By Mobhare Matinyi
The man who lived in great fear for about two decades, Kenya’s Internal Security minister Professor George Saitoti, 66, lost his life last Sunday following a helicopter crash. His deputy, Joshua Orwa Ojode, 53, two bodyguards and two pilots were also killed.
Upon hearing the news of Saitoti’s death my thoughts went to the article I had published in this column just two days earlier in which I revisited Nigeria’s aviation accidents and cautioned about Africa’s aviation safety, specifically mentioning the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya.
Truly, Kenya’s record of aviation safety is worrisome, and, in fact, even President Mwai Kibaki escaped a military chopper crash in 2009 while his then Vice President, Kijana Wamalwa, went through two mishaps in 2004 and 2005 before his natural death in London in 2008.
The deaths of Saitoti and Ojode, who were travelling to western Kenya to attend a fund raising function, happened on the anniversary of another plane crash that killed Roads minister Kipkalya Kones and Home Affairs deputy minister Lorna Laboso in 2008.
Now, Kenyans are asking: Who killed Saitoti? Did the plane crash kill Saitoti or could it be more than a crash? Coincidentally, the history of Ngong Forest makes this tragedy look man-made as the forest has witnessed the deaths of another two politicians in the 1970s.
Back in 1975, the body of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a Kenyan socialist politician and a fierce critic of President Jomo Kenyatta, was found dumped at Ngong Forest. Again in 1978, the former British intelligence operative, who happened to be Minister for Agriculture and Kenyatta’s adviser, Bruce McKenzie, died in a plane crash in the same forest.
While the assassination of Kariuki remained a mystery to an extent, McKenzie’s was assassinated by a time bomb placed in a gift of a lion head carving which he took into his plane. These were neither the first assassinations nor the last. In the case of Saitoti’s death, Kenyans may advance at least three hypotheses in attempt to explain what happened. Firstly, Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda franchise messing up Somalia and northern Kenya may have a hand but the likes of Al Shaabab don’t keep quiet after accomplishing a mission as they would like to impress their constituents and financiers.
So far Al Shabaab has only expressed joy and that, with other reasons, may render this hypothesis useless. Saitoti was the leading figure in Kenya’s unsuccessful attempt to wipe them out. The second hypothesis focuses on the impact of Saitoti’s efforts to clean up the police force of its long-nurtured tradition of corruption, injustice, cruelty, unprofessionalism and irresponsibility, which has seen Kenya becoming the hub of crime in Africa including narcotics dealings. Saitoti, himself one of the principal suspects in the infamous Goldenberg scandal, may have ruffled some feathers along the way.
The third hypothesis goes to his determination to become the next president of Kenya in 2013. Apparently, Ojode was rumoured to be getting ready to stand as his running mate. They both died on Sunday. Although Saitoti was unfit in Kenya’s tribal politics because of his mixed parentage of Kikuyu and Maasai, in addition to that, too academic, aristocratic, and aloof, could this be a reason for his untimely death at such a tender age for Africa politicians?
Saitoti himself was never at peace in Kenya after going through a poisoning incident in the early 1990s in a Nairobi restaurant.The professor had to grow another skin after that attack, and thereafter he became quite paranoid with his security. He always lived in great fear.
While a normal aviation accident is a real possibility considering how unsafe Kenyan skies are, Saitoti’s death reminds us of other “political” deaths outside of Ngong Forest, starting with Tom Mboya in 1969, then a Minister for Economic Planning and Development and a perceived threat to Kenyatta’s presidency. An assassin’s bullet ended his life.
How about the death of a reputable Foreign minister Robert Ouko in 1990? The man was thought to be the choice of the Kenya’s western patrons to replace Daniel Arap Moi “prematurely” but his body was found completely burnt in another forest. Luckily, some politicians like the current Prime Minister Raila Odinga somehow survived the same kinds of deaths but wasted a lot of time in prison. That’s Kenya.
Another problem with Kenya is that the truth may never be found, and even if the truth is found, as was the case in the death of the brief Sudanese Vice President, General John Garang, nobody will believe whatever “truth” is told. Garang died in 2005 in a helicopter crash while on his way to South Sudan from Uganda, and as we speak some people doubt if it was a real accident.
Whatever the answer may be, one thing remains crucial: Kenya’s skies and political stages need to be safer!
Mr Matinyi is a consultant based in Washington, DC
Editors note: Opinions express herein are solely the writer’s opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Jambonewspot.com