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Curfew in Kenya: Kibaki hid in dirty store, MP took rifle, ran to the bush!

He rushed, emptied the safe and burnt all sensitive documents in a bonfire

Brutal boot camp: 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. The countrywide curfew over corona is Kenya’s first in 38 years.

By GW Ngari

The last time Kenyans experienced a dawn to dusk curfew was 38 years ago. At the time, some misguided soldiers from the Kenya Air Force, overthrew the government of the late President Daniel arap Moi.

Their ringleader, Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, released all prisoners, turned police into civilians and declared a countrywide curfew. Never mind no Air Force had ever overthrown a government anywhere in the world without the army.

The coup was thwarted by loyal forces led by General Mahmoud Mohammed, Moi was restored as president-who declared another countrywide curfew.

Since there are mang’aa elements, a curfew stars indiscriminate arrests, random beatings, frog-marching people home and not a few instances of firing into the air, tear gas canisters here and there. There are road blocks, return of msako, interrogation, police brutality. Criminals masquerade as police who also play cops and robbers. There is wailing and gnashing of broken teeth after the nyahunyo registers it’s marks.

And now a medical emergency has forced President Uhuru Kenyatta-the second worst performing in our history- to declare a nationwide curfew in peace time.

It is to curb the spread of the pandemic now avaging the world, but a curfew is a ‘training practice’ for a lockdown-akin to what Kenyans went through during the State of Emergency in the seven years it lasted to 1959.

A curfew during a political upheaval is different from one occasioned by a virus in peace time, but police have the same brutal DNA. Here were the fears, trials and tribulations of public figures during the last nationwide curfew following the abortive military coup of August 1, 1982:    

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The late President Daniel and Lena Moi:

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 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:

Eye of the tiger: Hew 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. Kibaki wanted to speak to Moi when he heard the coup had been crushed. Moi refused. Kibaki is 88.

Koigi Wamwere, MP Nakuru North (now Subukia):

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

There was a curfew declared by the rebel soldiers, but he was too happy and went outside to celebrate despite being warned by his wife against it.  He 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 70.

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 Philip Leakey, MP, Lang’ata:

Bush safaris: As an assistant minister, he knew anyone in government was target for a hit.

Philip Leakey heard on radio that all MPs were to be arrested and not one with interests in that direction, he packed a bag with a blanket, essential supplies, a rifle and headed for the bush. He is 70.

John Keen, Minister of State for Home Affairs:

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

He 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

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

He 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 77.

State of Emergency worse than curfew over coronavirus

Hands up: The State of Emergency in Kenya was marked by mass arrests, screening, detention without trial and abuse of human rights. It lasted seven years to 1959.

In times of upheavals and besides a curfew, the president can also declare a State of Emergency as the colonial government did on October 20, 1952. Reasons for declaration range from civil unrest, armed conflict, invasion or natural disasters. The one and only State of Emergency in 1952 was declared by Governor Evelyn Baring after Senior Chief Waruhiu of Kiambu was assassinated by the Mau Mau signaling armed rebellion against British rule.

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It lasted seven years. It was characterized by curfews, brutal screenings, violent arrests, inhumane detention and abuse of human rights. There was restricted movement and assembly. Goods were confiscated. There were massive underground oathing ceremonies as hundreds of thousands of families were relocated to Emergency Villages.

A State of Emergency is worse but the curfew Kenyans are nursing comes painfully close.

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