It took a court order to compel the Unites States top spy agency to publicly release de-classified documents, and when it finally posted them online on Tuesday, it offered a treasure trove for those who would wish to know what Washington’s intelligence officials have been thinking about Kenya over the years.
From hints on how the US capitalised on the desire by former President Daniel arap Moi’s to be in control after the botched 1982 coup; to how US oil companies coerced founding President Jomo Kenyatta to relax sanctions on Idi Amin’s Uganda using the Mombasa port to what American presidents in the 1970s were told about Kenya in their daily briefings, the papers provide new insights into the undercurrents in Kenya’s political scene in the eyes of the US.
One of the documents posted on the website of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) details the realities of the Moi regime a year after the unsuccessful August 1, 1982 coup.
Among the issues it discusses is the way the Kenyan military ranks took a tribal dimension after the coup as Mr Moi strived to have a firm grip over the security agency.
“Mr Moi has long been uneasy about heavy Kikuyu representation in the military and has exhibited his prejudice by promoting members of his Kalenjin tribe into senior positions,” says part of the document released in 1983 by the US Directorate of Intelligence.
“The US embassy believes that the largely Kamba and Kalenjin senior ranks of the army are discriminating against middle-grade Kikuyu officers,” it adds.
The document centred on the state of affairs after the September 1983 General Election in Kenya.
“We believe Mr Moi will be able to remain in power over the next few years,” its authors said.
“No well-organised dissident movement or opposition leader with a strong national following has emerged. Moreover, Moi has shown a talent for outmanoeuvring potential opponents and for playing off the country’s ethnic groups against one another.”
Analysis of the document reveals how the US was confident Mr Moi would remain loyal to Washington for protection against the Soviet Union and other powers that may have considered sponsoring dissent against him.
“As long as Mr Moi continues to be in office, we believe that Kenya will retain its basically pro-US policy and will look to the United States for still greater economic and military aid in return for allowing continued US military access to Kenyan facilities,” it says.
Among the nearly one million documents released is also a report revealing the power battles between Mzee Kenyatta and one-time Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in the 1960s, which are bafflingly similar to the duel between their sons that is currently at a crescendo ahead of the August General Election.
Titled Kenya’s Fight against Subversion, the document had been released earlier under restricted access. It can now be reached by anyone with an internet connection.
The paper was authored a month after Jaramogi, the father of Cord leader Raila Odinga, had resigned from his Vice President position under Mzee Kenyatta, the father of current President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Jaramogi’s family on Friday marked 23 years since he died.
In the 1966 dispatch, he is described in not-so-rosy terms especially on the ethnic perspective his appointments took. Because of CIA’s belief that Jaramogi was being supported by socialist states, the negative perception is understandable.
Besides the Odinga-Kenyatta duel, it also explains how Mr Moi, then Interior Minister, was seen as a potential heir to Mr Kenyatta because he had made a reputation “as a tough, capable administrator”.
Another document reveals how US spies followed closely the quarrels between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that led to the collapse of the East African Community.
The 1983 report titled Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania: Uneasy Neighbours, authored by the US Directorate of Intelligence, betrays Washington’s aversion to Tanzania’s pro-socialism outlook, making it appear the US may not have been for the idea of Kenya teaming up with it.
As an analysis of the impact of the weakening ties, the authors state: “Kenya is likely to look to the United States for greater support as a result of rising tensions with its East African neighbours.”
They add: “Mr Moi’s view that the combined forces of Tanzania and Uganda are a serious military threat will provide added impetus to his requests for military aid.”
Another document shows US oil traders may have had a hand in making Mzee Jomo Kenyatta lessen port sanctions imposed against the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin.
“The Kenyan government has reportedly informed US oil company executives that all restrictions on the shipment of petroleum products to Uganda are lifted. This applies even to jet fuel,” says an August 21, 1976 report from “the situation room” labelled as top secret.
Many more topics are canvassed in the various available documents, which have caused a buzz worldwide for the information they have made known. However, many sensitive details are blacked out from pages, making some documents a hard read.
According to the BBC, previously the de-classified documents were only available on four computers in the back of a library at the National Archives in Maryland, US, between 9am and 4.30 pm daily.
“A non-profit freedom of information group, MuckRock, sued the CIA to force it to upload the collection, in a process which took more than two years,” says the BBC.
While announcing the release of the documents, CIA said the released batch consisted of 930,000 documents, totalling more than 12 million pages.
The CIA post quoted its Director of Information Management Joseph Lambert saying: “Access to this historically significant collection is no longer limited by geography. The American public can access these documents from the comfort of their homes.”