Kenya’s Failed 1982 Coup & The Banning of Theater Plays.

By George Robert Asewe Dj Probert Founder & CEO

The 1982 Kenyan coup d’état attempt was a failed attempt to overthrow president Daniel Arap Moi’s government. The President is the head of state and government. He is also the Commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces.

RAF Eastleigh was a Royal Air Force airfield in Kenya, in the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi. The name “RAF Eastleigh” was also used in 1935 for the airfield in England that became RAF Southampton in 1936.

Eastleigh was the primary RAF station for East Africa, and home to Air Headquarters East Africa after force reductions in the 1950s. This was around the time the decision to set up the Kenya National Theater was conceived.

However, because of its high elevation and short runways (which could not be extended because of its location close to the city), Hawker Hunters, jet fighters, and bombers had to operate out of nearby Embakasi Airport.

From 1945 to 1958, Eastleigh also operated as Nairobi’s main international civilian airport.

Airlines such as British Overseas Airways Corporation (current British Airways) and East Africa Airways operated flights until the opening of Embakasi Airport (now Jomo Kenyatta International) nearby in 1958.

The Kenya Cultural Centre hosted the inaugural National Schools Drama Festival in 1959, which was modeled on the British drama festival for higher education. It comprised expatriate teachers, inspectors, and staff of the British Council.

The Kenya Air Force was formed in 1964, after Kenyan independence. After the coup attempt by a group of KAF officers on 1 August 1982, the Kenya Air Force was disbanded and placed under the control of the Kenyan Army. During this period, KAF Eastleigh was renamed “Moi Air Base”.

Kenya has had a total of 4 presidents. All three of the former Presidents, Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi, and Mwai Kibaki are deceased as of the date of the publication of this Article.

Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta at State House Nairobi, Kenya 15 June 1966. Source Israel National Photo Collection Author Photography department – Government Press Office

Uhuru Kenyatta has been the incumbent president since 9 April 2013. He is the son of the first Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta. He was elected on the Jubilee party ticket for his last term in August 2017. The longest-serving president was Moi who served for a total of 24 years.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

At 3 A.M. on Sunday, 1 August 1982, a group of soldiers from the Kenya Air Force took over Eastleigh Air Base , and by 4 A.M. the nearby Embakasi air base had also fallen. At 6 A.M. 

Various historical sources as covered by Kenyan Media over the years claim that Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka and Sergeant Pancras Oteyo Okumu captured the Voice of Kenya radio station in central Nairobi, from where they then broadcast in English and Swahili that the military had overthrown the government.

Working at the behest of Ochuka, it is claimed that Corporal Bramwell Injeni Njereman was leading a plot to bomb the State House and the General Service Unit headquarters from the Laikipia Air Base, Nanyuki.

President Daniel Torotich Moi. Date 21 June 1979 Source Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989, bekijk toegang, Bestanddeelnummer 930-3252 Author Croes, Rob C. / Anefo

Corporal Njereman forced three pilots (Major David Mutua, Captain John Mugwanja, and Captain John Baraza) to fly two F-5E Tiger jets and a Strikemaster that would be used for the mission.

However, Major Mutua was aware that Corporal Njereman had never flown a jet fighter before and would likely not be able to cope with the g-forces. The pilots, while communicating on a secret channel, agreed to execute daring maneuvers to disorient their captor. The trick worked.

The pilots dumped the bombs in Mt. Kenya forest and headed back to Nanyuki.

It is alleged by various historical sources that the coup was strategically planned to coincide with the war games taking place in Lodwar, a  town in Northern Kenya when most of the army units and the senior leadership were away from Nairobi.

 This meant that the senior-most officers present at the time were Lieutenant General John Sawe (the Army Commander and Deputy Chief of the General Staff), Major General Mahmoud Mohamed (Sawe’s deputy), Brigadier Bernard Kiilu (Chief of Operations at Defence Headquarters), and Major Humphrey Njoroge (a staff officer in charge of training at Army Headquarters).

Kenya Air force logo 

 At a meeting of the four, it was agreed that Mohamed would take charge of the operation to suppress the coup. He then assembled a team of about 30 officers from First Kenya Rifles Battalion and Kahawa barracks.

The team stormed the broadcasting station and killed or captured the rebel soldiers inside.

 Leonard Mbotela a Veteran radio journalist in Kenya who had earlier been captured by Ochuka to announce the coup went on air to report that the rebels had been defeated and Moi was back in power.

With the help of the General Service Unit (GSU) and later the regular police, Mohamed gained control of Nairobi, causing the Air Force rebels to flee.

Hezekiah Ochuka, whose rank of Senior Private Grade-I was the second-lowest rank in the Kenyan military, claimed to rule Kenya for about six hours, before fleeing to Tanzania.

After being extradited to Kenya, he was tried and found guilty of leading the coup attempt and was hanged in 1987.

18 Aug 1982 Kenyan Government offers air force personnel, still on the run, who had been involved in coup attempt, Looting and damage occur in the aftermath of the coup. Copyright Property of AP Press Archives You Tube Page

The production by Conrad Makeni of Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii’s play “I Will Marry When I Want” in 1982 landed Ngugi wa Thiong’o in trouble with the authorities. The play was banned and from then on, KNT was viewed as a place harboring enemies of the state.

In 2015, The Kenya National Theatre was renovated to include ultra-modern equipment by a joint effort between the government and East African Breweries Ltd. The renewed set-up became a 345-seater modern theatre.


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