The nation will mark the 25th anniversary of the failed Kenyan coup attempt of 1982 this August in the face of a number of unresolved
Amongst this is the fate of the dramatic broadcast by the de facto head of the coup attempt and Chairman of the self-styled Peoples’ Redemption
Council (PRC), Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka. The said broadcast was made at 6.00 a.m., Sunday morning, 1st August 1982 on the General Service of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (then Voice of Kenya – VOK).
It is unclear how many people across Kenya heard Ochuka speak that morning, but those who did will certainly remember the broadcast for it’s eloquence, good voice intonation, conviction and clear articulation. I fall into a category of people who got to hear the broadcast by coincidence.
In those days, the Voice of Kenya state monopoly began radio broadcasts at 6.00 a.m. in the morning and television broadcasts at 2.00 p.m. in the afternoon on weekends, and 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon on weekdays.
24 hour radio and television broadcasts by the state and privately owned stations that we have today, did not exist in those days.
On Sunday mornings in those days, Voice of Kenya (VOK), began the 6.00 a.m. commencement of broadcasting with a brief news bulletin, followed by a interlude of music that went on to 6.15 a.m. After this would be a 15 minute session/interview with a studio guest, as I recall.
One of my older brothers liked listening to the then Sunday morning interlude of music that followed the brief 6.00 a.m. news broadcast. I didn’t care very much for the news bulletin and/or the music interlude
in those days, and therefore only intermittently listened to both when I happened to be awake. Sunday morning 1st August 1982 happened to be one of those times. I remember my older brother switching on the radio we then had at about 5.55 a.m.
On this occasion however there was just silence from Broadcasting House. The National Anthem was not even played before daily commencement of radio and television broadcasting, as was the practice at VOK in those days.
Then came Ochuka’s voice out of the blue, announcing that the KANU Government had been overthrown and that the Peoples Redemption Council (PRC), had taken charge. It took a few seconds for both my older brother and I to register what was unfolding, but we both remained silent as we continued to keenly listen.
The address must have lasted no more than two minutes, and much of what Ochuka said that morning is blurred and obscured in both our memories. Other than the announcement of the takeover by the Peoples’ Redemption Council (PRC), four other things I distinctly remember Ochuka mentioning were “…the economy is in shambles…”, “…Government ministers have grown rich overnight…”, “…the KANU regime has impoverished the masses…” and the decree of the immediate disbandment of the Kenya Police Force, and immediate replacement of the same by the Military.
Ochuka must have been reading a prepared speech, but the striking feature that will remain forever embedded, is the resolve, eloquence and articulation that he spoke with. His voice was neither raised nor
angry, and the delivery was made with good voice intonation and the clarity and conviction of a revolutionary who believed in the cause that he was pursuing. There was no flamboyance and no use of complex vocabulary. The brief morning address on 1st August 1982 by Ochuka, certainly revealed a man who had committed himself to a cause.
What became of the master tape of this recording…? Is it still intact or was it destroyed in the heavy exchange of fire later that morning between Ochuka’s Air Force men and Kenya Army Officers under the
command of then Army commander Brig. Mahmoud Mohammed…? If it is still intact, is it in the hands of either the Court Marshall instituted thereafter, the National Security and Intelligence Service (the
then Special Branch), or the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (then Voice of Kenya)? Will the recording ever be made available to the public? These questions need to be asked on the floor of Parliament, to enable
official responses from the Minister of State in charge of Internal Security and the Minister of Information.
The US Government for instance, will only release classified information on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on or after November 22nd 2063, 100 years after his assassination. During the
Ghanaian Golden Jubilee celebrations of independence that began on 6th March 2007, the BBC World Service did a series of programs covering the momentous event, on which were aired the national broadcasts made in
Ghana at the time of their military coups in 1966, 1979 and 1980. This was certainly done with the express authority of the Ghanaian Government. The British Government also declassifies sensitive information every forty years. Out of these continuous declassifications the Kenyan public has for instance come to learn about how the British initially intended to grant independence to Kenya in 1973, and about how nearly all movable and immovable assets of the
outgoing British colonial Government were forcibly transferred to the incoming independent Government of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta, at an unreasonably high financial cost. So will the public be able to access
Ochuka’s famous broadcast on or after 1st August 2022, 1st August 2032 or 1st August 2082…?
History should not forget Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, Senior Private Pancreas Otenyo Okumu and the attempted coup of August 1st 1982 as a whole. Was Hezekiah Ochuka a driven idealistic Marxist revolutionary who stood for an egalitarian society as did Che Guevara, or was he a deranged despot like Pol Pot, Jean Bedel Bokassa, and Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier…?
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