Friday, August 1, 2008



August 01, 2008
Kenya Times

TWENTY-SIX years later, debate rages on whether the abortive coup was proper or not. Kenyans are also questioning whether Ochuka’s trial and subsequent hanging were right or wrong. Mzee Nyakio Momanyi wakes up each morning to listen to his only radio now an old piece with the batteries hanging loosely. This is the same radio from which he heard the news of the attempted coup. On the morning of August 1, 1982, Leonard Mambo Mbotela was on air with strange news. “The government has been taken over…all police officers are advised to disarm and behave like citizens...”, he fondly says although his memory is now distorted to remember the exact words that Mambo Mbotela said.

Near his bed are medals he won as a soldier during the Second World War.An old and shattered picture of Air Force officers with guns in Nairobi streets is the only attractive thing on the walls of his house that are on the verge of destruction. The piece of newspaper cutting is now the only tangible evidence of the six hours Air Force were “in charge” of the country. To him and his group of old friends who will join him any minute for a busaa drink, the coup in 1982 could have saved Kenya and brought freedom. The picture of the Air Force young men is written with a pencil “Kenyan heroes.” “Those young men were the bravest people I have ever known,” he says.

A few years ago, he visited his son who is a soldier at Kahawa Barracks and requested him to take him to Kamiti Maximum Prison where Ochuka, the coup mastermind was buried, so that he could pay the his last respects. “My son refused saying that he had a young family to take care of,” he remembers. He is not the only one seeking a decent burial for the great Kenyan heroes. Young people born after the coup and especially those who went through torture during Kanu rule are saying the same thing. To this group of people, the Air Force officers deserve credit for daring to bring change to Kenya from a government that was perceived as responsible for crimes against humanity. Before his death, former Kitutu Masaba MP the late George Anyona in his public barazas called for a “heroes burial” for Ochuka and company.

Matara Mang’enya a close confidant of the late MP and aspirant in the 2007 parliamentary elections remembers those days when Anyona used to call university students “Ochukas”. “I think that he (Anyona) had a strong affection for the failed coup leaders,” he says. To him pointing fingers at a few hundred deaths in the coup distracts attention from the real intention of the coup. Every revolution has victims. There is no way that such incidents could have been avoided,” he adds. Political analyst Gatobu Mwendwa says that may be Ochuka and company were fighting for change other than destroying property or just seeking power. “Sometimes bold steps have to be taken in history to preserve the freedom of the people,” he says.At the time of the coup, retired President Moi was being accused of governing the country through terror and intimidation. Tribalism was taking root in government and the fact that most of the opposition leaders were from western parts of Kenya, only strengthened the belief that the area had been economically marginalised.

Most of the Kenyans were permanently hungry and had no source of income as most of the wealth was in the hands of a few. Nyanza province was among the poorest regions in Kenya and as a result most of the coup plotters came from the province. It was a wretched economic and geographical province, a province not so much forgotten as never remembered.This, coupled with inequalities around the country, according to Mwendwa Gatobu, may have influenced the coup attempt.Gatobu insists that the coup plotters failed to show the rest of the Kenyans who were not involved in the planning of the coup, especially the sullen and doubting civilians, the moral implication behind the coup.

“Instead of declaring himself the third president of Kenya, he (Ochuka) would have first taken time to tell Kenyans what he was fighting against since he was in full control of the government mouthpiece, KBC,” he says. Another political scientist who doesn’t want to be named for fear of losing his clients shares the same line of thought. “Their failure to seduce Kenyans made them to be taken as murderers to this day,” he says. To him, that is the reason why Ochuka’s body has not been surrendered for burial. “It could have been perfectly legitimate that Moi could have done that as revenge but it’s shameful that six years after a new government took over, his body has never been released for burial. This is against African culture and the law,” he adds.