This is the infamous day that forever changed the course of Kenya’s history
Posted Sunday, August 5 2012 at 19:30
The other day when I was talking to some 20-somethings about the “bad old days” of the Moi era, it dawned on me that none of them had a clue what I was talking about because most had come of age in the Kibaki era – that is, after 2002.
It also occurred to me then that exactly 30 years had passed since the attempted coup d’etat that almost toppled President Moi from power.
For the 20-somethings, the attempted coup is just a historical fact; it is not a vivid memory, as it is for so many people of my generation.
These young adults have not lived through the moment that forever changed the course of post-independence politics and the culture of paranoia, coded language, torture and media censorship that it unleashed.
The first day of August 1982 for them is just another date in Kenya’s history; it is not a day that changed their lives in fundamental ways.
The sad reality is that many of the people who remember that day are now old or middle-aged. Many cannot talk about it because the memories are too painful.
As Roy Gachuhi pointed out in a Nation article last week, the story of the coup may never be told in full “because some people have died with it, some are too unwell, and others still choose not to talk.”
So maybe it is time for those of us who are still alive to tell it, for the sake of present and future post-Moi generations.
I remember August 1, 1982, like it happened yesterday. The night before, I had been out dancing at the Carnivore and had arrived home around 1am. At around 4am, my father woke the family up.
He had heard many gunshots and sensed that something was not right. The sound of gunshots continued into the late morning.
We began to panic. We heard that the Kenya Air Force had taken charge of the Voice of Kenya broadcasting station and the airport.
As the morning progressed, we heard that all roads into town had been blocked and that a curfew of sorts was underway.
Our house was opposite the MP Shah Hospital. I saw many ambulances arriving and leaving. I saw a friend coming out of Casualty. His shirt was splattered with blood.
He told me his wife had been shot in the head when they were driving near Lang’ata Barracks that morning. He hadn’t realised that a curfew had been announced. The armed forces shot at the car, instantly killing his wife.
Because of the curfew, he stayed in our house for the next two days. Those who ventured out risked getting shot. The city was under siege. People were walking around with their hands and IDs above their heads.
Later we learnt that my uncle had been stopped and searched by the military on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway. He was ordered not to proceed to Nairobi and had to turn back.
We also heard that there had been a looting spree downtown and that many Asian women and girls living in the Ngara and Pangani areas had been raped. Some of these women and girls had committed suicide after being raped.
Many Asian families emigrated or sent their daughters abroad soon after the coup attempt.