Monday, August 23, 2010

Stones left unturned on Kaiser killers

Stones left unturned on Kaiser killers

STEPHEN MUDIARI | NATION Ms Mary Gakui from Lolgorian in Trans Mara carries a portrait of Fr John Kaiser during a peaceful demonstration to mark the 10th commemoration of his death last week. A special Mass was held last Friday.

By Giuseppe Liguori
Posted Monday, August 23 2010 at 21:00

On August 24, 2000, the body of Fr John Anthony Kaiser was found at 6am near two acacia trees on the Naivasha-Nakuru highway.
Somebody had put a bullet in the head of the American Mill Hill priest.

Fr Kaiser was born in Perham, Minnesota, USA, on November 29, 1932. In 1960 he came to Mill Hill to study theology and on July 11, 1964, he was ordained a priest at St. Louis.

After his ordination Fr Kaiser was appointed to Kisii Diocese; in 1993 he was transferred to Ngong Diocese, where he remained until his death.

During the last years of his life, he lived surrounded by controversy, clashing with high-level government figures over his fight for the poor. In 1998, he testified before the Akiwumi Commission and accused the government of atrocities against the population.

In February 2009, in a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Goffard shed new light on the murder of Fr Kaiser.

This is how he described the American missionary:

“The dead man was an American citizen and a leading dissident — a former US Army paratrooper who lived without electricity in one of Kenya’s poorest corners, survived on game meat and had come to regard himself, after 36 years on the continent, as an African. He had not only denounced (then President Daniel) Moi but had fought to bring rape charges against one of his top ministers...

“In life, Fr Kaiser had been a troublemaker, an obstinate and single-minded man who railed against church passivity and clashed with his bishops, his missionary bosses, his fellow priests. Now, it was possible to ignore the rough edges and complicated history. Now, Catholic leaders were declaring him a martyr to the faith, a man whose crusade against his adopted country’s dictatorial regime had ended in his assassination”.

According to Goffard, Mr. Johnnie Carson, at that time the US ambassador to Kenya, had a prominent role in the aftermath of Fr Kaiser’s death.

On August 24, the day that his body was found, Mr Carson went to the office of the Attorney General and asked that the FBI should be allowed to investigate.

The FBI had forensic expertise, he argued, and its presence would show that the Kenyan regime had nothing to hide. The AG said he would need to consult. Of course, the President would have to approve. In less than 24 hours, President Moi gave his go-ahead.

Four FBI agents fanned out across the country, accompanied by plain clothes men from the Kenyan police. It was to be a joint investigation. The Kenyans would translate the words of Kiswahili-speaking witnesses.

They would provide helicopters to reach remote villages. They would sit close during interviews. This presented an obvious problem.

Who would risk telling the Americans anything in the presence of Kenyan policemen, for decades an integral part of Moi’s apparatus of fear?

Back in the US, in September and October 2000 both houses of Congress passed resolutions condemning Fr Kaiser’s “assassination.”

Two independent pathologists — one enlisted by the church, the other by a human rights group. Their conclusion: the shot that obliterated the back of Kaiser’s head had entered behind his right ear from a distance of at least six inches and as much as three feet.

Since it seemed impossible for Fr Kaiser to have pointed the long-barrelled gun at himself from such a range, murder was the only explanation.

However, on April 19, 2001, FBI agents stood at a news conference at the US Embassy in Nairobi alongside Mr Carson, Kenyan police and the country’s AG.

The Americans praised the Kenyans for their cooperation and gave their verdict: an emotionally troubled Kaiser had killed himself.

Reopened the case

This conclusion was clearly against the ballistics evidence and also against the character of a strong man who wrote: “I want all to know that if I disappear from the scene, because the bush is vast and hyenas many that I am not planning any accident, nor, God forbid, any self-destruction”.

Fr Kaiser liked to quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, a defence of classic Catholicism in which the author assesses suicide as “the ultimate and absolute evil.”

When Mwai Kibaki won the election in December 2002, a new government was in place and, at the request of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference, this new government reopened the case.

A lawyer, Mbuthi Gathenji, was enlisted by the family and the Catholic Church. As Mr Gathenji saw it, something crucial was missing from the scene where Fr Kaiser’s body was discovered: the pellets and wadding that his shotgun would have discharged when he was killed.

They weren’t found in the remains of his cranium or, despite searches over a wide radius, in the surrounding dirt and shrubs.

The inquest begun in 2003 and many witnesses were heard: one of them was Mr Julius Sunkuli, a minister who was accused of raping two girls, Florence Mpayei and Anne Sawoyo.

At the end of the inquest, presiding magistrate, Maureen Odero, concluded that Fr Kaiser was murdered, ruling that the “Suicide Theory” was based on a pre-conceived notion, but stated that “she could not — on the basis of evidence tabled before her in the inquest — point out with certainty who the priest’s killers were”.

But she cleared Mr Sunkuli.

“If Sunkuli wanted to eliminate a person because of these allegations, then in the court’s view, he would have targeted the girls themselves or his named political detractors and not Fr Kaiser who was not the source of the allegations.

“It is probably true that Sunkuli may have been unhappy that Fr Kaiser supported these girls but then many other people offered support to the two girls including the officials at FIDA who filed cases on behalf of the girls. Why would he target Fr Kaiser whose role in the whole thing was peripheral?” the court wondered.

Dr Giuseppe Liguori works for the Consolata missionaries in Nairobi as director of the Consolata Project Office.

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