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Why Moi refused to board armoured car during Kenya’s most trying period

By Amos Kareithi | Published Sun, July 29th 2018 at 09:22, Updated July 30th 2018 at 17:21 GMT +3
Bishop Edward Obote (left), son of former Uganda President Apollo Milton Obote with Former president Daniel Arap Moi press secretary Lee Njiru (right) addressing the press in Nakuru on October 3, 2017. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Crouched inside his official vehicle, trembling in fear, the 33-year-old journalist dared not peer out of the window.

Surrounded by tanks fitted with anti-aircraft machine guns and grim faced soldiers with fingers on the trigger, Lee Njiru thought he would be shot any moment.

This is how Mr Njiru, who was on August 1, 1982 the deputy head of Presidential Press Unit, remembers how President Moi’s entourage cruised along Nairobi-Nakuru highway on their way to State House.

“My world had been shattered at 6am when I learnt that the Kenya Air Force servicemen had taken over the government. As I rushed to Kabarak to find out what was happening to Mzee, I was terrified,” he recalls.

But the man who would later replace Cornelius Nyamboki as the head of Presidential Service Unit, dismisses suggestions that he cried uncontrollably when he arrived at Kabarak and confirmed that indeed there had been a coup attempt.

“There has been misleading reports that we ran away to the bushes to hide and that I cried.. That is a lie! I did not cry I was emboldened by the President’s courage. We all felt strong. I remember seeing the Presidential Escort Commander, Elijah Sumbeiywo and his brother, Lazarus Sumbeiywo who was a military officer come to Kabarak and consult Mzee,” Njiru says.

He recalls that when a decision was made to evacuate the President from Kabarak to Nakuru State House and later to Nairobi, Moi refused to ride in an armoured car declaring that he was not a coward.

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At one point the President demanded to know what they were doing in Nakuru instead of proceeding to Nairobi where he had a lot to attend to.

Throughout the journey to Nairobi, Njiru could not stop thinking what his family in Nairobi was going through because he knew as a senior government officer close to State House, he was a marked man.

“By the time we arrived in Nairobi, Brig Mahmoud Mohamed had recaptured Voice of Kenya, while Brig James Lenges had liberated Nayuki Airbase. There was a sense of normalcy although life was never the same again,” he says.

Njiru recalls how everybody panicked when President Moi decided to go and inspect what had happened in the city centre. 

Although the rebels had been driven off the streets, there were remnants still lurking in some sections and there were fears that snipers could target the Head of State. “The devastation and madness I saw in Ngara and Mathare was indescribable. Shops had been looted after doors were yanked off.”

After witnessing the events, life drastically changed for Njiru and he had to be escorted home every day. Up to the time he left office as Head of Presidential Press Unit in 2002, his house in Kileleshswa, Nairobi, was under 24 hour police protection.

The coup taught him that government takeover can be devastating.

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