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Unanswered questions in Kenya Airways stowaway saga

Thursday November 14 2019

Paul Manyasi

A combination of a photo of Paul Manyasi, the man who fell from a plane in the United Kingdom, and an e-fit image of the stowaway that was released by London police. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

HARRY MISIKO
By HARRY MISIKO
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AMINA WAKO
By AMINA WAKO
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It has been four and a half months since a mystery man fell off a Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner in London on a sunny June 30 afternoon.

The puzzle of the middle-aged stowaway continues to trouble aviation stakeholders and travellers, who use both KQ and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

The Sky News investigative report that aired recently seems to have muddied the waters further and today, there are more questions than answers in the saga.

Here are some of the unanswered questions in the unfolding stowaway shame that has embarrassed Kenya Airways on one hand, and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) — the two state agencies that run business at JKIA — on the other.

  • Just who is the real stowaway?

In its report, Sky News identified the illegal passenger as 29-year-old Paul Manyasi, a cleaner at Colnet Cleaning Services, a firm contracted by KAA to keep the JKIA clean.

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The name Manyasi, which means ‘herbs’ in Luhya, was given by a woman who claimed to be the man’s girlfriend and his co-worker at Colnet.

And in an interview in Malava, Kakamega County, Isaac Manyasi and his wife identified Paul as their son in a photo shared by the Sky News team.

The couple even identified a back pack, a pair of sports shoes and underwear they said belonged to Paul.

But a day after the story was published, the man and woman changed their tune.

They denied Paul and said their son’s name is Cedric Shibonje, a man they said was arrested for defilement and locked up at the Industrial Area Remand Prison in Nairobi.

So who is the man who fell from the London skies?

Is it a coincidence that Isaac and Paul share the 'Manyasi' surname?

Are Paul Manyasi and Cedric Shibonje the same person?

According to one of Manyasi’s friends, it is possible that the alleged ‘Cedric’ is their buddy Manyasi, whose mission for a better life in Europe ran into headwinds, quite literally.

According to Thomas Wanyama, one of his roommates back in 2017, Manyasi had a habit of using other people’s identities

“When he was taken to court for a defilement case, he gave a different identity,” said one of his friends, who sought anonymity.

  • Where is the alleged ‘Cedric Shibonje’?

On Wednesday, the Nation contacted the officers who run Industrial Area Remand Prison, seeking to put a face to the name Shibonje.

The officials’ response? “There is no inmate by that name”.

So where is the man accused of attempting to defile a pupil at a primary school where he worked in Mukuru Kayaba?

Speculation is rife that Shibonje may have been booked under a different name, but how hard is it for the authorities to smoke out the inmate using his face?

With the JKIA’s Category 1 airport status, which paved the way for direct flights to the US, at stake, the Kenyan government has every reason to hunt, find and parade Shibonje to poke holes into Sky News' exposé.

Why is this not happening?

The father also said he has not been in contact with Shibonje since 2017 and that his phone has been off.

So how did he know his son was arrested in June and taken to Industrial Area Remand Prison?

Does this mystery man ‘Shibonje’ even exist?

Is he the same Manyasi who threw caution to the wind only to meet his death in the skies?

  • How did ‘a stranger’ get access to the JKIA?

Both KAA and Colnet have dismissed Sky News' report that Manyasi worked for them at the airport.

What their denials mean is that a ‘stranger’ breached all the security protocols at the top airport in East Africa and accessed the airside.

How could that happen and what does it suggest about security lapses at the JKIA?

According to a security expert, the breach is likely to complicate matters for Kenya, which in 2017 acquired Category 1 status, making direct flights possible to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

The stowaway’s unauthorised penetration may lead to the downgrading of JKIA’s status, whether KAA and Colnet accept or deny that Manyasi was their worker.

  • How did Manyasi climb into the wheel well undetected?

Anybody who has travelled through the JKIA knows how tight the security protocols are.

Many will agree it is almost impossible to gain access to the airport, much less to the planes and the airside, without valid documents or prior clearance in case you are receiving guests.

In an interview with BBC Africa, KCAA Director-General Gilbert Kibe explained security checks at the airport.

"They check every part of the airplane, including the undercarriage, wheels, brakes, tyre conditions and the wheel well,” he said.

“They inspect everything. So when those checks were being done, it is not likely that person was there, otherwise he would have been seen.”

So how did Manyasi climb and hide in the KQ Dreamliner?

Did any of the pilots, crew, cargo handlers and ground staff know about his journey to death?