Kenyan Catholics Welcome News of Inquest Into US Missionary's Death

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Kenya's attorney general has agreed to hold an inquest into the suspicious death of an American Catholic missionary, Fr. John Kaiser, almost three years after his body was discovered along a road west of the capital.

The inquest will begin in August, according to Martin Muya, senior resident magistrate in Naivasha, the place Kaiser was found dead.

The Mill Hill missionary, originally from Minnesota, was a strong critic of the former administration of Daniel arap Moi. He had worked in Kenya for 36 years.

The Catholic Church has long been urging the authorities to hold an inquest and welcomed the news.

It called on any Kenyans who have information regarding the missionary's death to come forward and testify. The attorney general has made a similar call.

The church said in a statement that it hoped the inquest would "bring out the truth as to whom was responsible."

Police sources here said at least 100 witnesses were expected to give evidence on circumstances surrounding the killing.

Lay Catholics in Kenya were also pleased about the news.

Jane Wambui, 28, said she hoped the mystery surrounding Kaiser's death would finally be cleared up.

"He was dedicated to championing the plight of the disadvantaged when it was dangerous even for the locals to do so," she said.

"Father Kaiser was a true Kenyan," said James Boit, a social worker. "We know whoever was responsible [for his death] will be brought to book."

Last March, the Catholic Church petitioned President Mwai Kibaki's new government to set up a public inquest, having failed to obtain one during the Moi administration.

Church leaders said they were not satisfied with the results of the initial investigations carried out jointly by Kenyan police and FBI agents, which suggested that Kaiser had committed suicide.

The Kenyan Catholic Bishops Conference at the time dismissed the findings, arguing that they were based on sloppy police work and "unprofessional and selective scene of crime evidence."

An autopsy found that a gunshot wound in his head had come from a high-velocity rifle of the type usually used by Kenyan police and game rangers.

Many here suspected the killing was politically motivated, as the missionary had waged a relentless human rights and anti-corruption campaign, at times targeting senior figures in the Moi government.

Some local and international human rights groups termed the killing a political assassination.

Kaiser had provided evidence implicating former cabinet ministers in instigating bloody tribal clashes in 1991 and again in 1997.

Thousands died in the violence, which the government attributed to spontaneous outbursts of ethnic hatred.

The missionary also collected information about individuals allegedly involved in land misappropriation and exposed a case of rape, allegedly involving a government minister.

After Kaiser's death, that minister publicly denied accusations of any involvement in the killing.

The fact that at least 10 suspects arrested in connection with Kaiser's death were never prosecuted added to suspicions of a cover-up.

Catholic and Protestant leaders have said that, one day before Kaiser was killed, he had been planning to launch a campaign to have Moi and some ministers brought before the International Court of Justice in the Hague for their alleged role in the tribal clashes.

In 1999, the government tried to have Kaiser deported, but after the U.S. Embassy intervened, officials quickly renewed his work permit.

U.S. Embassy officials were not available for comment about news of the inquest.

See Earlier Story:
Kenyan Government Accused in Murder of American Priest
(Sept. 15, 2000)

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