From: ouko joachim omolo
Colleagues Home & Abroad Regional News
BY FR JOACHIM OMOLO OUKO, AJ
THURSDAY, JANUARY 5, 2012
The new book by Christopher Goffard: ‘You Will See Fire’ describes how American Mill Hill Father John Kaiser was a disturbed man after one of his catechists, Lucas, handed him a hand-delivered letter all the way from Nairobi, a summon letter from an authority he could not refuse—Giovanni Tonucci, the papal nuncio, the Pope’s representative in Kenya.
When Francis Kantai, one of his catechists—a young Masai he had enlisted as a helper and a cultural bridge to the local people—would describe the priest’s sudden unease as he opened the letter. What is it, Father? What does it say? As Kantai recalled, Fr Kaiser gave a curt reply—I don’t give a damn—and took the letter down the hall to his room and closed the door.
Tonucci summoned him to report to him immediately since the matter was apparently urgent, though unspecified. After the summons, his mood changed. He wept at Mass. He asked for prayers. He grabbed his duffel bag then climbed into his truck with his axe and his rosary beads and his Bible and his neck brace and his shotgun, disappearing down the red-dirt road on the half-day trip to Nairobi.
His bishop and regional superior was afraid that Father Kaiser could find himself into big problem if he continued naming names—a roster of the regime’s untouchable potentates, Julius Sunkuli being one of them. He was a politician prominent among the untouchables.
Despite the warning and fear Father Kaiser was never cowed-he exercised his prophetic role to name-names of corrupt and evil minded leaders. Kaiser courageously went on to do the unpardonable: He even named Moi himself. He testified for two days, sparring with government lawyers, trying to distill the dark knowledge he had absorbed.
In the eighteen months since then, he had been upping the stakes, demanding not just that Moi be prosecuted at The Hague, where he vowed to serve as a witness, but pressing for criminal charges against Sunkuli, as well.
His superiors believed the tribunal was a waste of time since he was dealing with untouchable, and for that matter Kaiser’s intention to name names was a pointless provocation to Government authorities.
It was due to his courage that even though, according Goffard any of his superiors could have ordered him out of Lolgorien, back to the States, Kaiser could refuse to adhere to the call because of his prophetic role to be the voice of the marginalized.
In recent years we have seen some priests and religious who advocate for justice and peace being ordered to leave Kenya by their superiors through the advice of the local church authorities.
Father Kaiser was not only a courageous priest-he was truly a man of God who would always want God’s will be done and not the will of his superiors. God’s will to him was to be a major voice in opposition to the Kenyan dictator Daniel Moi.
It is against the background that even though in 2000, while preparing to speak against the regime, he received a letter telling him Utaona Moto – You Will See Fire, this did not stop him from advocating justice and peace.
On August 24, 2000, the body of Fr John Anthony Kaiser was found at 6am near two acacia trees on the Naivasha-Nakuru highway. Six days later was his requiem mass at Minor Basilica presided over by Tonucci, the very man who together with his superiors wanted him to leave Kenya.
Father Kaiser’s lawyer, Charles Muthi Gathenji could not believe as he listened as the papal nuncio—the man who’d issued Kaiser’s final summons to Nairobi—stood before the crowd, extolling the American priest’s crusade for justice and declaring him a martyr to the faith. To him this was hypocrisy of the first class.
A Kenyan Mill Hill priest from Ukwala parish-Kisumu archdiocese, Fr James Juma who took the government of Moi to task over the mysterious death of Fr Kaiser was forced by his superior to leave Kenya to South Africa.
The regional superior during Kaiser and Juma who later became the bishop of Ngong was a Dutch priest, Fr Cornelius Schilder who was secretly advised to leave Kenya after it emerged that he sexually molested underage boy.
The alleged offences were committed in 1993 when he served as a priest in Ngong diocese in the outskirts of Nairobi before taking over as Bishop in November 2003. According to the Dutch media, Bishop Schilder is now living near the Dutch village of Oosterbeek.
The accuser who by then was now 32-year-old Michael ole Uka came forward in 2005 and informed the church authorities of his allegations when he suffered such severe injuries from abuse that he required urgent medical treatment. The treatment was paid for by the Mill Hill Missionaries, the congregation to which the accused priests and Dutch bishop belong. Mr Uka also received financial compensation and further aid.
Since 2009 Bishop Schilder has not been allowed to carry out the duties of a bishop and as a priest he has been placed under supervision of Mill Hill. To cover up Vatican’s official line has been that Bishop Schilder was retired on health grounds.
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.
His superiors wanted him to leave Kenya after realising that 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 Moi of atrocities against the population.
Christopher Goffard is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the author of a novel, “Snitch Jacket.” The title of his new nonfiction book, “You Will See Fire,” is taken from one of the many threats that Kaiser received, a warning whose seriousness Kaiser never doubted.
Goffard skillfully assembles the details of his life and death, counterpointing these narrative strands with the story of Charles Mbuthi Gathenji, a Kenyan attorney who was determined to discover the truth about the case.
Goffard describes in the book how Kaiser spent hours in his room, reading, poring over documents, making notes in his journal. For some time, he’d been anticipating his violent death, warning friends and family in the States to expect it.
“Goffard writes. Kaiser had grown up on a farm in backwoods Minnesota. He’d learned to hunt and had spent three years in the Army, serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, before he decided to become a priest and enrolled in Jesuit missionary school.
Kaiser wanted adventure and headed to Africa, where the work exhilarated him. He undertook herculean building projects as well as baptisms and sick calls. He traversed the countryside on his Honda motorcycle.
“He took confession in the shade of eucalyptus trees and threw up churches across the countryside, quick, crude structures of red earth and river-bottom sand,” Goffard notes.
A crack shot, Kaiser hunted for meat that he distributed to his parishioners. “He earned a nickname, ‘Kifiaru wa Maskini’: Rhino for the Poor.”
During Moi regime corruption became endemic, likewise torture, conveniently timed car crashes that wiped out opponents, and bungled robberies in which everybody, including the apparent criminal and the apparent victim, conveniently lost their lives. Moi kept a million dead Kenyans on the electoral rolls, ensuring that democracy tilted his way.
Kaiser witnessed land grabs, murder, rape, horrors of a refugee camp under dictator Moi. He was against these ills of which he spoke openly even though he that might well be risking his life for his faith. But for his role as a prophet he took courage to be the voice of the victims.
Fr Kaiser went as far as defying his superiors in the church, and instead took the fight so effectively to the Moi regime that he became a threat. His superiors pressed him to leave, but the headstrong Kaiser plowed on. He was among the few courageous prophets who had dared to oppose the sinister and all-powerful Moi.
Father John Kaiser was a figure larger than life. He was fierce in his commitments, devoted to the poor and displaced, and fearless—what some would call reckless—in the pursuit of justice.
To unearth the truth, the Government of Moi invited Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detectives from Washington. They were led by Mr Thomas Carey. After extensive investigations, they concluded that the Mill Hill missionary had committed suicide.
One of the reasons the FBI gave in their report was that Kaiser probably decided to commit suicide instead of being forced by his superiors to leave Kenya. The initial post-mortem conducted by Kenya government concluded that Kaiser, a complicated man, committed suicide.
The post-mortem conducted by FBI also concluded that Kaiser killed himself, despite major discrepancies in the evidence. But his lawyer maintained hi investigation pointed to a potentially explosive cover-up by both the Kenyan government and the FBI.
Father John Anthony Kaiser was found dead along the Naivasha-Nakuru road, on August 24, 2000. The death raised a hue and cry among fellow clergymen and wananchi. People were saying that his head had been blown apart, that his own shotgun lay nearby.
The shotgun would stay with Fr Kaiser as he walked the grounds at night, locking the church, shuttering the windows of his home, double-checking the locks; it stayed with him as he walked down the long, shadowed hallway to his room, the last on the left.
According to Gathenji however, Kaiser’s death had the feel of a classic state-sanctioned hit, carried out by a cadre of professional assassins. It was the work of what he called “Murder, Inc.”—a vast apparatus of spies, security forces, and hit men with links to State House.
A team of FBI agents were summoned by the U.S. ambassador Johnnie Carson. The ambassador had promised the Bureau’s investigation would be an independent one. Not like a decade earlier when Moi had invited New Scotland Yard in to investigate the murder of his foreign minister, Robert Ouko, but had curtailed the probe when it pointed to members of his inner circle.
The president had used the legendary British agency as an unwitting pawn in his cover-up. The investigation had supplied the illusion of the pursuit of justice while anger abated and memories faded and witness after witness died, some of them mysteriously.
Even Gathenji thought the FBI investigation was in good hands since the Americans wouldn’t permit themselves to be Moi’s dupes, and they would raise hell if they were trifled with. So seriously was the case being treated in the United States that senators there were taking to the floor of Congress to demand justice for Kaiser.
Other reasons the FBI gave as the reason why Kaiser committed suicide was that he had a history of depression in his family that is why he could cry during mass or feel uncomfortable.
Goffard in his book however, sees Kaiser’s bipolar disorder as “a condition that informed his courage, his sense of justice, his fearlessness. I read about Lincoln and Churchill suffering from depression, and I think it gave them insight into human suffering they couldn’t have had otherwise.”
Kaiser, he says, was a devout Catholic but also “someone who was never really comfortable with authority. 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.
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?
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”.
Yet still, 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 to start fresh investigations, Kaiser’s death mysteries still persists.
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”.
“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.
“You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya” tells the story of John Kaiser, a Minnesotan and former Marine who spent most of his life in rural Kenya as a priest. Most writers wouldn’t resist so many bridges of familiarity, but Goffard dares us to think differently.
People for Peace in Africa (PPA)
P O Box 14877