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How the Kenya Air Force fought back

Saturday August 01 2020
Air Force

Kenya Air Force soldiers march during the official opening of the Nairobi International Trade Fair at the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) Showground along Ngong Road in Nairobi on October 2, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NYAMBEGA GISESA

A whole 38 years later after personnel from the Kenya Air Force led a coup to overthrow the government, the service seems to have regained its status in the ranks of the Kenya Defence Forces.

Except for its old motto, the Kenya Air Force has reverted to the force it was just before the August 21, 1982 attempted coup.

The coup was a plot by servicemen identifying themselves as The People's Redemption Council.

The People's Redemption Council comprised of Hezekiah Ochuka, as Chairman, Corporal Fenwicks Chesoli, Senior Sergeant Pancras Okumu Oteyo, Sergeant Joseph Ogidi Obuon, Sergeant Samuel Opiyo, Sergeant Richard Obuon, Corporal Fenwicks Chesoli, Corporal Ombok and Captain Agola.

DISBANDED

Following the coup attempt, on August 21, 1982 the government disbanded the Kenya Air Force and replaced it with the 82 Air Force.

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“The new service was formed from units of the disbanded Kenya Air Force and some officers and servicemen from the army. The officers were on secondment while the servicemen were absorbed permanently. On formation of the new service, KAF Eastleigh and KAF Nanyuki were renamed ‘Moi Air Base’ and ‘Laikipia Air Base respectively,” the book The Kenya Air Force Story 1964-2014 notes.

The Kenya Air Force motto was also changed from “Twatumika Tukiwa Angani” to “Tuko Imara Angani.”

Further, the Department of Defence issued a circular that the Kenya Navy was to take precedence over the 82 Air Force.

Following the coup, the air force was considered as the “black sheep” within the military.

“The Kenya Air Force has been totally disgraced by the coup attempt which most of its men staged on Sunday. Nearly all its men are under arrest or suspicion and the reason is that from all accounts the plotting for the coup attempt appears to have involved all units of the force,” this is how the Weekly Review, one of the most respected news outlets, reported the coup attempt on its edition of August 6, 1982.

TENS DEAD

The Weekly Review of August 6, 1982 reported that the government estimated that about 71 Kenya Air Force officers died in the fight for the control of the Voice of Kenya which KAF men had taken over by 4.30 am on the fateful day.

About 30 KAF men were also reported killed at the KAF base in Eastleigh when the Nakuru-based 3rd battalion moved to seize the base.

About five days following the coup attempt nearly the entire KAF personnel had placed under arrest.

From the figures of arrests and casualties it appeared the Kenya Air Force had an estimated number of 2,000 personnel.

On November 24, 1982 , Corporal Bramwel Njereman, an armaments technician,  became the first Kenyan to be convicted of treason for trying to overthrow the Government of Kenya. He was subsequently sentenced to death by hanging.

With other coup plotters, Njereman, Corporal Walter Ojode, Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancreas Okumu were executed on the night of July 10, 1985 at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

Before him, all those sentenced numbering close to 600 drew jail terms of varying lengths.

The coup was crashed by police men and army men led by the then Army Commander Lt gen John Sawe, Deputy army commander Maj Gen Mahmoud Mohammed, Chief of Operations at Defence Headquarters Brigadier Bernard Killu and Major Humphrey Njoroge, a staff officer in charge of training at Army Headquarters.

After the coup was crashed, Mohamed became the new Kenya Air Force Commander, now renamed the 82 Air Force.

GROUNDED

The coup attempt grounded the air force in several ways.

First, it put a stop on an expansion programme notably the establishing of a whole new squadron of F-5 E jet fighters and support systems through military assistance programme through military financial assistance and loans from the US.

The plans were put off for a whole 26 years when Kenya acquired aged F-5 fighters from Jordan in one of the military’s most controversial deals.

In fact, Kenya acquired the jets a whole 19 years after the last such F-5 was built in 1989.

The air force also lost a deal in which the Kenyan government agreed to give the US government facilities for its so-called rapid deployment force.

REDEMPTION

The Kenya Air Force got its name back in a queer manner, through a case in which one of its officers was being charged for theft of public funds.

On March 4, 1993, a court martial was convened by 82 Air Force Commander Major General Duncan Wachira to try the late Captain Geoffrey Murugi for theft of public funds when he served as the Moi Air Base paymaster.

The historic case had started on March 4, 1983.

Captain Murugi challenged the jurisdiction of the court martial to try him arguing that he did not belong to the Kenya Armed Forces but to the 82 Air Force which was nonexistent in the Kenyan laws.

“The Armed Forces Act had not been amended in 1982 following the disbandment of the Kenya Air Force and subsequent promulgation of the 82 Air Force. The Air Force had remained as the Kenya Air Force under section 3(2) of the Act. The accused won the first round when the court martial was dissolved on March 9, 1993,” the book The Kenya Air Force Story 1964-2014 notes.

When another court martial was convened to try the officer on the same charges, he once again challenged the new court martial on the same line arguing that he was not commissioned in the Kenya Air Force but in the 82 Air Force.

When the court martial overruled his objection and proceeded to try him, he filed a case at the High Court.

The High Court observed that the 82 Air Force did not exist in the law of Kenya and that Kenya Air Force had not been deleted from the Armed Forces Act(Cap 199) noting that 82 was just a nickname for the Service and its personnel  were officers of the Kenya Armed Forces.

This case caused the Air Force to revert to its statutory name.

TRAINING

Unlike in the current scenario, the Air Force was made up of men who were a lot more educated than their counterparts in the army and the police.

Whereas quite a number of the Kenya Army personnel were class eight school  leavers and semi-illiterate, especially those recruited from marginalized communities as a means of affirmative action,  many of the air force personnel had A-level education.

A number of them were also university graduates and had undergone advanced training overseas.

Due to the nature of their work, the government also invested more in training of air force cadets than for police officers and those in the army.

A number of the air force personnel were trained in the USA and/or Israel (military aviation schools) after graduating from British cadet schools following a rigorous selection process.

They then received further training at places like Sandhurst or Aldershot in the UK.

These disparities could be reflected when personnel from the army and police officers descended on air force personnel in efforts to quell the coup attempt, with the coup stoppers  proclaiming that they were disciplining  the air force personnel so as to deal with their “masomo mingi and ujeuri.”

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