Rise of men who were arrested over 1982’s failed coup

Thursday July 31 2008

Some of the students arrested and charged with

Some of the students arrested and charged with treason or taking part in illegal demonstrations in connection with the August 1, 1982, coup. Photo/FILE 


It is exactly 26 years today since the country was rocked by coup attempt in 1982.

Some of the people arrested in connection with the plot have since risen to prominent positions in politics, private and public sectors. At the time of the coup, most of those arrested were either students or lecturers at the University of Nairobi.

Among those who have since risen to prominence are:

Raila Odinga

At the time of the coup, he was a deputy director of the State-owned Kenya Bureau of Standards. Today, he is the Prime Minister and leader of ODM, the party with the largest number of MPs in Parliament.

Shortly after the 1982 coup, Mr Odinga was arrested and charged with treason alongside journalist Otieno Mak’Onyango and University of Nairobi lecturer Alfred Vincent Otieno.

After several mentions, the State withdrew the treason charges and put the three in detention without trial. Mr Odinga was freed in February 1988, but barely six months later he was detained at the height of the crackdown on dissident movements. He was released in June 1989.

Last year, Mr Odinga vied for the presidency. The Electoral Commission of Kenya declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner, a decision that sparked countrywide protests from ODM, which claimed its candidate had been robbed of victory.

After months of peace negotiations, Mr Odinga was named Prime Minister in April.

Musalia Mudavadi

Today, he is the Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Local Government. But in 1982, he was a second year student studying Land Economics when the University of Nairobi was sucked in the coup.

His father, Mr Moses Mudavadi, then the Local Government minister, was on an official visit to Mexico. The senior Mudavadi cut short his trip on receiving news of the coup. Arriving in Nairobi a day later, he found his son missing.On the third day, Musalia appeared at his father’s home in Mululu, Vihiga District.

The younger Mudavadi was picked up by police two days later but was released after three days, unlike his compatriots who went on to spend six months in custody before the State withdrew sedition charges against them.

Moses Wetang’ula

He is now the minister for Foreign Affairs. He was just another city lawyer until 1984 when he decided to represent the coup ring-leader, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, during his court martial trial.
At the time, Mr Ochuka paid him Sh20,000 to handle the protracted and highly sensational case. But the trial gave Mr Wetang’ula much publicity. In 1992, he was nominated to Parliament, where he often served as temporary deputy Speaker.He captured the Sirisia seat in 2002 on a Narc ticket and was later named assistant minister for Foreign Affairs.

Mr Wetang’ula was made Cabinet minister (Foreign Affairs) when President Kibaki formed his first Cabinet after last year’s General Election.

Richard Onyonka

Now an assistant minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Onyonka was among the students jailed over the coup in 1982. He returned to the University of Nairobi in 1984 and completed his course in 1985.

After graduation, he joined the North Carolina State University from where he graduated with a Masters degree in management in 1986. He returned to Kenya in 1992 to help his father, then the MP for Kitutu Chache and minister for Planning and National Development, who was seeking re-election on a Kanu ticket.

His father died in 1996 prompting a by-election that the younger Onyonka lost. But he won the seat in last year’s elections.
Isaac Ruto

Now the MP for Chepalungu, Mr Ruto was a second-year BA student at the University of Nairobi.

At the time of the coup, he was the vice-chairman of the students’ organisation, Sonu.He learned of the coup at 4am when he was woken up by Sonu chairman Tito Adungosi.Ruto was arrested the following day by Special Branch officers while going to report at the Bomet chief’s camp.

He spent a month in custody.He later ventured into politics and was elected Chepalungu MP in 1997. He served as minister for Vocational Training. He lost his seat in 2002 but recaptured it last year.

Gitobu Imanyara

In 1982, he was a lawyer in Nanyuki and Meru. He shot to the limelight when he represented rebel Air Force soldiers who had been accused of masterminding the coup.

Today, he is the MP for Imenti North.His most sensational case involved Corporal Bramwel Njeremani, the first soldier to be sentenced to hang.Njeremani’s case exposed the glaring negligence by the military intelligence in the countdown to the coup attempt.

Later, Mr Imanyara shifted to Nairobi and joined the budding struggle to return to a multiparty democracy, for which he was briefly detained in 1990. He won the Imenti North seat on a Ford Kenya ticket in the 1997 General Election. He failed to recapture the seat in 2002 but bagged it last year.

Shem Ochuodho

Former Rangwe MP was a third year science student and a member of the Sonu council in 1982. He was whisked away by Special Branch officers a few days after the university was closed following the coup attempt.Ochuodho was charged with participating in an illegal demonstration.The case was later withdrawn but after Ochuodho spent six months in police custody.Ochuodho went on to become a successful businessman.

In 1997, he ventured into politics and was an MP until he lost the Rangwe seat during the 2002 elections.He was later appointed managing director of Kenya Pipeline Company before he was removed after he was accused of irregularities.

Oginga Ogego

Now Kenya’s ambassador to the US, he was a third year political science student at the time of the attempted coup.

He was jailed for 10 years on charges of sedition.

Ogego had initially been jailed for six years but got four more when he told appeal judge Mathew Muli that his only regret was that the coup attempt had failed. In later years, he worked as an aide to Mr Raila Odinga and was a strategist for the defunct NDP party, which Mr Odinga led.

Wachira Waruru

Today, he is the chairman of the Media Council and managing director of Royal Media Services, one of the three leading media houses in Kenya.

He was a University of Nairobi student at the time of the coup and was among students arrested and locked up for months in connection with the coup.

Mr Waruru later served in various capacities in the media before joining the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation as managing director and later Royal Media.

David Murathe

He was a third year student and member of the Sonu council in 1982.

Three days after the coup, Murathe was arrested at Gatanga chief’s camp. He spent six months in custody, during which he was taken to court for sedition and participating in an illegal demonstration.

The charges were later dropped. He was elected Gatanga MP in 1997 but lost the seat in 2002. At one time, he worked as an aide to Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, now the Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Trade.

Philip Murgor

He was a third year law student when he was arrested after the coup attempt.

At the time, his father, Mr Charles Murgor, was an assistant minister in President Moi’s government.

On August 1, Murgor had woken up to the sound of gunfire on the street outside his university hall of residence but he would later spend six months in custody over the coup. He later become a lawyer and at one time served as director of public prosecutions under the Narc government.

Oduor Ong’wen

The former NGO Council chairman was a second-year science student at Chiromo Campus in 1982.

Ong’wen was arrested four days after the coup at his rural home in Siaya District. He was locked up at Kisumu police station but was later transferred to Embakasi GSU Training School where he remained for six months.

Others arrested over the coup plot were Mr Evans Vitisia, now an assistant general manager at the Standard Chartered Bank; Mr Cornel Akello Onyango, now an aide of Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’; Mr Frank Ireri, CEO, Housing Finance; and Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, a university lecturer, who also served at the ODM campaign secretariat last year