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Correspondent Friday, 23 February, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Death of a priest
Father Kaiser spoke out against injustice in Kenya
The BBC's East Africa correspondent Andrew Harding takes a chilling look at a murky world far removed from the safaris and the wildlife clichés of modern Kenya.

By Andrew Harding

map
Six months ago the body of an American missionary was found in Kenya's majestic Rift Valley. A shotgun lay by his side. Suicide or murder? Father John Kaiser had been investigating allegations of murder, rape and corruption at the heart of the Kenyan government.

The man sitting opposite me was a real charmer. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt - carefully ironed. And an oily, ingratiating grin. He might as well have had "compulsive liar" tattooed on his forehead.

The informer


"If this were an Agatha Christie novel, every seat on the Orient Express would be occupied by a murder suspect."

Andrew Harding
He was, he said, "a police informer" with "explosive, sensational information" to divulge. "To the right person, of course. And, I think you understand me, under the right circumstances."

He was after money - obviously. I did my award-winning impersonation of Humphrey Bogart saying "let's hear what you've got to say first."

Kaiser - always a fighter
It had taken several days to set up this friendly chat - the contacts who'd put us in touch with Mr. Slime were extremely nervous - convinced the Kenyan security services were spying on our every move. Which, for all I know, they may well have been.

In the end we met all cloak-and-daggerishly at a Catholic church in the Rift Valley - a couple of miles from the rhinos and flamingos on Lake Nakuru.

Who killed Father Kaiser?

I was hoping my informer would be able to answer a very simple question - one which has baffled and obsessed Kenya for the last six months - namely, who killed Father Kaiser?

John Kaiser was a brave, slightly eccentric, American missionary, who'd spent the last three decades working in the green hills of south western Kenya.

Kaiser wrote letters about death threats he received
He was an ex-paratrooper who liked to hunt buffalo, drink beer, and fight, obsessively, for human rights.

This isn't strictly relevant, but legend has it that he possessed only one pair of underpants. Red ones.

His neighbours still giggle when they remember him washing and hanging them out on the line for ten minutes - before gruffly pronouncing them dry enough to put back on. He was that sort of man.

Suicide or murder?


"Over the years Kaiser had managed to pick a fight with everyone from the President down."

Andrew Harding
Six months ago - to the day - a butcher called George was driving to pick up some meat near the town of Naivasha when he stumbled across John Kaiser's body by the side of the road.

The back of the priest's head had been blown clean off by a shotgun.

Now it may be that John Kaiser killed himself. But twenty eight million Kenyans will tell you that's absurd.

Julius Sunkuli, a politician accused of Kaiser's murder
Almost everyone I've met seems convinced that the priest was murdered by one of his political enemies. The trouble is, which one?

Over the years Kaiser had managed to pick a fight with everyone from the President down. MPs, councillors - take your pick.

He publicly accused them of crimes ranging from ethnic cleansings, to rape, to paedophilia, to kidnapping.

The Orient Express

If this were an Agatha Christie novel - every seat on the Orient Express would now be occupied by a fidgeting murder suspect hiding behind his newspaper. You'd need an index just to keep track of them all and the conspiracy theories.

I've spent days trying to account for unexplained cars, suspicious groups of park rangers, a mysterious blood stain, and even four hundred grams of missing brain tissue - another priest eventually admitted to burying that at the scene.

The site where John Kaiser was buried last year
Gory stuff. Frustrating too. And of course, desperately sad. I never met Kaiser but he was obviously a good man.

Not necessarily the saint some people in the Catholic church want to make him into, but he was a brave, moral man.

And now he's dead, and I'm sitting opposite a creep in a yellow shirt who is lying to me - telling me he knows who killed Kaiser.

I ask my police informer for more details about things I know he's making up. He embellishes eagerly, like a schoolboy trying to impress.

I imagine myself reaching across the table and punching him. But he's a crook, who could probably find out where I live - and I'm not much of a puncher anyway. So I smile and mentally close the carriage door and walk on down the corridor of the Orient Express.


Click here for transcripts

Death of a Priest: 1830 GMT, Saturday 24th February on BBC 2.

Reporter: Andrew Harding

Producer: Eamonn Mathews

Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani

Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Harding:
"This was Father Kaiser's battleground."
Andrew Harding:
"Kaiser first hit the headlines in the 1990s."
John Githongo, Political Commentator:
"People who embarrass the regime have a habbit of getting shot."
Andrew Harding:
"The evidence all suggests that this cannot of been a suicide."
Andrew Harding:
"In the end Kenya killed Father Kaiser."
See also:

24 Aug 00 | Africa
01 Nov 99 | Africa
24 Dec 97 | Kenyan elections
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