As long as murders go unpunished Africa will never have political reform

A nun weeps at the spot where the body of Fr John Kaiser was found, a year after his death. Hundreds of people gathered for Mass in his honour. CNS photo from Reuters

I have just been asked to review, for another publication, a book about the late Fr John Kaiser, entitled You Will See Fire, by the American journalist Christopher Goffard. As far I can see this is the first book length investigation into the case of the Mill Hill missionary priest, who was murdered in Kenya back in 2000.

At least that is what most people think, that he was murdered, and they have a fairly strong suspicion about the author of the deed. Fr Kaiser was something of a turbulent priest, and has spent years campaigning against the human rights abuses perpetrated by the government of President Moi. He had received death threats. So, when his corpse was found by the side of the Naivasha road, with a gunshot wound to the back of his head, people drew their own conclusions.

However, the FBI, which flew in to help the Kenyan police with their enquiries, came to the conclusion that Fr Kaiser had committed suicide. And indeed there is a history of well-known opponents of the Kenyan government killing themselves, if we are to believe the Kenyan government. One such was Dr Robert Ouko, the then Kenyan Foreign Minister, who allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself, breaking his leg in two places, and setting himself alight, back in 1990.

In fact, the theory that Dr Ouko killed himself has been treated with the same disdain as the FBI’s conclusions about Fr Kaiser, and recent enquiries have concluded that both men were murdered, though in the case of Fr Kaiser, no names have been named. Kenya remains a land of mysteries.

Goffard’s book is an important one, because this case must not be allowed to die. There are far too many people murdered in Africa and elsewhere for political reasons who are then conveniently forgotten. As long as this happens there will never be political reform in Africa, nor will there be any economic progress either.

Books about murky political murders and the resulting cover-ups make good reading, and Goffard’s book reminded me of an excellent book I read some time back, namely, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? by Francisco Goldman.  It is a brilliant book, and it reveals just what a terrible country Guatemala is. The Bishop in question was Juan Josè Gerardi, a well known human rights campaigner. Incidentally, the original verdict of the investigation into the Bishop’s murder claimed that he had been killed by an elderly arthritic Alsatian dog. It took an awful long time for the truth to come out, namely that he was murdered by army officers, assisted by a priest.

Both Goldman and Goffard’s books underline to me the one thing that makes a country a third world country – the unreliability of the police force, and the absence of a rule of law.

Post Script:

Miss Mary Kenny, the distinguished journalist, and currently Master of The Keys, the Catholic writers’ guild, has invited me to talk to the guild. I will be speaking on: “Kenya – Dream or Nightmare? Faith, conflict and problems in an African state.” The evening, including dinner, is open to non-members, but please contact [email protected] if you would like to attend. It takes place on the evening of the 19th January.