Not President for 12 hoursOne key nagging question remains unanswered and a closely guarded state secret. Who was the mastermind behind the August 1st 1982 botched coup?
For the first time, I shall attempt to answer that key question and clear the mystery which has been hanging since that fateful August day. Before you hear what I have to say I suggest that you read this earlier Kumekucha post on the 1982 coup for some fascinating basic details first.
To answer the question that I have started this post with, we need to look for key suspects first.
The Kiambu mafia? Yes. They were still very much around and still whispering amongst themselves that Moi’s presidency was a passing cloud. They were also still scheming but were doing it very quietly. Admittedly, this group of ruthless thugs had realized that with Kenyatta dead, it was a totally different ball game and all their venom was gone. Although the group qualifies as suspects the truth is that they were still running around aimlessly like a chicken that has just been beheaded. They were hardly capable of pulling off such a daring scheme as a military coup.
Charles Njonjo? Yes. He was most responsible for putting Moi in power. However he was still a very ambitious man who wanted nothing short of the presidency for himself. There is evidence that he had started getting impatient with the pressure the president was receiving from his kinsmen. Assuming that Njonjo wanted the presidency how would he have gone about it? Constitutionally he could NOT remove Moi from office. However in the unfortunate incident of a coup that ended with Moi dead, it was possible for him to take charge in the chaos on an interim basis and then simply repeat some of the moves he had pulled off to get Moi confirmed as president. I am afraid that if one examines the politics of the day carefully, Njonjo emerges as a prime suspect despite his many denials over the years.
There are several reasons that point to Njonjo.
He was Moi’s chief advisor on security matters at the time and prior to August 1st 1982, rumours had been going around for days in Nairobi that a military coup was in the works. Did this information reach the streets and fail to reach Moi? That is extremely unlikely. So why did Moi not take this information seriously and at the very least leave the country? The only plausible answer to that is that his advisors must have reassured him that all was well. The intention was to make sure that Moi did not escape.
Secondly it is standard procedure that when you crush a coup you MUST ensure that you have dealt with the chief architect. The only way to effectively kill a snake is to crush the head. Now don’t tell me it was the most senior private Hezekiah Ochuka. There was no way such a junior officer could plot a successful coup in Kenya at the time. In any case I will tell you in a moment how he got involved.
Thirdly Moi’s actions in the months and years after the coup point to Njonjo as the main culprit. First there was a commission of enquiry into the conduct of Njonjo where all links to the 1982 coup were carefully avoided.
After that came the snap 1983 polls that was mainly designed to get rid of the vast and wide Njonjo influence in national politics.
The coup would have been successful, there is no doubt about that, except for one small detail that went wrong. Those who plotted it did not keep things quiet enough. The result was that word got out and then the great Kenyan disease took over. Some people somewhere got greedy and launched a coup to pre-empt the better organized coup by Njonjo and company which was to have taken place a few days later. The assumption that the organizers of the pre-emptive coup made was that since most of the military had given the Njonjo coup a nod, they would join in their pre-emptive one believing that it was the same coup brought forward. By the time they realized what was really happening it would be too late. Ad so who was the main mastermind behind the pre-emptive coup? Evidence suggests that it was a group of radicals mainly hailing from the Luo community and Raila Odinga was amongst them. In fact analysts suspect he may have been one of the key people behind the daring plan that almost worked.
Ordinarily military coups do not involve civilians but the August 1982 was a very unique one and this is probably another reason why it did not work. Civilians hardly have the discipline of military people. Apart from Raila and others the botched coup also involved students of Nairobi University.
The other thing that went wrong was the fact that the Air force was used without incorporating any other unit of the Armed forces and without appreciating the “politics” in the military. Generally Air force soldiers are much better educated folks than the rest of the military for obvious reasons and over the years this has given them a superiority complex that has really irked the rest of the military. And so you can imagine the reaction when the rest of the military heard that the coup had been executed by the cocky air force chaps. They just could not take it lying down. That had to be one of the great motivating factors for the rest of the army to decide not to join in the Air force-led coup.
And that was the key decision that changed everything. The army stormed the city centre and went into KBC to gleefully deal with the cocky air force chaps who had taken it over and allowed University students to go on air on national radio to announce that the dictatorial regime of Moi had come to an end. Incidentally the use of the word dictatorial was laughable because we have already seen in this series what kind of president Moi was. However there is a useful aside I cannot resist getting into here. Yesterday the Daily Nation carried an engrossing piece about how Moi used to have fighter jets escort his aircraft whenever he was coming back into the country. Actually this was not Moi’s idea but the idea of his closest aides and more specifically his three wives. The trio was trying very hard to get Moi to settle into the presidency and realize just how much power he wielded. In any case the story about the jet fighter escort has been confirmed by one of Moi’s mistresses and I will get into that later in this series.
By the end of the day August 1st 1982 many bodies were strewn on the streets in Nairobi and Moi was giving a press conference on national TV to thank the loyal military for the good work they had done. Once again fate had decreed that Moi would be transported back to Nairobi hidden away for his own safety. It is believed that Moi was brought back to Nairobi inside a stuffy tank and surrounded by heavily armed soldiers in an operation that was code named by the military, Operation Maji Machafu. This is Swahili for “dirty or contaminated water.”
Senior private Hezekiah Ochuka who had been chosen by the coup plotters to front the take over fled to Tanzania where he was later arrested and returned to Kenya. A court martial quickly found him guilty and he became one of the very few Kenyans who actually went to the gallows during Moi’s 24 years in power. At least Ochuka went to the grave proud of the fact that he was president of Kenya for 30 chaotic minutes. Sadly the key players of the pre-emptive coup and the main coup all went scott free. That’s the sad story of justice in Kenya for you.
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