Incident that led President Moi to ban reggae music in Kenya

Nobody can stop reggae!

1982 coup incident that led President Daniel arap Moi to ban reggae music in Kenya

The phrase, nobody can stop reggae, has become cliché in Kenyan lingo as it is often to describe an action that is inevitable.

It is not out of nothing that Kenyans believe that reggae cannot be stopped as the genre has over the years thrived in an environment where its fans were stigmatized and openly fought by the government.

Few Kenyans know that for several years, reggae music had been banned from being played in any public place.

The ban was triggered by the famous 1982 coup staged by rebel military officers serving in the Kenya Air Force (KAF).

One of the first things that the KAF soldiers did while carrying out their coup was to take over the government broadcaster, Voice of Kenya (now KBC) studios long Harry Thuku road.

They also picked up veteran journalist Leonard Mambo Mbotela at gun point and forced him to announce that they had now taken charge of the government.

What many do not know is that after the announcement, the soldiers started playing revolutionary and celebratory reggae songs – mainly hits by music icon Bob Marley.

The music would only be paused to make special announcement in support of the coup – five student leaders including former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, former MP Dr Shem Ochuodho, and former Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe and the late Titus Adungosi were among those who were allowed into the studio to announce that university students were in full support of the coup.

Despite support from the university students, the coup failed as most of the power was held by the army and paramilitary forces which threw their support behind President Moi.

Expectedly, once Moi was back in power, the first thing that happened is that reggae stopped playing – not just momentarily – it was banned from ever being played in any public platform.

ODM Leader Raila Odinga, a self-confessed reggae fan, was among those were arrested in connection with the 1982 coup.

Stopping reggae proved to be an exercise in futility as the genre continued to grow its fan base – particularly among the poor masses.

In the early 1990s, reggae returned on the public airwaves after the Moi regime relaxed its crackdown on dissent.

Today, reggae plays on loudly with its lyrics on freedom, black-pride, and love resonating among Kenyans who feel oppressed, so much so that the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, does not shy away to identify as a reggae die-hard.

The afro-rooted genre has since been adopted in UNESCO’s list of global cultural treasures.

"Reggae's contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual," UNESCO said last years while making the announcement. 

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