dismissal with no benefits or recognition or care.