6.00 a.m, Sunday morning, 1st August 1982. Nairobi – Kenya.

My dad and mum are huddled around the blaring radio. I’m all of seven years old , clambering all over them for comfort as I sense their excitement, fear and disbelief at what they’re hearing over the Voice of Kenya airwaves.

The announcer tells his listeners to keep calm.  He says that President Daniel Arap Moi’s KANU Government has been overthrown and that the Peoples Redemption Council (PRC), has taken charge, led by (an unknown military officer), Senior Private Grade-I Hezekiah Ochuka.

The address lasts no more than two minutes. Ochuka’s clear voice states  “…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.”

Eventually, dad turns to mum and says softly, ‘They will not succeed. Not with Moi in charge and certainly not with the OAU here to protect us. After all, haven’t we just hosted the 1981 summit of the OAU in Nairobi?’

Dad’s words are filled with reverence and a deep confidence that we are going to be OK. His calmness pours over us and we relax, somehow trusting that it is all going to be fine. Not so much because of our local government’s efforts to fight back against the rebels, but because of the benign and powerful, all encompassing Organisation of African Unity that spread its ‘wings’ over us all back then.

My father’s trust in the OAU was one reflected in the general African conscience. Back in the 1980s, we had more belief in the solid and established OAU, than in our young, failing and troubled African states.


The founding fathers of the OAu – Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of the Republic of Ghana, President Jomo Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, etc

The OAU’s mandate was to help Africa chart its own destiny, to help us understand from where we came and lead us into a brighter future.

In the words of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, in May 25, 1963 acceptance speech as the first President of the OAU: “Today, Africa has emerged from this dark passage. Our Armageddon is past. Africa has been reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men. The blood that was shed and the sufferings that were endured are today Africa’s advocates for freedom and unity. Today, we name as our first great task the final liberating of those Africans still dominated by foreign exploitation and control. With the goal in sight, and unqualified triumph within our grasp, let us not now falter or lag or relax. We must make one final supreme effort; now, when the struggle grows weary, when so much has been won that the thrilling sense of achievement has brought us near satiation. Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free. Our brothers in the Rhodesias, in Mozambique, in Angola, in South Africa, cry out in anguish for our support and assistance. We must urge on their behalf their peaceful accession to independence. We must align and identify ourselves with all aspects of their struggle. It would be betrayal were we to pay only lip service to the cause of their liberation and fail to back our words with action. To them we say, your pleas shall not go unheeded. The resources of Africa and of all freedom-loving nations are marshalled in your service. Be of good heart, for your deliverance is at hand.”

We lived and breathed those words. We rallied around the OAU’s ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ themes. We believed. We believed. We believed.

While the OAU would not take part in issues governing the sovereignty of states (i.e. their only possible involvement in Kenya’s coup would have been to send in a peacekeeping force), the OAU achieved marginal success during the tenure from 1965 – 2002 (when the organisation was replaced by the African Union). The OAU’s great successes included drafting a convention for the protection of refugees, the introduction of the Banjul Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, contributing to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and helping to develop a stronger sense of unity between North Africa and the Sub Saharan states. In relation to Africa’s economies and debt crises, it rejected the drastic step of member nations reneging on debt and put in place guidelines to help them pay back capital.

Sadly, not many of Africa’s political leaders did justice to the foundation of the OAU. The lack of disciplinary powers of the organisation meant that African leaders and member nations recorded varying measures of successes and failures complete with rhetoric and lip service. During its tenure, pan-Africanism and African renaissance ideology did not revamp and rejuvenate Africa’s socio-economic status.

The OAU was unable to stop wars between its member states nor did it prevent Rwanda’s genocidal massacre in 1994. Today, the continent is faced with the old challenges of war, famine, poverty and hunger, along with new and humongous ones – terror and the rapid expansion of radical Islam.

Yet we still remember and honour the role the OAU played in giving Africa a vision of peace, cooperation stability and unity. Each year on May 25, Africans all over the world celebrate ‘Africa Day’ and remember that the aim of its founding were worthy and to be treasured.

Uniting a Continent:
OAU_UnitingAContinent_bookIn 2014, ‘Uniting A Continent’, an informative, beautifully illustrated historical book that chronicles the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, will be published by US based Tsheshai Publishers. The book is meant to celebrate and shed light on the foresight and vision of the OAU founding fathers and the rich and unique cultural heritage of each African nation. The book features:

• Biographies of the OAU founding fathers

• Illustrated portraits done by commissioned artists

• Profiles of the OAU member countries

• Exclusive photographs that capture the passion and purpose of a generation that came together to unite a continent.

• Historic speeches, the OAU founding charter and a timeline of significant milestones during the organisation’s history

To learn more about this project and to help make this book a reality, visit the book’s indiegogo page: igg.me/at/unitingacontinent.

Addendum on the 1982 Kenya Coup Attempt:
The rebel group tried to force a group of Air Force fighter pilots to bomb Nairobi’s State House at gunpoint. The pilots pretended to follow the orders on the ground but once airborne they ignored them and instead dropped the bombs over Mount Kenya’s forests. While the coup left 100+ soldiers and more than 200 civilians dead, the putsch was quickly suppressed by forces commanded by Chief of General Staff Mahamoud Mohamed, a veteran military official.. Hezekiah Ochuka, a Senior Private Grade-I (the second lowest rank in the Kenyan military) and apparent ringleader, ruled Kenya for about six hours before escaping to Tanzania. After being extradited back to Kenya, he was tried and found guilty of leading the coup attempt and hanged in 1987 along with his co-conspirators. Also implicated in the coup attempt was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice-President to Jomo Kenyatta, and his son Raila Amolo Odinga who were detained in prison.  As for the everyday mwananchi (citizen), we stayed indoors for two weeks, went stir crazy and ate yellow corn porridge, distributed by the government trucks throughout the city. 

Success and failures of the Organisation of African Unity: lessons for the future of the African Union. (Schalk, Baba; Auriacombe, C.J.; Brynard, D.J.) - http://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/6320.

2 Responses

  1. Anton

    Yo Sis,It looks like Kaunda to me too.I don’t think Kenyatta would be surprised at all, blud. Man was acierthct of authoritarianism in Kenya. I reckon he was responsible for the assassination of Tom Mboya. And he banned opposition parties so what sort of Pan-Africanism is dat? Nah, he may have done alot of good for Kenya, but that don’t wipe out his bad.

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