The military camps in Eastleigh, Nanyuki and Embakasi were seized on the 31st July 1982, when the coup instigators were aware of the optimal timing and found it easy to take siege of these camps without any or minimal resistance. They then positioned themselves strategically to ambush and take control of all movements without any questions or queries. Anybody coming to the camps after the beginning of the coup were taken captive and used as decoys to wake up those airmen still sleeping in the billets. Then the Sirens went off, signifying external aggression to all those soldiers who were close by. Airmen then immediately dressed up to respond to the aggression, and to defend their beloved country. All airmen moved to the Armory, but little did they know that they were actually arming themselves without knowing that a coup had begun.
From the armory, the airmen were ushered into vehicles which took them to various points in the city centre to set up points of defense against what was thought then to be an external threat. Those who were away from the camps heard of what was happening on the Nairobi-based Voice of Kenya (VOK) Radio broadcast at 6:00 am the following morning and immediately returned to base. Thus, a coup was rolled out without all the airmen knowing what was happening, yet at gun point, they were forced to be part of a plot bigger than they could fathom.
General Mohammed, the then Kenya Army Commander and his selected group then went to VOK, surprising the unsuspecting airmen who had been left there without any instructions. General Mohammed was a well-respected Army General and he had the state power and force to decimate and destroy the coup, including those found at VOK and anyone suspected of being part of the coup attempt. The General ordered the airmen to be arrested and they were subsequently taken to Lang’ata Barracks where they were tortured mercilessly-not knowing exactly why they were being arrested. They were beaten with crude weapons, and left bleeding and traumatized by Kenya Army soldiers who believed that their comrades in the Air force had turned traitors. The airmen were then placed in the guard-room until evening when they were dispatched to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi.
In order to capture every airman, the army used the radio broadcast to pass the message, so those who were away from the camps were getting this information over the VOK radio, announcing the Coup. Not knowing which side of the divide to fall to, the airmen moved to the camps, only to be branded as rebels once they arrived. Then all airmen were rounded up, stripped naked and beaten, tortured and imprisoned without any proper legal process.
The whole country was in turmoil, as those calling themselves loyal forces started a very brutal exercise to decimate those wearing the blue Air force uniforms. Fortunately word went round very fast that there was a plot to wipe out all airmen, using the coup as an excuse. The airmen decided to remove all their uniforms and wear civilian clothing because nobody understood what was really going on.
Ambush centers were set all over Nairobi city to strike at the celebrating mobs without warning. Once shot at, if you survived, they would arrest you, strip you naked and torture you without taking the wounded for medical attention. That afternoon, the onslaught continued on all fronts including the camps, using even attack helicopters loaded with rockets to destroy as much as possible anywhere the airmen were thought to be.
Army brigades were then assigned to carry out assault on the three camps. At Eastleigh, on finding a near empty camp, they moved to the Sergeants’ mess and rounded up all who had gathered there under a white flag, stripping them naked and locking them up in a small office to the point of suffocation, finally ferrying them to Kamiti Maximum Prison naked. They then moved to the married quarters and robbed family members of all valuables and harassed those they found there.
The arrests were conducted in a very haphazard manner and many were shot and injured in the process. Those injured were never given medical attention and were instead arrested and beaten. The only hospital (Forces Memorial) specializing in treating soldiers with gunshot wounds, refused to treat the airmen and the airmen indicated that they were victims of torture while at the hospital. Many suffered in the hands of medical personnel, but all this was kept hidden by the regime.
The hospital decided to operate on some without anesthesia and removed seriously injured people from their care in hospital to the Prisons to be cared for by fellow inmates. Others were taken to Department of Defense Headquarters, Lang’ata or Kahawa army barracks to be dealt with physically without medical attention.
Airmen were never told why they had been arrested and were stripped naked, tortured to the extent of causing excessive bleeding. They were then transported to Kamiti Maximum Prison, without clothes or identification papers.
The aftermath of 1982 coup d’ etat
From 9:00 am the day after the coup attempt started, the Kenya Army soldiers sought out Airmen with a brief to subdue, kill, maim, arrest and torture as needed. Within a few hours many were dead through ambushes set all over the city of Nairobi and its environs. The instructions, seemed to have been to arrest all airmen, no matter where they were coming from. Anyone seen as a sympathizer was branded a collaborator and was condemned to arrest, torture and prolonged incarceration.
Those arrested were placed into Maximum security prisons and police cells with the Prisons Act and Police Act being ignored completely. Anybody reporting to Eastleigh camp became an immediate suspect and they were stripped naked, beaten and tortured. They were then sent to civilian jaila naked where it was explained interrogations would be carried out after which they would resume duty.
The next step was to remove all airmen and all forces in Kenya agreed to work together to subdue them. The prisons were opened to be used by the Kenya Army to lockup and torture all arrested airmen. No matter where an Airman reported, he was pronounced guilty and arrested immediately.
Interrogation: 1, 2 and 3
Artist impressions of the torture
- The drawing to the left shows an airman placed in a waterlogged cell and succumbs after several days because of fatigue in the knee high filthy and water.
- The drawing showing an interrogator using a mallet to subdue possibly destroy this victim’s nerve ending completely.
- The drawing showing the brutality with which the arrests were carried out, irrespective of where the airman reported to.
The interrogation sessions utilized torture such as beating, stress positions, use of extreme light, and placement in water-logged cells for days with no food or water. These interrogations by Kenya Army Officers; who were the arresting officers, were designed to replace what was expected to be a validly constituted Board of Inquiry, for such a serious issue.
Torture cells were established in Naivasha Maximum Security prison to obtain confessions to be used to convict the unsuspecting airmen, jailing them for long years resulting in them losing their places in the service. The Army devised a method of jailing all those promising young men who stood in the way of the occupying forces (a selected group in Kenya Army designated to replace the already condemned Kenya Air Force Personnel). It was not easy to obtain any convictions using the law as established. So they picked on Mutiny, instead of Coup. Then they literally forced all unsuspecting airmen, through coercion, torture, threats of instant extra-judicial execution and deception to sign a confession of culpability in the name of cooperating with the Government.
Nobody thought that a Government would operate in this way, so they confessed from desperation, fatigue and the desire to stay alive. Others signed as they were made to choose between going to jail and execution. Immediately after signing the confession, they were rushed to Lang’ata Army Barracks where the Court Martial was sitting and they were immediately sentenced without any legal counsel or advocate.
A simple mistake changed the fortunes of some, however. One man happened to see the headline of a Newspaper coverage of the Court martial where one of the airmen was jailed for 25 years. The torturers, however, had stated that this person had confessed and then gone back to duty. Many held in detention then refused to sign the confession opting to die rather than go to jail for many years. This resistance grew until there was none to be taken to the Court martial.
By December 1982, it was not possible to continue and by January 1083, airmen were being released from detentions in Prisons and being dismissed from the Service without following due process. A good number were sent home without anything and airmen were forced to find their way to their village, irrespective of whether they had bus fare or not, whether they had clothing or not.
After life in Prisons, all those who tried to get employment found out that it was not easy, as they had been branded rebels and were thought to be unemployable. In the meantime, all those children who were alive during the coup were growing up rapidly and asking very hard questions about what was going on in their lives and families. This started wearing down the victims, to the extent of acute depression and other mental health issues.
Fatigue on the spouses was very telling, and children were lacking school fees, meals, house rents and general upkeep, as the government kept on the campaign to isolate all former airmen. It is not clear who was gaining in all the troubles these gallant men were pushed through, to remain sick and untreated to the verge of death, to see their children suffer to the verge of rebellion, without a single helping hand, forcing these men to resign to fate and PTSD took centre stage. This trauma had reached appoint of devouring the victims completely. So as the children witnessed the suffering of their parents, it was being transferred to the children who were now grown up and to their children, since nobody had any clue, thus becoming trans-generational in nature.
So they were merely made to suffer, lack, go hungry, lose their families, as the whole world was treated to high level official deception that their parents were rebels in Kenya. Seeking for justice was also extremely challenging as one of the cases filed in 1995 by 25 airmen, but were later enjoined by 260 others in 2005, took 22 years to be concluded. The conclusion of it happened on April 15th 2016.
The Issues raised included the following; The legality of the body that was tasked by the Government to replace Kenya Air Force and carry out the exercise of ostracizing all members of the Kenya Air Force, illegal imprisonment, Torture, withheld salaries, loss of employment, removal of personal property, medical claims, etc. This unfortunately, dragged on for far too long dampening any hopes of justice, until all hope went, and depression and PTSD settled in.