The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

'No female soldier was involved in the coup'


Esther Jombo recalls how in her own small ways and capacity, and working from behind the scenes, helped Kenya Army crush the 1982 coup.

The (Rtd) Lt-Col was a commanding officer of a nondescript but important unit when the abortive coup was staged in the wee hours of the night by a section of reneged Kenya Air Force (KAF) soldiers.

Jombo, who was then a Major, had just returned from a government-sponsored training at now Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

The training had ended on Friday, and the following day, instead of relaxing at her Highview estate house along Mbagathi Way while waiting to resume duty on Monday at the Moi Air Base (MAB) in Eastleigh where her offices were headquartered, she travelled to Nyeri joining her troops performing during the opening of the ASK show.

“We travelled there to entertaining the President (Daniel Moi), initially after the function I was to spent the night in Nyeri but changed my mind travelling back to my house in Nairobi where I decided to rest as a prepared to officially resume duty,” recalls Jombo, now 67.

When the coup d’etat took place, Jombo was commander of the Women Service Corps. Its role is basically a back-up to the Army, Air Force and Navy, ensuring they have necessary basic logistics. Some of its duties include cooking, store keeping, office administration and clerical work to support the men who were the only ones deployed to the front line then.

In short, her unit served as the umbilical cord between backroom staff and soldiers on the battle front, thus playing an integral part in helping logistics for loyal forces foiling the coup.

Behind the chaotic scenes

Hezekiah Ochuka ‘ruled’ for about six hours before fleeing to Tanzania with co-coup mastermind Prancras Oteyo Okumu.

Both boarded a plane and commandeered Nick Leshan, later a Lieutenant-General and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Kenyan army, to pilot the military bird to Tanzania from where they were later deported on orders of President Julius Nyerere.

Behind the chaotic scenes of indiscriminate gunfire that left more than 300 people including 100 soldiers, Jombo’s team was instrumental at ensuring loyalist soldiers were fully energized and supplied with requisite material at that hour of need when the country was tottering on the precipice.

Besides providing enough supply of food as the soldiers fought the rebels, Lt-Col Jombo’s team ensured there was smooth communication between the office and battle field.

On the fateful coup day the mother of a 40-year-old son and grandmother had no idea the Moi administration had been toppled.She learnt of the bad news after a colleague telephoned her instructing Jombo to tune on the radio and listen for herself what was happening.“When I switched on the radio, I learnt that the Air Force were in charge, so I put on uniforms covering civilian clothes which I was wearing and headed walked straight to the nearby Forces Memorial Hospital,” says Jombo.

The civilian clothe were to act as a camouflage just in case she crossed the line of the rioting rebels. She then made arrangements and was driven to her office in MAB where she immediately took charge, making sure loyalist soldiers received sufficient rations of food as they battled with the renegades.

For the next two weeks, she did not leave MAB until when it was declared that the coup had been crushed. “I had carried enough uniforms and again in the barracks there were enough facilities that utilized though I did not sleep in quarters for junior staff since I was a senior officer,” she recalls.

Jombo claims that she was not scared of the bloody mutiny because she had, during training, anticipated such situations.

“It was my main role to support the country. I was not really worried or afraid, I had to do what I had been trained to do in such circumstances,” she states.Other duties of the Women’s Service Corps, which was a full battalion, was cooking, storekeeping, office administration and clerical work, according to Jombo.She says no female soldier was involved in combat, either as a rebel or loyalist. “We were actively involved in the crushing of the coup because we were busy cooking for the troops and performing other administrative roles, so I was very busy supervising the ladies,” she remembers with nostalgia.

The situation was contained

Most of the action was based at MAB where the rebels from Nanyuki tried to enlist the help of their colleagues at the Eastleigh military facility. The Women’s Service Corps fell under the control of the Army, which deployed the female back-up soldiers to the other two service commands of Air Force and Navy. “Not even one girl was arrested in connection with the coup, our work was to provide support services, which we diligently did until the situation was contained,” says Jombo.

Three years later, Jombo was to be honoured with a promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel, a rank she held on until retiring in 1991 while still at the helm of the unit after serving for 20 years in the military. She is now in private business.Women Service Corps was disbanded and women in the military co-opted into the main arms of the Kenya Defence Force in December 1999- twenty seven years after sergeants Rose Ondari, M. Kuria, J. Mwangi and R. Banwa became pioneering women recruits into the military in 1972.

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week