Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Kaiser receives Kenyan honor

By Frank Lee

Published February 27. 2006
St. Cloud Times

The Rev. John Kaiser recently received Kenya's highest human rights honor from the very same government he fought against — and some say died at the hands of.

"It's ironic that he did receive this award from a government-sanctioned body," said his niece, Mary Weaver of Fergus Falls.

Kaiser, a member of the Diocese of St. Cloud, was found dead five years ago along a busy highway between Naivasha and Nairobi with a gunshot wound to the head.

The 67-year-old's death was ruled a suicide by the FBI and the Kenyan Criminal Investigation Division, but there is an ongoing judicial inquiry in Nairobi into his death.

The Perham native was an outspoken critic of the ethnic cleansing and distribution of land in the East African country under the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi.

"Many people told John to cool it. He knew that his life was in jeopardy," said the Rev. William Vos, former director of the St. Cloud Mission Office of the Diocese of St. Cloud.


Kaiser shares the Milele (Lifetime) Achievement Award with professor Wangari Maathai of Kenya, an environmentalist, activist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

"John was a very strong person in every way — a paratrooper, a good college athlete — and also ethically," said Vos, a St. John's University classmate of Kaiser's.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights handed out the award at a Feb. 18 ceremony attended by Bishop Cornelius Schilder of the Diocese of Ngong, where Kaiser worked.

"John just had a real clear view on what's right, and that's what ultimately led to his conflict with the Kenyan government," Vos said of Kaiser's work, which spanned three decades.

Kaiser was helping teen-age girls who accused a Kenyan Cabinet member of sexual assault, but Kaiser died within a week of the scheduled court hearings.

The FBI's report in 2001 referred several times to circumstantial evidence indicating Kaiser, a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries, had suffered from manic depression.

But in a book that was published after his death, Kaiser had written "I am not planning any accident, nor, God forbid, any self-destruction."

"The whole investigation into his death was botched," said Vos, who attended Kaiser's funeral amid thousands of mourners.

The theory that Kaiser, a Roman Catholic priest, would have committed suicide is incomprehensible to Weaver and many others.

"No way — not in my opinion — based on his faith, in which suicide is a big no-no," Weaver said.

-Life and death-

The Diocese of St. Cloud has a relationship today with the Diocese of Homa Bay in Kenya.

"One of the things that is very important to my family is that there's still an inquest happening in Kenya into my uncle's death," Weaver said.

"We've struggled to find a pathologist to do an independent review of the forensic evidence because it means going against the FBI's hired expert."

The 42-year-old is a staff writer for the Dairy Star, a semimonthly newspaper in Sauk Centre, and assistant editor of Lake and Home Magazine, a bimonthly in Fergus Falls.

"We're methodically going through every piece of evidence, and sometimes that's not always available to the attorneys representing our family without a fight," Weaver said.

Weaver would see her uncle for a couple of months whenever he returned to the United States to raise funds for various projects.

The CBS News program "60 Minutes" examined the death of the Minnesotan and featured an interview with the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone in May 2001.

"My uncle often played the devil's advocate just to get a rise out of somebody, but was extremely giving, passionate about everything — what he was reading, religion, what he was doing, politics," Weaver said.

Kaiser's work with the International Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya during the investigation of the rape of Kenyan teens was cited when he received the Milele award.

"We know that he was wonderful man. But to see the people of Kenya know this and mourn his passing, it was a powerful experience for my parents," Weaver said.

About Kenya:

The International Monetary Fund, which had resumed loans in 2000 to help Kenya through a drought, again halted lending in 2001 when the government failed to institute several anticorruption measures.

Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year-old reign ended with the Dec. 27, 2002, elections, and a new opposition government took on the formidable economic problems facing the nation.

» Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, between Somalia and Tanzania.
» Size: Slightly more than twice the size of Nevada.
» Capital: Nairobi.
» Population: 33.83 million (2005 estimate).
» Life expectancy: 48 years (2005 estimate).
» Death rate: 14.65 deaths/1,000 population (2005 estimate).
» Religions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, other.

Source: CIA World Factbook.

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