African Press International (API)

"Daily Online News Channel".

Former President Daniel Moi had 13 days at his disposal to stop the 1982 failed coup from taking place

Posted by African Press International on June 3, 2008

by api

Kenya: The failed coup did not have to take place in the first place. Moi and close advisers sanctioned it for the sake of power consolidation.

Moi, Biwott and far right with his hat on, Mr Barngetuny.

The failed coup of 1982 was a catastrophe for the Kenyan people. It should never have been allowed to go ahead for the sake of testing political loyalties. Having allowed it to go ahead in order to settle scores was wrong and poor judgement, because the coup organizers were underestimated. The�coup almost succeeded. Many people suffered after the failed coup, because people simply needed to point a finger at someone and add his or her name to those who were involved one way or another with the planning of the coup. Many politicians, academicians and even sweepers had their lives turned upside down the moment they were picked on as suspects, whether they knew of the coup plans or not. It was enough to belong to some�groups considered to be noisemakers or be of a brand not willing to dance to�expected tune of the day.

The former President had the ability to stop the failed coup having had 13 days at his disposal to do something about it. He should have ensured that the coup was stopped on�the 31.july 1982 and all culprits arrested by mid-night the same day. Instead, a meeting at Kabarak on the 17th of July decided that the attempt to overthrow Moi be allowed to go ahead so that the government would know the real enemies and also be able to use the opportunity to squize out difficult elements around the president in an effort to enable the Head of State to consolidate power. It was also agreed that Moi drops the idea of travelling to Tripoli to attend the OAU and instead be represented by the then Foreign Minister. To Moi’s surprise and advisers, the coup almost succeeded. API


A Kenya Daily Nation Story:

What Intelligence boss knew about coup plot against Moi

In today�s instalment on the life and times of intelligence chief James Kanyotu, writer KAMAU NGOTHO sheds light on the failed coup against President Moi





Wananchi show their identity cards after soldiers attempted to overthrow President Moi�s government in 1982. The coup was later crushed. The Intelligence network, led by Mr Kanyotu (below) played

An enduring mystery in Kenya�s history is how rebel junior officers of the Kenya Air Force planned and executed the failed takeover of President Moi�s Government on August 1, 1982.

That the soldiers made their move despite the presence of the much touted intelligence network headed by Mr James Kanyotu still baffles many.

But we can now report that both the Kenya Police Special Branch � the precursor of today�s National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) � and the Military Intelligence had got wind of the coup plot three months in advance.

While it remains a matter of speculation as to what exactly transpired a few days to the coup attempt, what is in no doubt is that President Moi significantly changed tact after the event. The failed coup turned him into a dictator and heralded crackdowns over the next few years on all forms of dissent.


Mr Kanyotu�s intelligence network was central to the arrests, detentions, tortures and disappearances that marked the dark years.� Yet looked at in hindsight, the coup was not an event out of the blue � it seemed like part of a process.

Not long before the coup, the Government had rammed through the infamous Section 2A of the Constitution that made Kenya a one-party State.

Detention without trial had also made a comeback as Kanyotu�s intelligence network went in pursuit of radical university lecturers and the lawyers who dared to defend them.

After the coup it was open season. Other than the military plotters led by Sr Private Hezekiah Ochuka, who were sentenced to death or to lengthy jail terms, prominent victims included Mr Raila Odinga, then a deputy director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards and son of opposition pioneer Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.


Raila was one of the four civilians charged with treason before the charges were withdrawn and substituted with detention without trial.

That was not all. Once President Moi was through with dissidents, he turned viciously on presumed disloyal elements in his own Government.

The most dramatic development was the sudden fall from grace of his once all-powerful Attorney-General, Mr Charles Njonjo.

The impressive political and security network assembled by Mr Njonjo was swiftly dismantled.

He was taken through show trial in the form of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry where among the raft of allegations, was evidence brought in that the Air Force coup was mounted to pre-empt another key takeover by forces loyal to Mr Njonjo.

And Raila, now Kenya�s second Prime Minister, was brought out of detention to give evidence against Mr Njonjo.

Two days before the coup, machinery had been set in motion to apprehend the ring-leaders, but the operation was mysteriously called off at the last minute.

Much earlier, at the beginning of May, the intelligence team had learnt that junior Air Force officers stationed in Nanyuki were planning to overthrew the Government before the end of the year.

Mr Kanyotu immediately assigned one of his senior officers to monitor progress and report to him on a daily basis. The officer quickly infiltrated the coup plotters by planting his moles among them.

Towards the end of June, August 3 was picked as the actual date for the execution of the coup. This was the day President Moi was to travel to the OAU Heads of State Summit in Libya.

All this time the Commander-in-Chief was kept abreast of the developments.

Four days to the August 3 D-day, Mr Kanyotu started to plan his countermove on the rebel soldiers.

He instructed his main investigator and four other senior intelligence officers to proceed to Nanyuki Air Base where they would be joined by Military Intelligence officers from the Department of Defence headquarters to execute the arrests.

However, while at Nanyuki, the acting base commander told the intelligence team that he had no instructions on any impending arrests and asked them to wait as he consulted his superiors.

A rather hostile base commander returned and told the intelligence officers that there were no arrests to be made and asked them to leave.

The senior officer immediately called his boss, Mr Kanyotu, who confirmed that the mission had been cancelled, but divulged no more.

The following day, on August 1, the coup attempt took place two days ahead of schedule.

A confidential source now discloses that news of the impending arrests was deliberately leaked to the plotters, throwing them into panic, hence the rush.

Who authorised the leakage and why is still a puzzle to this day.

Powerful Cabinet minister G.G. Kariuki gives a guess: �I have every reason to believe the coup attempt was deliberately allowed to happen�, he says. �Somebody, somewhere was already aware it would not succeed, but wanted it to happen all the same and then use it as an excuse to settle political scores.�

The former minister for Internal Security cites subsequent events as pointers that the coup attempt may have been used as an excuse to wage political battles within the Government.

He recalls that hardly a week after the failed coup, he received a directive from Head of Public Service Jeremiah Kiereini to the effect that visits to State House, even for Cabinet ministers, would be strictly by appointment. A week later, his security detail was withdrawn, leaving him with just one policeman.


Further evidence that the coup attempt may have been deliberate came out during the trial of Air Force commander PM Kariuki.

Maj-Gen� Kariuki told the court martial that the head of the military intelligence had personally told him not to worry as everything was under control.

And Mr John Keen, the Internal Security assistant minister, says he suspected at the time that Mr Kanyotu knew everything that went wrong before the coup took place. He remembers going to see him on July 31 and getting his assurance that his agents were on top of things.

But intelligence sources privy to the goings-on at the time hint that whoever wanted the coup attempt to go on may have underestimated the extent of damage it would cause.

Kanyotu team�s hand in seditious pamphlets

One day in 1987, intelligence officers picked up a prominent figure in motor rallying circles from his Limuru home for interrogation at the dreaded Nyayo House offices of the Special Branch.And Mr Stephen Mbaraka Karanja was never to be seen again � dead or alive.

When he went missing for too long, his family applied for a writ of habeas corpus.

High Court judge Derek Schofield ordered the police to produce him in court, but was told that police could not comply because Mr Karanja had died in police custody � that he was shot while he allegedly tried to escape.

The judge demanded that police, Mr Kanyotu�s Special Branch was then a division of the Kenya Police, produce his body.

What followed was a grisly exercise as police exhumed 19 bodies at the Eldoret municipal council cemetery in search of the victim�s body.

An angry Mr Justice Schofield described the episode as callous and demanded an explanation from the Commissioner of Police and the Director of the CID.

Swiftly removed

Instead, he was swiftly removed from the case and transferred to an up-country station by Chief Justice Cecil Miller. But the judge rejected the transfer and opted to quit, later leaving the country to take up office as the chief justice of Gibraltar.

It was not until much later that it emerged that Mr Karanja had been shot and his body burnt to ashes at a forest near Eldoret Town.

A witness to the incident was to recall his last words to have been: �There is no God in Kenya!�

Mr Karanja was just one of the many Kenyans in the mid 1980s who were victims of the dreaded Special Branch, which was the lead security agency operating in total disregard of the law in pursuit of perceived dissidents.

Mr Karanja had been arrested in connection with a clandestine dissident movement called Mwakenya.

Kenyans first heard about the group in 1986. It was said to be the offshoot of another clandestine group called the December 12 Movement. The later sprang from the blues in 1983 immediately after the abortive military coup the previous year.


Both were supposed to publish seditious leaflets called Mwakenya/Mpatanishi and Pambana, respectively.

A retired senior intelligence officer now reveals that both Mwakenya and its seditious pamphlets were creations of Mr Kanyotu�s intelligence system, while the December 12 Movement and Pambana were creations of a parallel intelligence system run by Internal Security permanent secretary Hezekiah Oyugi.

The two men were bitter rivals� competing to impress President Moi on who was more effective in keeping dissent at bay.

The retired intelligence officer traces the birth of the December 12 Movement and Mwakenya to the early 1979 when the Government grew increasingly worried about growing radicalisation of staff and students at the University of Nairobi.

In 1982, President Moi re-introduced detention without trial and locked up three lecturers, Mukaru Ng�ang�a, Edward Oyugi and Kamonji Wachira.

But dissent in institutions of higher learning went on unabated, and intelligence came up with Pambana, says the� retired officer.

This is how it worked. On identifying the �troublesome� lecturer or student, intelligence would �plant� some �Pambana� leaflets on him. He would then be arrested and �made� to confess to belonging to the shadowy organisation called the December 12 Movement, the purported authors of the offensive literature.

Dozens of students and lecturers were arrested and jailed after confessing to membership in the dissident movements.

Many at the university, in fact, were keen to get their hands on the seditious publications and distribute them to like-minded friends unaware that they were only spreading the net of those to be arrested.

The operation went haywire, says the officer, when Mr Oyugi formed a parallel intelligence system, which deployed �special district officers� across the country to report directly to him.

The net had by then spread from academia to include lawyers, journalists, politicians and businessmen. The targets would be held incommunicado for two to four weeks and tortured at Nyayo House.

On being brought to court� they were ready to confess to anything. The court appearances were invariably early in the morning or late in the evening, outside normal working hours.

Made judges

The unrepresented suspects would always be dragged before a succession of Nairobi chief magistrates who would soon after be made judges.


The prosecution would be conducted by deputy public prosecutor Bernard Chunga, later to become chief justice, while always hovering in the background would be the dreaded intelligence officer James Opiyo of the Nyayo House torture chambers.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: