Sixteen years ago this week, Fr John Anthony Kaiser died. Judging by the huge congregation that turned up for his memorial Mass in Naivasha last weekend, Kenyans have certainly not forgotten the good priest. The hashtag "RembemberingKaiser" trended on Twitter for 24 hours. Fr Kaiser may be gone but is not forgotten and his case far from closed.
Soon after Fr Kaiser’s death, the FBI were invited to assist with the investigations. However, from the outset it was obvious that the sleuths were more interested in covering up than uncovering the truth about his horrendous death. In October 2000, the investigators came to Kitale and attempted to convince me that he committed suicide. I congratulated them for being the only folk in Kenya who believed that nonsense.
Soon after Mr Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2003, then Attorney-General Amos Wako conceded to the wishes of the family and church and granted a public inquest into the priest’s death. The hearing began in Naivasha, but was later transferred to Nairobi to continue under Magistrate Maureen Odera.
The FBI were given three different dates to present their evidence. On each occasion they failed to show up. Interesting also is that they never signed off on the report they gave to the Kenyan police. Many theories have been proposed to explain their duplicity. The most enduring one is that Washington needed the cooperation of the Moi government to extradite those accused of the 1998 American Embassy bombing and, therefore, did not want to upset him by investigating suspect Julius Sunkuli, one of his most trusted Cabinet ministers.
The inquest concluded on August 1, 2007 after hearing evidence from 111 witnesses. Ms Odera was adamant in her judgment that Fr Kaiser was killed elsewhere and his body dumped in Naivasha. She exonerated Mr Sunkuli, but directed the police to “institute fresh and comprehensive investigations” into the priest’s killing. She also named three park rangers, who should be investigated; one of these was a brother-in-law to Mr Sunkuli. Finally, she ordered that the close confidant and catechist of Fr Kaiser, Mr Francis Kantai, also be interrogated. Mr Kantai went into hiding after Fr Kaiser’s death yet many human rights defenders had access to him. Most of us discovered that he lied with ease and that he continuously contradicted himself. This also emerged in the inquest and made many consider him a suspect. However, in a bizarre Agatha Christie-like move, Mr Kantai married Fr Kaiser’s cousin, Camille, and their first born son was named Kaiser.
Mr Kantai has never been investigated as he left for the USA upon giving testimony. The others, too, walk scot free as the DPP has never implemented the court’s instructions. Many will claim that the reason for the indifference is that DPP Keriako Tobiko was Mr Sunkuli’s advocate in the inquest until his appointment to his current office in 2005. That suspicion will remain until the matter is reopened for investigation.
Fr Kaiser’s death is just one of the many extrajudicial killings that remain unsolved. They have become so frequent that we forget many of them. But the Mass in Naivasha showed that the church will not let up on Fr Kaiser’s case.
[email protected]; @GabrielDolan1