Moi and the 1982 Coup: Fight that retained power
August 1, 1982, will remain a dark day in Kenya’s history.
It would also be the day said to have changed the life of retired President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi forever.
This was after a group of disgruntled Air Force servicemen seized key positions in the country’s Capital Nairobi and other towns and called on the masses to help them overthrow what they termed as a corrupt and oppressive regime.
On that fateful morning, Veteran journalist Leonard Mambo Mbotela was whisked in the dead of the night from his Ngara house to the studio to read the infamous radio announcement at gun point.
According to Mbotela, little did he know that the man Hezekiah Rabala Ochuka who was leading the soldiers who came for him was actually the mastermind behind the 1982 attempted coup.
“Mimi ni Leonard Mambo Mbotela wananchi mnaombwa mkae nyumbani mtulie, serikali ya Moi imepinduliwa. Polisi wote sasa ni raia,” Read Mbotela moments after arriving in studio.
According to Mbotela, relentless gun fire was heard moments after the announcement across Nairobi.
Students from the University of Nairobi (UoN) were also heard chanting slogans supporting the rebel soldiers.
The streets of Nairobi became a battle ground with some people taking advantage starting to loot.
Mbotela further narrated how he was forced by the rebel soldiers to read several other announcements after in intervals. This went on for hours.
Meanwhile, the rebel soldiers had moved in UoN in the night, woke them up asking them to join them in their quest. Many did so but paid with their lives.
Six hours after the soldiers had taken control, Brigadier Mahmoud Mohammed launched an attack and overpowered the rebels, retaking the broadcasting house.
An announcement immediately followed stating that Moi’s regime was still in power and terming the soldiers as drunk youths without plans to overthrow the government.
Hours later, President Moi addressed the Nation from State House Nakuru before traveling to Nairobi by road.
“ Nataka niseme kwamba yale yalitokea leo asubuhi kwa muda mfupi imeleta wananchi wasiwasi…,” said Moi
The six-hour coup had a cost in human life. Silent long queues formed outside the City Mortuary as relatives sought to identify the dead.
According to a report by Associate Press, the official spokesman said that 145 people died but that number was later raised to that 159 people died however independent observers puts the death toll much higher.
Most of the dead were Air Force soldiers and looters who attempted to take advantage of the melee.
What followed then, was an act of a government trying to stamp its authority. UON was immediately closed and thousands of arrests followed.
After the attempted coup, President Moi made his security a personal responsibility and grew a formidable network across the country.
He further constructed his own inner circle that was largely constituted from the Kalenjin community led by Nicholas Biwott and politician Mark Too.
“He had a lot of ways of knowing information… He would even know his ministers…. Those who drink, those who don’t, those who stay out till late, who are loyal, those who cheat,” said Fred Ngumo- Former Kanu Politician.
He had people everywhere. He even had elders he knew personally all over the country and would call them by name.
“Moi would get concerned if he does not see you even for a week, he would start to think your loyalty was quivering,” said former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo.
Those who knew him say Moi made a career out of those who undermined him.
His long time spokesman Lee Njiru however rubbished claims that Moi was paranoid and instead insisted that he was just but just concerned.
According to Richard Leakey-Former Head of Civil Service, President Moi ceased to trust people to do everything he wanted done.
Leaky says he somewhat was a big micro- manager up to 2002.
Hezekiah Rabala Ochuka- Senior Private in the Kenya Air Force led in the planning and execution of the 1982 coup against president Moi.
Ochuka escaped to Tanzania but was later extradited to Kenya along with a few more leading accomplices and convicted of treason in 1987
He was hanged alongside his accomplice, the late Sergeant Joseph Ogidi Obuon following a court-martial.