Kenya’s forgotten track legend,1982 coup attempt hero
Memories from that Sunday morning in August 1982 are still fresh in the mind of Olympic legend Charles Asati.
Then serving as a Warrant Officer II in the Kenya Army at the Lang’ata Barracks, he remembers how a few officers from the Kenya Air Force sought to overthrow Kenya’s second President, the late Daniel arap Moi.
He recalls how then Chief of General Staff, the late Jackson Mulinge, quickly assembled and ordered his trusted officers to go to Kabarak and ensure the Head of State was escorted safely to State House, Nairobi.
Asati was among the few given that task.
He says although the coup attempt was squashed within seven hours, the scars will live for a long time.
Seeing so many lifeless bodies, maimed individuals and lives changed completely for the worse, is the main reason Asati believes there is nothing more priceless than peace in a country.
“Instead of going to embarrass me in public, why not shoot me here in my house,” were the words of President Moi uttered when Asati and his team arrived at Kabarak to escort him to Nairobi. In his mind, Moi thought the officers were coup sympathisers.
Asati recalls seeing Moi at his most helpless on that fateful day.
Nobody who witnessed the events of that Sunday morning would have known it, but they birthed two classes of people; their lives taking different trajectories in the intervening 38 years.
Asati, a member of Kenya’s gold medal-winning 4x400m relay quartet at the 1972 Munich Olympics however says he harbours no regrets.
“Most of the officers from that particular assignment would go on to get handsome rewards from the Head of State for their brave show.
Starting with the late Mulinge. Be it the fleets of cars or huge parcels of land, rewards that will serve their progeny for generations to come.
I don’t know why some of us were overlooked. I take pride that I served my country honourably that day,” Asati disclosed to People Sport during a recent visit to his home in Iringa village, Manga sub-county, Nyamira County.
During the Munich Games, Asati teamed up with Hezekiah Nyamao, Robert Ouko and Julius Sang.
With the latter two having since died and Nyamao in frail health, the trailblazer fears they will soon fade into oblivion.
Life has not been kind for Asati, a widower who has also buried his son, Joshua, whose death between those of his two wives, Josephine Nyangara and Rael Kerubo.
Whenever his daughter-in-law or grandchildren are not around, he does his own washing, cleaning and even cooking daunting tasks for a man his age.
As per his official identification record, he is 74-years, but in truth he could be turning 80 in March. The Olympic winner has an explanation for that.
“You see back then, it was perfectly normal for one to shave off up to seven years from their actual age.
I, too, did it when I was joining the military. The essence was ‘not to retire when you’re young ‘,” revealed the lanky former athlete who still possesses an upright gait.
As an elder in a local Seventh Day Adventist church, he remains a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
“I have learnt to be content with what I have and more so the gift of life and that of my 11 children, that keeps me going.
I have come to accept the fact that I should stop asking the government to do things for me, because I know they won’t,” says Asati who was recruited into the military while he was only a pupil at Itibo Primary School in the 1960s because of his prowess in athletics.
“I started running at quite a tender age. The distance to school is approximately 15km, so I had to run an average of 30km a day.
That is where it all began,” says Asati who bagged gold in the 400m event at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, to add to his gold with Hezekiah Nyamao, Ouko and Sang in the 4x400m relay and a bronze medal in 200m.
Commenting on the Veterans Cash Fund, he says the money in most cases is coming in too little too late -- to be precise after the death of the trailblazers
“I heard with mixed emotions that my friends Benjamin Jipcho and Robert Ouko were among the former sportsmen and women who benefited this year from the fund.
While that is noble, I think the funds could have helped them more when they were alive.
The two suffered a lot before they died,” adds Asati, who in 1976 was named Kenya’s captain to the Montreal Olympics but Kenya joined other nations in boycotting them in protest against New Zealand’s relations with South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Even as the country prepares to mark yet another Mashujaa Day, Asati is worried that once again the names of the legends will be mentioned just in passing, if at all they will be remembered.
He blames the organizers of such events for failing to accord the heroes better recognition during such big days.
“I would be happier if there was a specific role for us on such days. What happened in Mombasa last year was embarrassing, I mean even getting a place to sit was a big issue.
It begs the question, why even invite us in the first place,” laments the man who won double gold in the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the 400m and 4x400m relay.
The road back to respectability has been long and arduous, that is why he sarcastically says even Kenya Power despises him.
“It is saddening that I don’t even have electricity in my small house. As a matter of fact, I have never had electricity.
It is even more saddening that the transformer is just a stone’s throw away from my home.
Despite applying and going to the Kenya Power offices both in Nyamira and Kisii nothing has been forthcoming.
For my age it is burdensome using solar energy, which is even unbearable with an old battery that is unreliable.
So yes, if ever there is something the government can do, they can help me get power connection.
Not just for me but for the sake of my grandchildren who need it to study,” he pleads.He says his children never took sports seriously despite two of them being really good at sprints.
“While sports pays now, that was not the case during our time. So perhaps my challenges greatly discouraged my children from following in my footsteps.”
Approximately 7km from his home is the Manga stadium, a facility that was supposed to be re-named after the legend, but the facility that was closed for renovations is in shambolic state.
“I think when people make declarations by the roadside, nothing really serious happens.
Well, if it happens, that will be great to honour me, but in sincerity, I don’t see it happening,” avers Asati who served the forces from 1965 to 1986.
Reached for comment, Rose Tata Muya, a member of the Heroes and Heroines Council admitted that indeed the body is trying to ensure veterans get support when they need it.
“Yes we could have loved to see the veterans get help when they need it most. And it is not only in athletics but all other sports disciplines.
I hope Asati will be among the beneficiaries soon,” said Muya who added that each year, five selected beneficiaries get a Sh300,000 each.