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November 21, 2018

G-Spot: Time for a new narrative of Kenya in August? You decide

For a number of reasons, we Kenyans have bought into the myth of events that occur in August.

This month, Kenyans go to the polls for the second time under the 2010 constitution, which also came into operation in August. And however things go on Tuesday and afterward, the month will probably come to be added to the myth.

Meanwhile, I’d like to go back to August 1982 and imagine how things might have been today had the coup attempt been successful. From what emerged during the court martials of Sergeant Pancras Oteyo Okumu and Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka, it would seem there was already trouble brewing between the two.

According to Jim Bailey's book, ‘Kenya the National Epic: From the Pages of Drum Magazine’, Ochuka, a natural orator with ambitions of being “the next President of Kenya”, was the more charismatic of the coup plotters, but Okumu and an unnamed civilian were the brains behind the plot.

Okumu apparently told another of the plotters, a Sergeant Joseph Ogidi Obuon, that the charismatic Ochuka would be useful at the helm of the People’s Redemption Council — the vehicle the plotters had created to run the government they had hoped to create — but then get rid of him afterwards.

If the plot within a plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is similar to previous Kenyan plots to take over power. Some of those who backed Kenyatta for President back at the dawn of Independence hoped the old man would hold power briefly before handing over to a younger successor, much in the manner of Nelson Mandela 30 odd years later. They underestimated Mzee’s own thirst for power. The same thing happened with his successor, Moi, who was famously considered “a passing cloud” but hung around for 24 years.

In the same way, Okumu underestimated Ochuka’s ambition. The story might have unfolded much as it did a year later in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, where the charismatic, revolutionary, pan-Africanist Captain Thomas Sankara led a group of soldiers who overthrew the government. Sakara took over as president for a few years and then was assassinated and replaced by his one-time brother-in-arms, Blaise Compaore.

The military would have ruled for at least the next decade, before the end of the Cold War brought about changes that made military rule seem old-fashioned and wrong. Those civilian politicians that had survived the popular purge immediately after the coup, would have now been itching for power and would have began agitating for the Third Liberation.

Ochuka or Okumu, depending on who emerged top of the power struggle, would have quit the military to run as a civilian and won electoral power with the promise of a newly negotiated constitution, which would have led to his being voted out at the subsequent multiparty election.

After a bitter experience of military rule, and before that two civilian dictatorships, Kenyans might have been more thoughtful in their choices, and this year’s election would have been a whole different ball game. Would things have been better or worse, who knows? They would have certainly been different.


Happy voting and follow me on Twitter @MwangiGithahu


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