This week in History

August 1, 1982: Future President hid in dirty store, MP took rifle, ran to the bush!

He emptied the safe, burnt all sensitive documents in a bonfire, waited for soldiers to shoot him

Brutal boot camp: The charismatic Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka was ‘Kenya’s President for six hours’ during the abortive military coup of August 1, 1982. The 26 year old declared a nationwide curfew, turned all police officers into civilians and released all prisoners.
But why did the coup happen? Well, most of the aggrieved soldiers were Luo Air Force officer who felt underpaid and marginalized in job promotions, despite being the brightest. Open corruption from seniors in the Army and the Cabinet only having three Luos made matters worse.

By GW Ngari

This week, 40 years ago some misguided junior soldiers from the Kenya Air Force, attempted to overthrew the government with Azimio Presidential candidate Raila Odinga in the mix that August 1, 1982. Baba and his Old Guy, Oginga Odinga funded the soldiers besides providing civilian transport and communication logistics, as Raila admitted in his memoirs.

The aftermath of the coup left over 100 soldiers and 200 civilians dead, including two (West) Germans, an Englishwoman, and a Japanese male tourist and his child. Two Asian women committed suicide after being raped. The military insanity lasted less than 12 hours, but economic damage was in the neighbourhood of Sh500 million.

When Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka ‘took over power,’ he declared a countrywide curfew. The President and other public figures feared they were target for assassinations if not endless jail terms. Here was how they reacted to the news of the abortive military coup on Sunday, August 1, 1982:    

Daniel arap Moi and estranged wife Lena Moi: One was taken to a bush in a white Pickup

Ni kubaya: Lena Moi knelt, praying. She said she had a telephone line to heaven. Her husband, President Moi hid in a bush, surrounded by shrubs and his security detail on August 1, 1982.

A shaken President Daniel arap Moi was spirited from his Kabarak home in Nakuru County and gassed in a white Peugeot 204 to a bush inside his massive Kabarak farm before moving to another bush inside his Solai farm in Subukia. He took cover under eucalyptus tees. There were to be no tents for cover or other objects that could be identified from the air in case they were being followed. He stayed in the bush with officers from the Presidential Guard until the coup was crushed. While in the bush, a lorry full of loyal troops went to evacuate estranged wife Lena Moi at her Kabimoi home, but she refused to leave, arguing her house had a telephone to heaven. She then knelt and began praying. Lena died in 2004. Moi in February 2020.

Mwai Kibaki, then Vice President: Was transferred to a house where he enjoyed meals cooked by Beatrice Musila

Eye of the tiger: He was picked from his Othaya home in Nyeri County and instructed to squeeze in a tiny, dirty storeroom…for the time being.

He was picked by Special Branch officer Samuel Wathome and taken to a Nyeri Club and hidden in a small, dirty storeroom. He was later transferred to a house near Mt Kenya Hospital where he enjoyed meals cooked by Beatrice Musila, wife of Central PC David Musila now a candidate for Senator in Kitui County. Kibaki wanted to speak to Moi when he heard the coup had been crushed. Moi refused to speak to his Vice President as Musila recalls in his memoirs, Seasons of Hope. Kibaki died in 2022 aged 90.

Koigi Wamwere, MP Nakuru North (now Subukia): Celebrated the coup against wife’s advice

Wife knows best: Koigi wa Wamwere was asked by his wife, Jane Nduta (above) to obey the curfew but still went outside to celebrate the coup of August 1, 1982. He was arrested three days later!

Though there was a curfew declared by the rebel Kenya Air Force soldiers, Koigi recalls in his memoirs, I Refuse to Die, how he was too happy that the coup had happened he went outside his house in Nakuru to celebrate despite his wife warning him against it.  Koigi met a jirani who was a major in the army: “It was just boys of the Air Force, we will crush them,” the major promised. Koigi’s legs went limp. He was arrested by police three days later. He is 72.

 Philip Leakey, then MP for Lang’ata: Was easy pick for murder being the only mzungu in Bunge

Bush safaris: As an assistant minister, Philip Leakey, the only mzungu in Parliament, knew anyone in government was target for murder.

Philip Leakey heard on radio that all MPs were to be arrested and not one with interests in that direction, packed a bag with a blanket, essential supplies, a rifle and headed for the bush. He is 72.

John Keen, Minister of State for Home Affairs: He took a pistol, drove to Karen police station

Very keen: The late John Keen with Raila Odinga, who was fingered alongside his father in the 1982 military coup attempt. Raila was detained, his father placed under house arrest.

John Keen saw troops and heard machine gun fire that Sunday morning on August 1, 1982. He asked Ben Gethi, the Commissioner of Police to send a Land Rover for transporting his wife and children to his farm house. Being a Minister of State, he feared being on the hit list of rebel soldiers, and since no police car was forthcoming, he took a pistol and drove to Karen police station to ask for help. The police were not interested. He returned home to await his fate! He died at 90 in 2016.

David Musila, Central Province PC and former Senator: Asked that soldiers be allowed to shoot him

Bravado: David Musila told AP officers guarding his home not to fire, but to let rebel soldiers go in and shoot him.

David Musila reached for his hotline to talk to the President. It was dead. All other telephone lines had been disconnected. He could not even reach the DCs outside Nyeri District. He gathered his wife and children and instructed that they stay indoors. He then asked the Administration Police guarding his residence not to fire when the rebel soldiers came calling, but to let them in to where he was. He then rushed to his office and emptied the safe and drawers of all sensitive documents and burnt them in a bonfire. The former Kitui Senator is 79.

No Air Force had ever overthrown a government anywhere in the world without the army

An Officer and a Gentleman: The coup was thwarted by forces loyal to the late President Daniel arap Moi led by General Mahmoud Mohammed (above). Moi was restored as head of state-and declared another curfew featuring indiscriminate arrests, random beatings, frog-marching people home, tear gas canisters here and there. There were road blocks, msako, interrogation, police brutality. There was wailing and gnashing of broken teeth after the nyahunyo registered it’s mark.

Just what triggered Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka to carry out the coup, yet, no Air Force had ever overthrown a government anywhere in the world without the army? Well, the Luo Nation had been in political and economic darkness during the reign of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Then here was President Moi banning Oginga Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union party in March that year.

See Also:  Kenyatta’s pistol and the Sh1.67 pending Pilsner bill

Matters came to a head when Parliament made Kenya a single-party state two months later. Kanu was thus the only political party in Kenya. Oginga had no party which effectively killed his political career. The whole idea of the 1982 coup from the Luo officers in the Air Force was to overthrow Moi then hand over power to Oginga Odinga. That did not happen-and Kenya plunged into political darkness for the next 20 years Moi clung to power.

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