Friday, August 1, 2008



August 1, 2008
By Standard Team
The Standard

Twenty-six years to the day when mutinous Kenya Air Force soldiers’ coup attempt failed, insights into what the captured rebels went through in a subsequent trial can be revealed.

From an interview, The Standard brings you the events of that dark chapter in Kenya’s history in 1982, as well as the role played by the man who was in charge of the court martial (military tribunal) that tried and jailed more than 300 soldiers.

Former Senior Private Ibrahim Ali Hassan, a Kenya Air Force driver who ferried the first group of mutineers to the Voice of Kenya (VoK), the predecessor of KBC, said most soldiers who took part were not informed of what they were getting into.

Nairobi was reduced to ruins as the army mopped the city for the rebel soldiers.

Hassan, force No. 0721834, spoke to The Standard in Daadab, Lagdera District, where he whiles away time in destitution, waiting for compensation from the Government for what he says was "wrongful dismissal".

"We thought we were obeying lawful orders that morning when we were told to dress up and take arms to defend the Government," said the forlorn looking man.

He says most of the soldiers who armed themselves and took to the streets on that fateful Sunday morning did not even know the coup mastermind, Senior Sergeant Hezekiah Ochuka, well.

Hassan told the court martial that he believed then that the Government was under attack and that they were being called out to defend it.

But the court martial, that sat at Lang’ata Barracks, Nairobi, refused to hear his line of explanation and proceeded to jail even soldiers who had been on leave when the mutiny took place.

He was arrested by Kenya Army soldiers who stormed Moi Airbase in Nairobi at mid-morning and locked him up with others at the barracks.
Hezekiel Ochuka at the Court Martial. PHOTOS: FILE

He says he still remembers the horror of watching his colleagues being shot dead when Army men stormed the barracks to crash the mutiny.

"Many of my colleagues and I were arrested and court martialled for taking orders as usual," he said.

Hassan says he underwent seven months and 17 days of torture at Naivasha and Kamiti prisons at the hands of the defunct Special Branch, the predecessor of the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), after he was accused of supporting the coup.

At the court martial in Lang’ata, he refused to plead guilty after what he calls months of torture, only to be suddenly set free without charges.

He said many of those in court had gunshot wounds that were never treated.

"Many (Air Force servicemen) said they had been shot after surrendering," said Hassan.

"Naked, we were placed in waterlogged cells, water reaching our waists for 24 hours. We were only allowed five minutes of sunlight. They only fed us to keep us alive," he says.

But Maj Gen (Rtd) Joseph Mbyati Musomba, the chairman of the court martial that tried the rebel soldiers, yesterday said it was a difficult task sifting through cases of more than 300 soldiers who were finally handed jail terms ranging between six months and 20 years.

Musomba says it was established that only a quarter of the Kenya Air Force soldiers knew about the plot.

"More than three quarters did not know about the coup. A few elements misled their colleagues," says the retired Army man.
Mr Leonard Mambo Mbotela was forced by the soldiers to announce the coup on radio at gunpoint.

Musomba says the Army acted professionally in crashing the coup.

"I took control of the Army, GSU, police and the AP to mop up the rebel elements of the Kenya Air Force," he said.

Musomba recalls that the operation continued for several weeks, but said he did not understand why the coup was not thwarted before it occurred as the Government had moles among the plotters.

"After investigation, we learnt that the Government had been warned when the plotters started arming themselves. Nothing was done. I do not know why," he said.