The 1982 attempted coup against President Moi’s government marked a watershed moment for his administration. Insiders and confidants in his kitchen cabinet perceived it as an attempt by Mt Kenya leaders to grab power, even as reality indicated that the perpetrators were junior air force officers from Nyanza, led by senior sergeant Hezekiah Ochuka and supported by Raila Odinga, who was detained.
The crack military elite team that put down the insurrection with military precision and meticulous attention to detail were then Brigadier Mahmoud Mohamed, and majors Bedford Kithinji, Wanambisi, Humphrey Njoroge, Cheboi and Kiritu. The men who evacuated Moi from his expansive Kabarak Farm and escorted him to Nairobi after restoration of law and order included Rift Valley provincial police commander Erastus M’Mbijjiwe, then Presidential Escort commander Elijah Sumbeiywo and Brig John Musomba. Despite the presence of several Mt Kenya officers in repulsing the coup plotters and restoring Moi to power, he embarked on a vicious purge of senior officials from that region.
Amongst the first casualties was Kenya Air Force commander Maj Gen Peter Kariuki and then police commissioner Ben Gethi. Both men were unceremoniously arrested and incarcerated at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. Kariuki was stripped of his rank and imprisoned for four years whilst Gethi was later released and retired in the public interest. CID director Ignatius Nderi was replaced. Powerful former Attorney General Charles Njonjo was bundled out of government and subjected to the indignity of being investigated by a Judicial Commission of Enquiry.
In his book African Successes, David Leonard notes that the coup attempt was a “piece of good luck” for Moi. It legitimised his re-organisation of command structure in the armed forces, police, government and parastatals. Once the attempt had been suppressed, he was able to remove leaders from positions that were most threatening. Detention without trial, which had been suspended in 1978, was reintroduced through a constitutional amendment.
Moi moved swiftly to stamp his authority in agricultural, banking, insurance and telecommunications by appointing personnel loyal to him. Central Bank governor Duncan Ndegwa was retired in December 1982 and replaced by Philip Ndegwa. Kipng’eno arap Ng’eny was appointed CEO of Kenya Posts and Telecommunications as was Eric Kotut at Kenya Industrial Estates.
Henry Kosgei was appointed to head the Kenya National Assurance Company. Julius Gecau was replaced at Kenya Power and Lighting Company as was Matere Keriri at Development Finance Company Ltd. The heads of Kenya Cooperative Creameries and Kenya Farmers Association were also replaced. The icing on the cake was the removal of Vice President Mwai Kibaki in 1988. Kenya Planters Cooperative Union MD Henry Kinyua and Cooperative Bank CEO Jason Kimbui were retired in the same year.
The success of this purge emboldened Moi to embark on breaking the back of Central province-owned finance institutions. Continental Bank and Continental Finance Company Ltd were placed under receivership. Jimba Bank and Jimba Credit and Finance Limited followed suit. Thereafter others fell like ninepins, including Nationwide Finance Company Ltd, Middle-Africa Finance Company Ltd, Business Finance Company Ltd, Rural Urban Credit and Finance Ltd, Home Savings and Mortgages Ltd and Pioneer Building Society inter alia. It’s a miracle how Equity and Family Building Society survived.
The nefarious plot was to silence and impoverish Central province. Whoever plotted the wicked scheme failed to realise that Central stood on the ingenuity and unparalleled entrepreneurial spirit of its people and not institutions. Indeed, this single act of financial sacrilege pushed Central deeper into the opposition. It fomented further dissent as businessmen such as Stanley Githunguri, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and lawyer Paul Muite, amongst others, spoke out and openly opposed Moi. They joined hands with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and some of them were subsequently detained