TBT: August 1 aftermath- One pilot's fight

A continuation of last week’s article >> https://www.kenyatalk.com/index.php?threads/tbt-3-pilots-the-aftermath-of-august-1-1982.52504/

By Roy Gachuhi

In any account of military heroism and personal tragedy, there will be little to match this one. The life of the most experienced and senior most pilot of the trio, selected by the rebels in part because of his enviable reputation with his plane, took a hit from which he never recovered until his death in 2005.

Becky Kahaki Mutua, his widow, remembers him thus: “He was born to be a soldier. Were he alive today, I am very sure he would be a soldier, or so he would prefer. He re-entered civilian life against his will and never adjusted to it. For 10 years, he had a lucrative career as a pilot with Kenya Airways. Yet he walked away from it to do nothing. He was obsessed with the military.”

To do nothing? Well, to chase his terminal benefits from the Armed Forces which he died without seeing a penny. In between, he drank too much as he and his ex-Air Force colleagues, mostly now flying for the national career, engaged in endless banter about military politics and intrigues.

With a melancholy voice and the saddest smile you can behold, the mother of three says: “You know the good life of an airline pilot. Dave gave it away to file and chase a wrongful dismissal case against the Armed Forces. Here, HCCC No 548/95. It is he who was calculating what every terminated pilot should get.”

It was obvious he was trying to continue his engagement with the Armed Forces, probably any way how. He had never been able to come to terms with his fate, the fate that begun when he brought the wheels of his F/5 to a stop at Laikipia Air Base on the noonday of August 1, its bomb racks empty, sure that he wore a badge of honour before anybody who called him to account.

Becky was his second wife. Like that of so many soldiers in the aftermath of the coup attempt, his marriage to Hellen, his first wife, ended in separation and then divorce. With Hellen, a native of South Africa, he had two daughters, named Venita and Letisha.

Without an income during his long incarceration at Naivasha, Hellen and the small children took refuge with Mutua’s childhood friend named Alex Muthusi at Nairobi’s Harambee Estate. It is there where he found them after his release and it is there that he started trying to adjust to life out of uniform.

But the pressures of prolonged joblessness took a heavy toll on the displaced family – and their hosts as well. Mutua had left jail in April 1983 after spending seven and a half months there. He then embarked on six-month odyssey navigating the corridors of the Department of Defence to obtain his clearance certificate. At some point during this period, Hellen left for the UK, taking Venita and Letisha along.

The family never re-united.

After finally getting his termination letter which acknowledged his good discipline and professional skill, he headed for the only place that promised an immediate possibility of income – Wilson Airport. But he was a military pilot and had to convert to civil aviation.

Says a flying school instructor at Wilson Airport: “To convert from one type of aircraft to another, you need to do a type rating exam and that means flying the aircraft. You also need to do an instrument rating to determine whether you can fly in what we call instrument meteorological conditions.

“For a single engine aircraft for any of these examinations you are looking at about USD 100 per hour and USD200 per hour for a twin engine plane. The number of hours can be as many as will satisfy the examiner.”

Mutua needed several tens of thousands of shillings to jump over this hurdle at a time when he was to all practical purposes a beggar. But somehow, with help from friends, he was able to raise sufficient funds to obtain a civilian licence and get himself a job with Swift Air where he flew light planes. He also did freelance jobs with other operators and was finally able to raise enough money to travel to the US to train for his air transport pilots’ licence.

He returned in early 1984 and was immediately employed as a pilot by Kenya Airways. Late in the same year, he met Becky, then working as a ground hostess with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. To anybody else with better luck, this should have marked his turnaround. Unfortunately, it only briefly did before the ghost of his dead military career reared its immortal head.

She remembers: “We met and fell in love and it was not long before we started living together. From his circle of friends, I gleaned there had been another woman, a family in fact, but each time I asked him about it, he kept quiet and then changed the subject. He seemed very uncomfortable about that matter. However, I never doubted his commitment to me.”

He struck her as “quiet most of the time, talkative when drunk and very sharp,” adding: “I admired his intelligence.”

Together, they raised their three children – Loraine, Dorothy and James. They lived in Buru Buru but as their financial fortunes improved with the good job at Kenya Airways, they bought a house in Langata.


INSET:Maj Mutua in a plane’s cockpit before the coup attempt of 1982 and his widow Becky (centre) with her children. Courtesy DN- NMG

Becky soon left her KLM job and tried her hand at business, going to South Africa frequently to sell curios. She could afford it, because as the wife of an airline pilot, free tickets were regular. Mutua made a steady rise in his career, starting off as a first officer on the Fokker Friendship. By the time he was resigning 10 years later, he was a first officer on the Airbus A310.

At that time, Kenya Airways was awash with freshly recruited ex-Kenya Air Force pilots. They formed a tight brotherhood and always socialized together. Children’s birthdays were especially cherished occasions and the old buddies used them to make merry and more merry. Carol Baraza, daughter of Capt John Baraza, grew up fondly calling Becky Mutua mum. Her own mother died in 2003. To this day, they remain close.

Watching her husband closely, Becky formed the opinion that he was an airline pilot on the outside and a hardboiled soldier in the inside. For why were his favourite topics whenever he drunk always military ones? And why was his pride mortally wounded, to a point of getting into stupors whenever he recalled the treatment he received at the hands of warders at Naivasha Prison?

“Long after the deed, he continuously made an issue of the humiliation he suffered in Naivasha,” recalls Becky. “He said the warders beat them with buttons on the head and referred to them in derogatory terms. He never tied talking about the humiliation which he said only stopped after he was screened, proved innocent and made a prosecution witness against Bramwel Njereman, his captor. Even then, he was kept in jail until the end of the court martials.”

With increasing alarm, Becky perceived that her husband was completely unable to let go of his previous career. She felt helpless to do anything about it and neither could she find anybody who could. And Mutua’s drinking increased in direct proportion to his obsession. It couldn’t go on like this forever. And all of a sudden, he stopped going to work. He didn’t even report sick; he just stopped.

Remembers Becky: “Captain Rueben Morani, then the Chief Pilot of Kenya Airways, called Dave and asked him why he was not going to work. Dave replied: Don’t worry about me, I am already working for NASA.”

NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the US Government, the agency responsible for the American space programme. Captain Morani was so alarmed with what he had just heard that he went to see Mutua immediately. Betty says the Captain was “very fond of Dave and he came to see him filled with distress.” The distress grew with every passing moment of their conversation.

“David,” Morani said, “please proceed on leave. I will help you.” According to Becky, Capt Morani personally filled the leave application form and approved it. Mutua merely signed it. So he proceeded on a three month leave during which Becky, the family and not least Capt Morani and all his colleagues, hoped he would get hold of himself and avoid tipping over the precipice. He didn’t. When his leave ended, he was in poorer shape.

According to Becky, a distraught Morani made a last ditch effort to salvage him. He told him: “David, I want you to resign. I fear you could get sacked and if that happens, you will lose your benefits. Ten years of your life will be lost. Let that not happen.” Mutua did as advised and tendered his resignation and sure enough he made a clean break with Kenya Airways. But he left in his wake sorrowful colleagues who loved and cared for him.

Now he embarked fully on chasing his benefits from the military. In 1995, he filled a case in the High Court enjoining all his colleagues who had similarly been terminated. But being jobless, he soon started running out of money. The erstwhile supersonic pilot had tragically cast away a dream job to array himself against a justice system whose wheels sometimes turn once every decade or more.

“That is when our life started going downhill in earnest,” says Becky. In 1996, he started ailing. He was in and out of hospital for much of the next two years but at the end of 1997, he was hospitalized at the Metropolitan Hospital in Buru Buru. During this stint in hospital, he suffered a mild stroke but he seemed to recover fully. In 2005, he was hospitalized again at the Cottage Hospital in South B suffering from menegitis. This time, however, the odds were against him and he succumbed to a heart attack on 12th September.

“Venita, his first daughter with Hellen, came for her father’s funeral and I met her for the first time,” says Becky. We thereafter became close friends and she has come visiting with her British husband since. I have not yet met Letisha, however.”

Maj David Mutua’s pilot friends came together to foot all his funeral expenses. And to the dirges of the Salvation Army, the religion of his father and not the bugles of the military’s last post, he was buried in in his father’s farm in Masinga, Eastern Kenya, aged 43.

As for Becky Mutua, hers has been a long journey of love, hope, heartbreak and unbending faith. “I am a born again Christian and I have prayed over this matter every day for 25 years. That people unknown to me, without my knowledge or prompting have come up with this story, is proof that God works in mysterious ways and that He has not abandoned me and never will.

“My children are suffering a lot because I cannot afford college fees for them. If only the Government can pay Dave’s terminal benefits, I can help them. And Jimmy, our son, might fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot like his father.

“What Dave did on August 1, 1982 and what is happening now is for me contained in Chapter 6 of the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. ‘That same night, the king could not get to sleep, so he ordered the official records of the empire to be brought and read to him. The part they read included the account of how Mordecai had uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. The king asked: “How have we honoured and rewarded Mordecai for this?”

His servants answered: “Nothing has been done for him.”


RWNEBP, so many people suffered for shit they didn’t know. I remember my cousin asking my mum “auntie kwetu ushago ni wapi” because during the attempted coup, Nairobi had just turned into hell. maybe she thot ‘ushago’ was much better.

shit was messed up for sure. poleni. the army and coups saa hii ni kama maji na stima. hawapatani

Too sad man. Paranoia in the top echelons of the military let good men down…and bureaucracy too.