The Great Kenyan Helicopter Mystery: Assassinations or Accidents?

22 Oct

KenyanPost.com

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

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