Archive | October, 2012

The Great Kenyan Helicopter Mystery: Assassinations or Accidents?

22 Oct

This summer while In Uganda I normally watch Kenyan television, especially KTN and CITIZEN TV each evening for information about what’s happening in Kenya. As a rule, the evening news in Kenya is far more violent and their national politics far more corrupt than the more civilized nightly reports issued by the Ugandan television news stations. Even though, I was very shocked when I heard that Kenya’s  internal security minister, George Saitoti along with his deputy minister, Orwa Ojode had died when their helicopter crashed less than 10 minutes after take -off as they headed towards  Ojodi’s home in Hornabay. With them in the aircraft were two security guards and the two pilots who were responsible for operating the helicopter. The helicopter was the property of the Kenyan Police Force and crashed in the Ngong Forest, not far from Nairobi on Sunday, June 10th, 2012.  Local witnesses claimed that dense, black smoke billowed out of the cab and that the helicopter had “just fallen out of the sky”.

Not only was George Saitoti the current internal security minister of Kenya, he had been a deputy in former president, Daniel arap Moi’s cabinet for over a decade and had come forward last year to formally announce his intention to run for the office of President of Kenya in the next national elections held in March 2013. No official cause of the crash has yet been determined but right after this supposed –accident, a public commission created to study this incident recommended that no more than three cabinet ministers or senior government officials at a time should be allowed to travel together on the same flight, for what they deemed was “security reasons”. Now that statement struck me as a rather odd considering that the government began referring to this incident as an “accident” the very next day.  I got the impression that this was the commission’s sneaky way of implying  that the MP’s should be far more cautious when flying because they could be in real danger from far more than bad weather conditions or poorly maintained airstrips and airplane motors.

By the next week things got really ugly. The Nairobi dailies began publishing articles in which they used words such as “assassination, murder, and terrorism”. In Parliament the MP’s banded together and unanimously called for the creation of an impartial commission to investigate the cause of the crash as rumors of sabotage and terrorism ram rampant through the corridors of the various administrative offices where civil servants whispered about the question of murder over their morning Chai. One of the more prevalent rumors, that actually turned out to be true, was that George Saitoti had worn a bullet –proof vest to work and out in public every day of his life since February of 1990 when as Vice President of Kenya under Moi, he had been poisoned after ingesting food laced with cyanide gas. Other discussions revolved around the fact that Saitoti in his position as Internal Security Minster had been in charge of managing the present war in Somalia against the El Shaab terrorists.

Early on David Goldman of Intelligence News suggested in his analysis of the crash that it could have been sabotage. Goldman went on to say that in his role as a professional aviation investigator it could not be blamed on bad weather, pilot error, or loss of control. MP W. Kabogo, a helicopter pilot himself, went on record as saying that “the government’s version just does not add up!”

By June 28, 2012 a heated debate broke out on the floor of Parliament over whether or not there had been a government plot to assassinate George Saitoti.  MP Rachel Shebeesh asked this question formally, making it part of the official parliamentary record on that day. She also went on to demand why the first person on the site was Matthew Iteere, Kenya’s Police Commissioner and not the Vice President, of Kenya, Kalanzo  Musyoha. She challenged Iteere to explain why “he walked away once Kalanzo showed up leaving his boss lying dead on the ground.” She demanded to know why he did not secure the crash site immediately so that crucial evidence would not have been disturbed and claimed that the search teams had already lost valuable information because the site had been so corrupted.

MP’s Mwau, Sento, and Kabogo claimed that the helicopter crash had been arranged by East African drug barons intent on killing Saitoti and Ojode because of their campaign against the illegal drug trade in Kenya.

An impartial commission of five members was established by Monday, July 16th 2012. It began its hearings on July 23rd.  It intends to hear all of the evidence out there and will render a decision as to the cause of the crash as soon as possible but has stated that it may need to continue through the month of December. It will even hear from several Kenyan politicians who claim that Saitoti and Ojode were actually assassinated and that they know who had them murdered.

The Saitoti family immediately contacted aviation experts from South Africa who, after examining the helicopter’s barascope, believe that George’s death was indeed “ foul play” and that it was this that led the helicopter to crash in the Ngong Forest.

And this made me recall other crashes where Kenyan politicians had been killed. In June 10th, 2008 to the day- four years earlier, Kipkalya Kones, Minister of Roads and Lorna Laboso, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs had also been killed, along with their pilot and body guard when their small plane had crashed on a house in Narok District, southern Kenya-  killing all three passengers as well as the pilot. While no formal confirmation of the cause of this crash has ever been provided to the public by the government, the police commissioner in the district did confirm that all three people had died as a result of the crash immediately upon impact.

Kones had been appointed to the cabinet as part of a power-sharing agreement between President Kibaki and Vice President Odinga to help restore peace throughout the country after the post-election violence of 2007and Laboso was one of a few women who was serving in Kenya’s National Assembly at that time.

This led me to check the Aviation Safety Network, which lists airplane/ aircraft crashes from around the world and I found that on April 10th, 2006, six MP’s and one bishop were among more than fourteen out of seventeen passengers aboard another plane who had died when their military plane had flown into Mount Marsabit due to poor visibility caused by low hanging cloud-cover. They had traveled to Marsabit in northern Kenya to try and negotiate a peace settlement among local warring tribes in that area.

And I found that again in 2003, a plane carrying four cabinet ministers crashed in Busia, western Kenya, near the Ugandan border killing one minister and the two pilots and leaving several members of parliament seriously injured. According to eye-witnesses the plane could not gain altitude and crashed into a house after snagging its wheels on a power line upon takeoff from the Busia airstrip. There has been no formal ruling on the cause of this crash but the government was quick to point out that it seemed as if the entire incident had been nothing more than an accident.

Kenyan is a country with a long history of political assassinations and sometimes it seems as if the entire country has been anesthetized to the uncontrolled violence and the murder of candidates that runs rampant especially around election time -and elections are fast approaching. Historically, it should be held in January of 2013 but because of the previous riots and murders perpetrated in the 2007 election the Kenyan High Court pushed the date of the election back to March, 2013. The 2013 election will be the first held under the new Kenyan Constitution, and the first since the bloody 2007 national election that displaced more than 600 people and caused more than 1,200 deaths in this East African country.

So what do the frequent deaths of Kenyan politicians in these plane crashes really tell us? Do they die because there is a high incidence of airplane crashes in Kenya making airplane travel hazardous to their health or do they die because their planes and helicopters have been intentionally tampered  with by either assassins or terrorists so they will crash and burn?

It will be interesting to see what the commission finds at the end of these investigatory sessions. Will it make the government face the fact that too many politicians have died over the years in seemingly innocent ways such as plane crashes and car accidents or will it sweep everything under the proverbial rug in order to support the very people responsible for these crimes. I mean, people die all the time in small plane crashes but the odds for politicians are way above average and  have left far-reaching  consequences for the political future of Kenya.

Speaking of car accidents, in July 29, 2006  I was in Kenya working at Nyumbani for AIDS Orphans and was staying every other night at Nairobi Hospital with a young boy who had a cranial hernia .The night of July 30th was very different story though. When I arrived at the hospital there were many large, armed men in the hall ways and one wing of the second floor of the hospital was off limits to all patients and hospital personnel. The sisters ( nurses)  had learned that ex-president Moi had been in a car accident the day before and that someone had tried to murder him. They also knew that he had broken his arm. The nurses also went on to say that he had been intentionally run off the road by a large truck and had he not been riding in a car that had been reinforced with steel he would have died as his car careened off of the road and rolled down a hill several times. Now, that was not the account published by the local African newspapers based on formal statements issued by the Kenyan government. In these articles Moi’s car had been innocently struck by a run-away truck that found that it could not stop. No great damage had ensued and Moi and the drivers were fine. I am sure that the drivers of the truck either killed themselves before they were caught or were tortured and killed by the Kenyan police.

I never forgot that incident and the fact that many men with the political potential to help build Kenya into a great nation have up and disappeared or have shown up dead in very common incidents- even extremely powerful, evil men like Daniel Moi are not immune to facing unfortunate “accidents” on the roads of Kenya.  Whenever I’m in Kenya someone brings up Tom Mboya’s name. Mboya was a young , 38 year old dynamic college-educated politician who had created a remarkble vision for the people of Kenya. He was compared to John F. Kennedy and even visited the American president in the United States in the 1960’s. After Kenya’s independence in 1963, Mboya was elected as a Minister of Parliament then moved up to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, lastly Minister for Economic Planning and Development. But Mboya was a socialist and believed that capitalism only benefited the elite few. Mboya’s popularity with the people  threatened Kenyatta and his cronies especially Moi’s ascendency to the presidency so he had to go. On July 5, 1969 Tom Mboya was shopping at a local pharmacy in Nairobi when he was shot in the chest. He died in the ambulance on the way to Nairobi Hospital. A man named Nioroge was arrested and hanged for his murder but no one, even Noiroge believed that he had acted alone. Tom Mboya’s death has never been formally investigated by the Kenyan government and although the people attending Mboya’s funeral rioted when President Kenyatta showed up, Kenyans in the know have always claimed that the order came directly from Daniel arat Moi and no else.

I hurts to imagine that with all the political turmoil Kenya has been made to endure and how little the country has done for the common man what might have happened if Tom Mboya had survived and Moi had been the one to die. As it was, Moi went on to reign for 24 long, cruel years and despite the fact that he is now 88 years old, he continues to pull all of the strings behind Kenyan politics to this very day. Guess who delivered eulogies at both Saitoti and Ojode’s funerals-  none other than Daniel arat Moi. That fact made me shudder as I watched his body language during the funerals of these two slain ministers on Ugandan television. Somehow I did not get the impression that he was there to mourn the dead but came out to send a message and inform the elite few that he was still “the only man who mattered.” His message was clear as he attempted to praise the accomplishments of Saitoti and Ojode and comfort their immediate families -subsequent deals would be made through me and only me or certain individuals would find themselves shot in the head and bleeding out their ears or better yet crushed to pieces in another plane or car accident.

We shall soon find out in March of next year what Moi’s real intentions were all along and maybe we will learn by December why two innocent men had to die to make this all possible.

Kat Nickerson       Kingston, RI          USA


China’s Deal in the DR Congo: Rape or Revitalization?

10 Oct

Congo, Conkouati National Park, 2007
In the Cotovindou logging concession a Congolese worker for the Chinese timber company Sicofor saws down a 22-meter moabi tree that will be loaded the same day on a truck bound for Pointe Noire. From there it will be sent to China. It will probably end up as luxury furniture. Moabi takes about hundred years to reach maturity. In the Congo forest elephants and Moabi could disappear at the same time. Moabi has been included in the red list of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) in 2004.

According to the most current UNEP report, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds almost 24 trillion US dollars in the raw materials: copper, cobalt, and coltran as well as millions of dollars in gold underneath its land but was designated as the world’s poorest country by the International Monetary Fund ( IMF, 2012). “The Congo is the 5th leading producer of tungsten and 6th of tin, holds 5% of the world’s copper and 50% of cobalt. Moreover the Congo possesses an estimated 80% of all known coltan which, refined as tantalum, is a vital component in the phone and computer industry.” ( WPI, 2012) This country is also one of the largest and poorest countries in the world with a history of war, murder, and violence unsurpassed on the continent. One would think that this excess of valuable resources would be used to improve the lives of its 71 million people but that has not been the case beginning with Leopold, King of Belgium who managed to kill over ten million residents of his Congo State in thirteen years.

According to Nathan Myer of the World Policy Institute (, July 20, 2012 “the DR Congo ranks last on the UN’s human development index and Transparency International’s 2011 corruption perception index ranks Congo at 168, tied with Libya. Average life expectancy is less than 48 years. One in five children will die before five years of age. 60% of the country lives on less than $1.25 per day. More than 400,000 women a year are victims of rape. And most recently members of the pygmy tribes have been cooked and eaten by assorted militia groups as a way to assure success in battle.”

Many years ago when I first came to Kenya in June of 2005, I was formally introduced to an English doctor who had lived most of his life in East Africa helping the people in the slums by working in one of the many free clinics located within the slums of Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa. After we had gotten our initial greeting out of the way and were standing together on one of the many narrow pathways in Kibera, I went on to ask him what his take was on the most crucial problems facing East Africa in the next twenty years. He resolutely told me two things: One, that the people in these slums of East Africa were suppose to die of AIDS or we, the people of the west, would have already created a vaccine to cure them by now and Two: that China would eventually take over the continent of Africa and steal its raw materials from under the African people.

I must admit that I walked away from him thinking he was a bit daft in the head. I could understand the rationale behind his first statement but his second prediction was absurd. Well, I must say that seven years later and many more experiences in the countries of Uganda and Kenya have led me to believe that he was absolutely correct in his analysis of the two situations especially China’s secret occupation of Africa. His words have resonated in my head more than anyone else’s thoughts about the situation in Central and East Africa and if I ever meet him again, I owe him a sincere apology.

He knew way back then what I know now; that China’s ubiquitous presence can be found in every country in East and Central Africa especially in those countries like the DR Congo that have faced war or famine but still have a wealth of raw materials and natural resources in the land. But you won’t find these Chinese emissaries from China in the cities and villages unless you look long and very carefully. They do not live with the East African people but keep themselves locked away in hidden facilities surrounded by ten to twenty feet walls and security guards who patrol as if these were military facilities -which they very well may be. When the Chinese executives do go out in public they travel together in cars equipped with smoked windows accompanied by other cars containing armed security guards in front and back. They do not mingle with the African businessmen socially and do not frequent the African restaurants or shops around their settlements. They stay behind their high walls and live as if they still resided in China. I remember observing one of these settlements last year off of the national highway on the way from Kampala to Ginja, Uganda. It was a large settlement surrounded by twenty foot walls and topped by a sign written in Chinese letters. It might have been the friendliest place in the world but looked totally secretive and foreboding to me. These type of settlements do nothing to endear the Chinese who hide inside these walls to the Ugandan people.

And this makes it most difficult for the few Chinese shop keepers who live openly around East and Central Africa and try to earn a living each day in the local markets or who have established their own Chinese restaurants. It upsets Kenyan and Ugandan friends of mine who think it very rude of them to stay in another person’s country and not get to know him or her and they’re right. I only met Chinese business representatives of the Chinese government once and that was at an American Rotarian Party held on the Fourth of July, 2007 and they did not mingle with the rest of the guests, American, English, or African but stood off in a group by themselves over in one of the back corners of the banquet hall.

One of my Kenyan cab drivers confided in me one day while driving me to Nairobi that he did not like or trust the Chinese and that on the weekend he and his buddies would get drunk and  drive around to see if they could find some Chinese out on the streets of Nairobi.

“Why” I asked.

“Because we’d beat them up good if we found them.”

“But why would you do that?” I persisted trying to understand his motivation for harming them.

“Because they just keep bowing and smiling at us but they won’t talk to us,” he responded.  “They look down on us and then think that they are better than we are. They want to make our country theirs.”

“Unfortunately,he blamed the poor Chinese shop keepers who are not responsible for any of this. They do mingle with the Kenyans and are not connected in any way to the corporations managed by the Chinese executives who represent the Chinese government. I have been told by many  friends in Kenya and Uganda about how the Chinese provide money and support for any projects that improve the infrastructure in East African countries like roads and wells but will not give money to help out the local people. They may build the hospitals but they will not staff them nor will they stock these medical facilities with the proper medicines or supplies.

So it will come as no surprise when I recount some of their other exploitations especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In 2008 China talked President Joseph Kabila president of the country and son of the man who took over the DR Congo from its previous dictator, to agree to exchange 9 billion US dollars worth of much needed infrastructure to connect the country by road and train for millions of tons of copper and cobalt ore through the establishment of a co-owned mining corporation between the DR Congo and China. Kabila was either desperate, greedy, or naïve enough to convince his government to sign this agreement even though the northeast region of his country in which these ores are found, is far from stable.

But it didn’t take long before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found the entire agreement objectionable and forced China to renegotiate the deal in May of 2009. China’s initial $9 billion investment was later amended by the IMF to $6 billion with half to the creation of the mine and half to infrastructure projects. The IMF was suspicious of China’s motives from the beginning and thought of the agreement as pure theft of the Congolese people’s raw materials under the guise of assistance.

The deal involved China’s  Eximbank, owned by the government of China. It would provide the 3 million dollars US necessary to establish the mine in Katanga province, DR Congo. Then it would invest another 6 billion US dollars in projects that would improve infrastructure of the DR Congo, the most important of which would be the creation of highways connecting the country from end to end and the repair and maintenance of existing roadways. The money lent to the DR Congo would be repaid to Eximbank from the profit earned by the SICO Mines co-owned by the China and the DR Congo as it extracted 10 million tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt from its Katanga mine.

The DR Congo initially protested the IMF’s decision but is already in debt to the IMF for millions of dollars so in the end it consented to the change in the total amount from 9 to 6 million dollars US.

And China is no stranger to these type of negotiations. Their deal with the DRC is just more of the same. In 2004 China approved a $2 billion public investment package for Angola and in 2006 struck a $3 billion deal with Gabon that would be invested in infrastructure projects such as dams, railroads, and ports in return for their iron ore reserves. In 2009 it made similar deals with Guinea and Zimbabwe for $7 and $8 billion respectively by trading their mineral wealth for Chinese investment in their infrastructures. Sound familiar?

But in the end China’s deal with the DR Congo may totally backfire and they may get pushed out by some very nasty warlords before their new mine shows any real profits. North and South Kivu Districts located in the northeast region of the country are the areas in which the largest mineral and gold deposits have been found. And these regions are still violent, lawless places where might makes right and the man with the gun makes all the rules.  The causes of the First and Second Wars in the Congo have yet to be resolved and Uganda as well as Rwanda may just put a monkey-wrench in China’s investment plans. According to the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF, 2012) over 50% of the mines in these districts are controlled by armed forces, many of them members of the Congolese national army and people’s militias which employ extortion, forced labor, and murder to ensure removal and transport of the minerals. Does China really think that it is going to be allowed to establish its own operation there when such enormous sums of money are at stake??

A CNN expose on eastern Congo’s claimed that armed groups such as these enslave the residents of this area and generate some 180 million dollars through the illicit sale of tin, coltan, tungsten, and gold which are easily transported across the Ugandan and Rwandan borders then purchased by international dealers. The country of Uganda is currently credited with the highest sales of gold in all of Central Africa yet has no gold mines of its own? Surprising? This shows the rate of illegal trade connected to these mines. With this much money to be made no existing operations, illegal or not, are going to sit idly by and watch China move in to claim these minerals for themselves. The Chinese will have to fight long and hard to establish themselves in the Kivus and fight even harder to hold on to their mined ore as they try to ship it back to China.

Congo’s eastern frontier is still an ongoing battleground that has claimed over 500,000 lives per year and caused over 1.5 million people to uproot and move to refugees camps in Uganda and Rwanda in order to escape the slaughter. With the M3 rebellion in full swing and the tensions between Rwanda and the Congo over the existence of the Hutu extremists in the Congo rising, a Third Congo War could break out at any time. And what would happen to China’s good intentions and civic  projects then?  China needs to rethink its investment policies and its previous methods of absconding with the mineral wealth of certain African countries. Until then, it will continue to appear the bully bent on taking advantage of vulnerable third world countries in need of a friend.

Kat Nickerson                    Kingston, RI     USA