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COUP MASTERMINDS: Only Charles Njonjo Still Alive.

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Charles Njonjo, First Kenya Attorney General

By Kamau Ngotho

There is one country in the world where I am not welcome and would be arrested on sight – the Republic of Seychelles.

I was declared prohibited immigrant (persona non grata) in the Indian Ocean islands one Sunday morning in April 2004 as soon as I landed in the capital, Mahe.

My mission was to dig up a story on Kenya’s link in two military coups in the islands in the 1970s and the 1980s.

But the Seychellois weren’t amused that somebody was revisiting their murky past.

Communication with one of my sources having been intercepted beforehand, immediately on landing, I was whisked away from the immigration desk, put back on the Kenya Airways plane that I had travelled in, and warned never to be seen there again.

They couldn’t even allow me to use the bathrooms at the arrivals lounge. If it were today, you would think I had the deadly coronavirus, hence should not be allowed to sneeze in their toilets!

Anyway, I still went ahead to get the story I was looking for, which I retell today together with updates gathered since I first wrote it 16 years ago.

MANCHAM OUSTER

Mancham

Early morning during Easter holiday in 1977, Seychelles President James Mancham received a cable from his Kenyan counterpart Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

The Kenyan leader had an urgent message to be personally delivered by his special envoy already aboard a plane to the islands.

Kenyatta’s emissary was Bruce McKenzie, a former Kenyan Cabinet minister and who, it later turned out, doubled up as secret agent of the British, Israel, and South Africa spy outfits.

As he lunched with President Mancham at State House in the capital Mahe a few hours later, McKenzie delivered the message, which was that Kenyan intelligence had information that Seychelles Prime Minister Albert Rene was hatching a plot to topple President Mancham.

Albert Rene

The plot had the backing of the Tanzanian authorities and was at an advanced stage.

Kenyatta’s advice was that President Mancham should act first to pre-empt his PM, or live to rue his inaction.

While President Kenyatta wanted the Seychelles President left to decide on his own how best to handle the situation, his envoy, whose abrasiveness matched his massive build and tiger-like walrus moustache, had his own ideas on how to go about it.

He wanted the Seychelles’ head of state to engage the services of a professional assassin, ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, to sort out his premier.

HIRE ASSASSIN

McKenzie

McKenzie, who was on first-name terms with President Mancham, did not mince words. “Jimmy, you’ll have to do this man in before he does you in,” he said as he pointed his fork at his host when they sat for lunch.

“What I am saying is, you must send someone to shoot the bastard (in reference to Prime Minister Rene).”

“What!” exclaimed President Mancham. “Oh yes”, replied Kenyatta’s envoy without batting an eyelid.

“Once he is dead, get some of your most trusted police officers to plant some guns on his colleagues. After all the bastards have been arrested, you appoint one of your favourite lawyers as the magistrate to try the case.”

As he leaned back in his chair, a grinning McKenzie dropped the punchline: “And make sure your (hand-picked) magistrate is Mr Maximum!”

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President Mancham reckoned that much as he didn’t trust his Prime Minister, and much as he had no reason to doubt the intelligence from Kenya, he found the “Final solution” proposed by McKenzie “a bit unpalatable”.

He said killing his prime minister didn’t seem “a conceivable option”.

McKenzie bluntly told him: “You’re the President of Seychelles and ultimately the one to decide on what best to do. But should the worst come to pass, don’t say your friends in Kenya let you down in your hour of need!” They left it at that – and ate their lunch.

***

Two months later, on June 5, President Mancham was in London for the silver jubilee celebrations on the Queen’s coronation.

Also attending the festivity and booked in the presidential suites at London’s Savoy Hotel with Mancham were Kenya’s Vice-President Daniel arap Moi and Attorney-General Charles Njonjo.

At about 3.45am on the third night in London, the telephone rang in President Mancham’s suite.

“Mr President, sorry to bother you, but your friend Adnan Khashoggi (the Saudi Arabian rogue billionaire arms dealer) is frantically trying to get in touch. Please urgently call him at his suite in Paris.”

When he came through, Khashoggi was straight to the point: “I’m sorry to wake you up Mr President, but there has been a coup in your country.”

Numb with shock, Mancham said: “Adnan, this is no time for a joke.”

It wasn’t a joke. Prime Minister Rene, with help from Tanzanian soldiers, had overthrown his government in the Seychelles and taken over as head of state.

Back home, Moi and Njonjo headed straight to State House, Nakuru, to discuss the turn of events in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Years later, Foreign Affairs minister Munyua Waiyaki, who attended the meeting with President Jomo Kenyatta, recalled to me how Njonjo, at one point, got so emotional and banged the table as he said: “Revenge is a must. That boy (Albert Rene) and his master Nyerere (The Tanzanian President Julius) must one day know who we are!”

Not long after, Jomo Kenyatta died but Njonjo didn’t forget.

***

One morning in May 1981, ousted Seychelles President Mancham, then self-exiled in Britain, got an invitation for lunch by a Njonjo emissary who was well-known to him. They agreed to meet at London’s Holiday Inn Hotel.

Once together, the man from Nairobi told Mancham he wished to introduce him to “an important person”, and together they proceeded to a room on the sixth floor.

On knocking, they were ushered in by a man who introduced himself as Colonel Mike Hoare.

After brief discussions, Mike Hoare looked at Mancham in the eye and asked: “If Albert Rene (the Seychelles President) was to be overthrown today, would you be available?”

After a moment of reflection, Mancham replied: “Mr Hoare, my position is clear. While I have grown accustomed to life outside the islands as a common man, duty still remains duty. But I have told friends I am not in a position to organise or get involved in any adventures.”

Satisfied with the response from Mancham, Hoare replied: “That’s quite okay. The planning and the rest don’t concern you. All I was interested in was to find out your attitude.”

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A couple of days later, Mancham got another lunch invitation from two Seychellois, one Paul Chow and another Gerald Hoareau, who were well known to him and to Njonjo. They met at the Swiss Cottage Inn in London.

COUP PLOT

Charles Njonjo

As old acquaintances, they had no problem getting down to business right away: “Chief”, the lead emissary said to Mancham, “our understanding is you have blessings for anyone who would overthrow that bastard (Albert Rene). That is good. We have a plan.”

The next day the three flew to Nairobi and were checked into the Hotel 680. The following day they were picked from the hotel for lunch at Njonjo’s Muthaiga home.

The lunch was also attended by Police Commissioner Ben Gethi, and deputy director of the CID (now renamed DCI), J.D. Irwin.

Most importantly, Njonjo wanted to be sure Mancham would be available once Albert Rene was “sorted”. That assured, the project moved to the next phase.

Njonjo got in touch with his friend Adnan Khashoggi. At the time, the latter was a “protected species” in Kenya.

He owned the 11,000-acre Ol-Pejeta ranch in Nanyuki and the adjacent 22,000-acre Sweet Waters camp, where he had a 14-foot bed.

Courtesy of Njonjo, Khashoggi would enter and leave Nairobi without his passport stamped, or cargo checked, and had officers from the GSU deployed to guard him.

For Khashoggi, facilitating a coup in the Seychelles – or anywhere else in the third world – was child’s play. He had the money, and he had the firepower.

In the Seychelles he wouldn’t only be reinstating a friend to power, but also settling a score with President Rene for having the “audacity” to confiscate his yacht, which was docked in the Seychelles on the night he overthrew President Mancham.

***

Khasshogi

Between August and October, Njonjo, Mancham, Khashoggi, and Mike Hoare held planning sessions in Nairobi and in Nanyuki.

When in the city, Mike Hoare would be holed up at the Hotel 680, where he quietly enjoyed the world-famous Kenya’s cold Tusker, seated in a favourite corner on the first floor.

I always sit at the same corner whenever I am at the Hotel 680. It is an inspiring place to remember the days gone by.

***

Khashoggi would provide the 80 AK assault rifles for use by Mike Hoare’s “boys”, pay Mike Hoare mercenary’s fee, and take care of any other contingencies arising.

In turn, Njonjo would cater for a flight to the Seychelles by Mancham and his team once President Rene was ousted.

At six in the evening on November 25, the chartered jet landed at Mahe airport. On board were Mike Hoare and his 42 “boys”, all carrying identical bags.

At the control tower they were booked as “charity workers” from Britain on a mission to aid disadvantaged children. They had five bags of toys to be distributed to children’s homes in the Seychelles.

The hand luggage carried by the “charity workers” had tags to indicate they had gone through X-ray checks at South Africa’s Durban Airport and Swaziland’s Manzini Airport.

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It was a lie as each of the bags had a false bottom concealing an AK-47 and 30 rounds of ammunition.

But on that day, Murphy’s Law that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong” applied.

All but two of Mike Hoare “charity workers” had cleared through immigration when hell broke loose. A traveller separating the two from the rest of the group had a bunch of bananas in his bag.

Mike Hoare

VIABLE OPTION

At the time the Seychelles had banned the importation of fruits in the islands to protect local farmers.

The immigration officers, angered by the passenger with bananas, demanded that the two passengers behind him also open their bags.

Cornered, the two “charity workers” reached for their hidden weapons and cocked, causing a huge commotion.

Mike Hoare and the group, now already cleared, rushed back, guns at hand, and a full-scale battle with the Seychelles security ensued.

Mike Hoare led his “boys” into the next viable option. They hijacked a plane at the airport and fled to South Africa, where they were awaited with long jail sentences. The coup had flopped.

Postscript: Early in the week when writing this story, I touched base with an acquaintance who was a security intelligence officer seconded to the judicial commission of inquiry that found Njonjo “guilty” of a plot to overthrow the Moi government in the 1980s.

He told me it is the latter’s role in the Seychelles affair that turned a poisoned chalice.

According to the retired intelligence officer, Moi, though he had sanctioned Njonjo’s involvement in the failed Seychelles coup, quietly reasoned that if the latter could so meticulously plot a coup in a foreign country, what would stop him from doing the same at home?

HIGH TREASON

And so “evidence” had to be found to implicate Njonjo in some “coup plot” at home, and use that to put him in a position where he would be no threat.

Subsequently, Raila Odinga, then in police custody for alleged role in the failed 1982 Kenyan coup, came in handy in Moi’s scheme of things.

He was brought to the Njonjo inquiry to testify that while he knew “nothing” of the coup he himself was implicated in, he had “information” that Njonjo intended to stage a coup against Moi at about the same time the August 1982 coup attempt took place.

The commission of inquiry believed him and found Njonjo “guilty” of high treason.

Eventually Moi “forgave” both Njonjo and Raila of their “involvement” in respective treasonable activities. Kenyan politics must be a knotty stuff to unravel.

***

Mike ‘Mad’ Hoare, the epicentre of the drama in the Seychelles, and who served a 15-year jail term, died in South Africa on February 2, a few days after cutting cake to mark his 100th birthday.

Coincidentally, it was the same time Njonjo, too, toasted to mark his centenary anniversary.

I hope the many years lived afforded ‘Mad’ Mike time to repent before meeting his maker


Kenya Insights allows guest blogging, if you want to be published on Kenya’s most authoritative and accurate blog, have an expose, news, story angles, human interest stories, drop us an email on tips.kenyainsights@gmail.com or via Telegram

JohnBosco is a Liberated Mind. Polymath. Incisive Pundit on Governance, Independent Investigative Commentator and a Medic. For any insightful info email [ Johnboscojuma2@gmail.com]

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