Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Author page: Mister Seed

The mystery of the man from Kenya who fell from the sky

In 2019, the body of a man fell from a passenger plane into a garden in south London. Who was he?

It was Sunday 30 June 2019, a balmy summer’s afternoon, and Wil, a 31-year-old software engineer, was lounging on an inflatable airbed outside his house in Clapham, south-west London. He wore pyjamas and drank Polish beer. As he chatted to his housemate in the sunshine, planes on their way to Heathrow airport made their final approach overhead. On his phone, Wil showed his housemate an app that tells users the route and model of any passing plane. He tested the app on one plane, and then held his phone up again, shielding his eyes from the sun and squinting into the sky.

Then he saw something falling. “At first I thought it was a bag,” he said. “But after a few seconds it turned into quite a large object, and it was falling fast.” Maybe a piece of machinery had fallen from the landing gear, he thought, or a suitcase from the cargo hold. But then he half-remembered an article he had read years before, about people stowing away on planes. He didn’t want to believe it, but as the object got nearer and nearer, it became impossible to deny. “In the last second or two of it falling, I saw limbs,” said Wil. “I was convinced that it was a human body.”

Wil took a screenshot of the flight app notification, and his housemate called the police to give them the details: Kenya Airways flight KQ 100, a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner that had left Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International airport eight hours and six minutes earlier, at 9.35am local time. Wil went out on his motorbike, hoping he would “see a bag lying on the road, praying it was just a bag or a coat or something,” he said. At one point, he found a rucksack lying in the road, and felt a surge of relief. On closer inspection, it was covered in dust. It couldn’t have fallen from the plane.

 

“As I went around the next road,” recalled Wil, “a police car came screaming past in the opposite direction and very nearly clipped my handlebars. I thought: ‘Oh, my God. It was a human. That’s definitely what this is.’” Wil followed the police car, which led him to Offerton Road, 300 metres away from his home. A whey-faced young man – he looked to be in his 20s or early 30s – stood outside a handsome townhouse, trembling and silent. His name was John Baldock, also a software engineer, and originally from Devon. “He had a million-mile stare,” said Wil.

Wil looked through the window, into the garden. The patio was “totally destroyed”. He looked at John. “The first thing I said to him was: ‘That was a human, wasn’t it?’ Because I still wasn’t 100%. And he didn’t say anything, but he just looked at me and nodded. And then it hammered down on me, like a weight of bricks.”

He plummeted 3,500ft, half-frozen

Wil was right. It was a body. It – he – had plummeted 3,500ft, half-frozen, hitting the ground at 3.38pm. He was the man who fell from the sky. The stowaway.

The Kenya Airways stowaway case would normally have been one for the Metropolitan police’s missing person’s unit, but on the day the call came in, the team was swamped. So DS Paul Graves of the specialist crime unit volunteered. “I thought it was an interesting job,” Graves told me when we met last year in his narrow, strip-lit office at Brixton police station.

In his three-decade career as a police officer, Graves had worked on stabbings, shootings, kidnappings and attempted murders. These were exacting cases, and he was well used to media scrutiny, family and friends demanding answers, and witnesses who were reluctant to cooperate. As an experienced senior detective, Graves hoped to identify the fallen man and repatriate his body, but he wasn’t exactly optimistic. “You’d struggle to find anyone who’s optimistic in the police,” he chuckled.

When the call came in at 3.39pm, officers sped to Offerton Road, where they spoke to Wil, John and the neighbours. Police contacted Heathrow, which dispatched staff to examine the Kenya Airways plane’s wheel wells, the unpressurised area into which the plane’s landing gear retracts after takeoff. In the wheel wells, there is just about enough space for a person to crouch and evade detection. Inside, staff found a grubby khaki rucksack with the initials MCA written on it.

The rucksack didn’t contain any significant clues: just some bread, a bottle of Fanta, a bottle of water and a pair of trainers. “It was literally about survival: food and water and a pair of shoes,” said Graves. But there was also a small amount of Kenyan currency, and the bottle of Fanta was found to have been sold by a Kenyan shop, indicating that the stowaway had almost certainly boarded the plane there. The flight had originally come from Johannesburg to Nairobi, Graves said, so it was helpful to rule out the possibility that the stowaway had smuggled himself on to the plane in South Africa.

At Lambeth mortuary, pathologists took samples

At Lambeth mortuary, pathologists took samples of the man’s DNA and copies of his fingerprints, and sent them to the authorities in Kenya. The DNA results came back quickly: no match. Graves was hopeful that he would have better luck with the fingerprints, as many jobs in Kenya require that candidates are fingerprinted. But the stowaway’s fingerprints weren’t on the Kenyan police database, either.

As Graves continued his work, reporters descended on Offerton Road, interviewing neighbours for a deluge of articles that were careful to mention the value of the house that John was renting (£2.3m) and his alma mater (Oxford University). It’s not hard to see why the story drew headlines. Stories of migrants risking their lives to reach Europe were familiar news fixtures. A month earlier, a record number of boats were intercepted in the Channel on a single day, as more than 70 people were picked up by border forces. The previous year, the UN refugee agency estimated that six people died each day attempting to cross the Mediterranean. But these stories had become so familiar that they were often met with apathy. The story of the Kenyan stowaway seemed novel. Here was an anonymous man, travelling from a country where around a third of the population lives on less than $2 a day, who had fallen thousands of feet from the underbelly of a plane into one of the wealthiest postcodes in London. “It’s in your face,” said Graves. “The meeting of worlds, at about 200mph.”

Stowing away in the wheel well of a passenger jet is, objectively speaking, a suicidally dangerous thing to do. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, from 1947 to February 2020, 128 people around the world attempted to stow away in this manner. More than 75% of them died. This is not surprising. At every stage, imminent death is all but assured. The stowaway may fall out of the plane as it is taking off, as happened to 14-year-old Keith Sapsford in February 1970, who fell from the wheel well of a Douglas DC-8 travelling from Sydney to Tokyo shortly after takeoff. (Astonishingly, a photographer captured the moment the schoolboy fell from the plane.) If the stowaway survives takeoff, they can be crushed by the landing gear as it retracts into the wheel well. This is how, in July 2011, 23-year-old Cuban stowaway Adonis Guerrero Barrios died above Havana after climbing on to an Airbus A340 bound for Madrid.

If the stowaway avoids being crushed

If the stowaway avoids being crushed, they will probably die shortly after. Within about 25 minutes of takeoff, most passenger planes reach a cruising altitude of 35,000ft feet. The temperature outside the plane is approximately -54C, although the hydraulic lines used to extend and retract the landing gear emit heat, raising the temperature by as much as 20C. Still, -34C is cold enough to induce fatal hypothermia. The air pressure at cruising altitude is around four times lower than sea level, which means that a person’s lungs cannot draw sufficient oxygen from the air. This will lead to hypoxia, when the blood is not able to supply enough oxygen to the tissues of the body, which can cause heart attacks and brain death. The rapid decrease in air pressure during ascent can also cause decompression sickness – known to divers as the bends – in which gas bubbles form in the body, causing a variety of debilitating conditions, some of them fatal.

If the stowaway somehow survives the journey, they will certainly be unconscious when the plane begins its descent. So when the plane’s landing gear extends on its final approach, usually within five miles of the runway, the stowaway will probably fall from the wheel well to the ground thousands of feet below. This is why the bodies of stowaways are sometimes found in south London, under the Heathrow flight path. Mozambican Carlito Vale, who fell from a British Airways flight in June 2015, was decapitated on impact with the air conditioning unit of an office block in Richmond. Pakistan-born Mohammed Ayaz fell from a British Airways flight in June 2001 and died on impact in a Homebase car park, also in Richmond.

And yet what is truly extraordinary, given the risks involved, is that some stowaways do survive. This is something scientists have trouble explaining, not least because they cannot run experiments simulating what happens to human beings shut into wheel wells at high altitude. “Something happens that we don’t fully understand,” said Paulo Alves of the Aerospace Medical Association. Their best guess about how some stowaways cheat death? They hibernate.

To be frozen, and come back to life

In September 2019, three months after Graves took on the case, he flew to Kenya, hoping to uncover any scrap of information that might help identify the stowaway. He visited slums around the airport. He visited mortuaries, which were full of unclaimed bodies. Officials took him on a tour of Nairobi airport and gave him access to CCTV recordings. They revealed that after the plane landed from South Africa, it was taken to stand 1, where it sat for five hours, before being moved to departure gate 17, where passengers boarded the flight to London. CCTV of the departure gate and runway shows that nobody jumped on the plane as it was taking off and nobody climbed into the undercarriage while it was at gate 17. That means the stowaway almost certainly boarded the plane when it was being held at outer stand 1, where the CCTV coverage was less clear.

How had the stowaway managed to get on the plane? From a physical perspective, this wouldn’t have been hard. Stowaways usually make for the two rear wheel wells, because they are bigger than at the front of the plane. To access the wheel well, you have to shimmy about 6ft up the landing gear – it is covered in struts, making it easy to get a foothold – and crawl into the cavity that the wheels retract into after takeoff.

The hard part would have been gaining access to the aircraft before takeoff. Security at Jomo Kenyatta International was tight. “There was no evidence of any obvious security breaches,” said Graves. “All the staff had to use passes to go through secure gates.”

Graves knew that a groundworker, baggage handler or cleaner would have access to the plane when it was being cleaned, refuelled and loaded for takeoff. “You’re looking for a low-paid, low-educated person with access to the pan,” said David Learmont, consulting editor at the aviation news website FlightGlobal. (The “pan” is a military term for the parking area when an aircraft is on the ground.) “It would be unlikely to be someone like a mechanic, because they’d know that stowing away is not a good way to get a cheap flight, because they wouldn’t get to enjoy the other end.” But Kenyan airport authorities insisted to Graves that all their employees were present and accounted for, and that police interviews had found no evidence that staff had assisted the stowaway in accessing the aircraft.

Since the earliest days of aviation, there have been stowaways

Since the earliest days of aviation, there have been stowaways. People from countries including Cuba, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, the Dominican Republic and China have secretly climbed on to planes in the hope of leaving their old life behind. They abscond for all kinds of reasons: poverty, unhappiness, boredom, despair. Bas Wie, the 12-year-old who stowed away in a Douglas DC-3 from Indonesia to Australia in 1946, was an orphan who worked for food in the kitchens of Kupang airport in West Timor. Abdi, the teenager who flew in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 from California to Hawaii, said he was trying to get back to his mother in Somalia.

Every known wheel well stowaway has been male, although a Cuban woman did ship herself to the US in the pressurised hold of a cargo plane from the Bahamas in 2014. The youngest documented case involved a boy of nine, although the majority of stowaways are adults under 30. Very few stowaway cases involve domestic flights.

When Graves had exhausted all his leads in Kenya, there was only one thing left to do: make his findings available to the media, in the hope of reviving coverage of the story and triggering someone’s memory. “People probably think that the police go out there and search for clues,” he said. “But what we rely on really is the public, and witnesses seeing things and telling us.”

But the idea of more media attention did not go down well with his counterparts in Kenya, Graves said. It is not hard to see why. For the people who run airports, stowaways are embarrassing, dangerous and often expensive. After San Jose’s perimeter was breached, the airport spent $15.4m upgrading 10,000ft of fencing. And for governments, these incidents are bad news, prompting people around the world to wonder why their citizens might be so desperate to leave the country that they would take such extraordinary risks. In July 2013, a 32-year-old Turkish man named Hikmet Komur died after stowing away in the wheel well of a British Airways flight from Istanbul to London. In the days after the incident, Komur’s family were visited by Turkish police and told not to push for more information on how he had accessed the plane. “They told my other uncle not to drag out the situation,” Komur’s niece Fatos, a student from London, told me. “They said to drop it.”

For Kenyan authorities, there may have been an additional concern

For Kenyan authorities, there may have been an additional concern. In 2017, Jomo Kenyatta International airport received a category 1 security classification, permitting direct flights to the US. “There is a general feeling among police that, if the stowaway was shown to be someone who originated from Kenya, the airport security rating would be dropped,” said Kenyan journalist Hillary Orinde, who works for Agence France-Presse. “Every police officer I’ve spoken to has been cagey, for that reason.”

Graves did manage to persuade Kenyan police to circulate information about the case through their police gazette, hoping to encourage regional officers to make inquiries. On his return to the UK in October, he disseminated an e-fit of the stowaway’s face – which had been reconstructed by pathologists in the days after the incident – alongside a photograph of his meagre possessions. The accompanying press release made reference to the initials written on the stowaway’s rucksack: MCA.

Reporters seized on this new information, and on 12 November, Sky news published the results of an investigation in which they claimed to have identified the stowaway as Paul Manyasi, who had been 29 and worked as a cleaner at the airport. Manyasi’s girlfriend, who was given the pseudonym “Irene”, told Sky that the initials on the rucksack stood for “member of county assembly”, claiming this was Manyasi’s nickname. His mother claimed to recognise his underpants.

Willy Lusige, a journalist for the Kenyan TV network KTN News, was stunned. Like many Kenyan journalists, he had followed the story closely and attempted to identify the stowaway himself, but got nowhere with the airport authorities or police. He had trouble believing the case had truly been solved. Orinde also had misgivings. “His mother said she hadn’t spoken to him for a number of years,” Orinde said, “but she was able to identify his underpants?”

When Lusige found the family of the man Sky had identified

Both men began to dig into the Sky investigation. When Lusige found the family of the man Sky had identified as Paul Manyasi, he knew that something was wrong. “I expected because they had been told their family member was dead that there would be a sombre mood,” he says, “but when I went there it was just a normal day.” The father told Lusige that some white people came to visit the family and gave them $200. “Money had changed hands, and an illiterate father was convinced to go on record and say that his son was the stowaway,” said Lusige.

The Sky investigation quickly disintegrated. There was no record of a Paul Manyasi ever having worked at Jomo Kenyatta airport. Nor did the parents who Sky had spoken to have a son named Paul Manyasi. Their son was called Cedric Shivonje Isaac. (It is unclear where the name Paul Manyasi came from.) Finally, there was the inconvenient, but not inconsiderable, fact that Isaac was not dead, but alive, locked up in prison in Nairobi. “When foreign journalists come and do a story in Kenya,” Orinde said, “people open up, because they think that people around them will not see the story. They don’t imagine anyone at home is going to check to see if what was reported was true.” On 22 November, Sky retracted the article, and published an apology.

Orinde remains perplexed by the case. “Kenya doesn’t have such a culture of people desperately trying to get to the west by any means possible,” he said. Kenya is relatively wealthy compared to many other countries in the region, with the sixth-largest economy in Africa. A more pressing concern, says Orinde, are the migrant workers who go to the Gulf states, and end up being abused by their employers.

By the end of 2019, Kenyan officials had wrapped up their investigation, and no breach had been found at Jomo Kenyatta International. It retained its category 1 security status. Then, more than a year later, something strange happened. On 4 February 2021, a Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 freighter landed at Maastricht. Above the main landing gear was a 16-year-old Kenyan boy. The plane had originated from Jomo Kenyatta airport on 3 February, making stops in Istanbul and London, before landing in the Netherlands. Miraculously, the boy was alive, and apparently unharmed. He was discharged from hospital after one day.

Jomo Kenyatta airport authorities have not acknowledged the incident

In a statement, the teenager told Dutch investigators that he walked on to the plane and fell asleep, and explained that his motive for leaving Kenya was to seek a better life. He is now seeking asylum in the Netherlands. Jomo Kenyatta airport authorities have not acknowledged the incident, or explained how a stowaway was able to breach their security protocols once again. Flights from the airport continue to land in the UK.

We still do not know the identity of the man who fell to earth on 30 June 2019. All we know – or think we know – are the last things he would have seen and heard. The grunt and hiss of hydraulics inside the wheel well, as flight KQ 100 waited on the runway in Nairobi. The clattering footsteps on metal stairs as passengers boarded the plane. The thud of suitcases being thrown into the hold. The plane pulling away from the stand, pivoting and taxiing towards the runway. White markings flashing beneath his feet. A pause, and then the drone of Rolls-Royce engines attacking asphalt at 180mph. The plane picking up speed, the noise intensifying into the pneumatic whine of a thousand dentist’s drills. Lift-off. A whip of wind, an icy chill, and up to 10,000ft, 20,000ft, 35,000ft. Colder and colder. Unconsciousness. Oblivion.

He was buried in Lambeth cemetery on 26 February 2020.

He was buried in Lambeth cemetery on 26 February 2020. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and clear, and freezing cold. I hopped from foot to foot to stay warm, my fingers trembling as I fastened the buttons on my coat. Around me, four workers from Lambeth council, in green coveralls and mud-clogged boots, waited to see if any mourners would arrive. Beside them a man waited with a digger, ready to fill in the earth.

The council workers talked among themselves about the stowaway’s death. “Considering he fell quite far,” one remarked, “he was in reasonably good condition.” “A poor person was sunbathing, weren’t they?” said the gravedigger. “Thump!”

“Unknown (Male), Died 30th June 2019, Aged 30.”

By now, I was shaking from the cold. As they prepared to lower the body into the ground, a solitary mourner panted into view. An official from the Kenyan embassy, dressed in a black suit and leather shoes, barely making it in time. He had the harried air of a man with many obligations and better things to be getting on with. We nodded at each other, and then the workmen stepped forward. The mood switched from cheerful banter to sombre efficiency. They lowered the coffin into the ground, and inclined their heads for a few seconds. On the coffin was a metal plaque, reading: “Unknown (Male), Died 30th June 2019, Aged 30.”

The horror of the Kenya Airways stowaway’s death made for newspaper headlines, but many more migrants die, in equally horrific circumstances, every week. They are locked in the back of lorries and asphyxiate, or fall from moving freight trains, or drown in the Channel. They are shot by border patrol guards through chain link fences, or electrocuted in the Channel tunnel, or beaten to death by racist mobs. They are held in detention centres for years, where they are subject to physical and sexual abuse. Sometimes, they burn themselves alive, out of despair. Since 2014, 10,134 people have died on global migration routes, according to the Missing Migrants project. These figures are likely only a tiny fraction of the true picture.

When the body was in the ground, the embassy worker spun on his heels and hurried away. I looked at the grave. A nameless man lay before me in a little plot of south-west London, in an unmarked grave, identifiable only by a simple wooden cross and a numeric code. There are so many people like him. They keep quiet counsel in unvisited graves, and their stories vanish with them. – theguardian.com

Raila Family in Vicious Fight to Grab Billions From Fidel’s Widow

Lwam Bekele, who claims Raila family has not been supporting her, says if it’s proved twins were sired by Fidel, she would include them as beneficiaries.

Mama Ida Odinga, the wife of Raila Odinga, is a reserved woman who avoids publicity, especially the controversial kind. She cuts the image of a caring mother not just for her family but the nation which is the playground of her husband’s politics. But she has thrown herself into the limelight in the succession case of her son Fidel in which, teaming up with her last born daughter, she is taking on Fidel’s widow in a battle for wealth that’s already turning attention to one of Kenya’s most prominent families.

Raila managed to stop the Standard newspaper from running the story in dramatic events that saw the press stopped and top story replaced. But Business Today has managed to see the court documents that offer a peek into how wealth can blur relationships and turn relatives into foes.

Ida goes to the extent of accusing Lwam Bekele of masterminding the death of his son. In statements to detectives captured in court documents, Ida says Lwam was behind the mysterious death of Fidel, their firstborn, in January 2015.

 

These sensational claims have blown the lid off the boiling blood between in-laws in a classic case that could paint the Odinga family in negative light if they lose the suit. Lwam, for her part, says Ida has been making “false and unkind” remarks about her in connection to the sudden death of her husband.

Raila family became uncomfortable when Lwam was granted the letter of administration of the Fidel Castro Odhiambo Odinga’s estate, which is believed to be worth billions. This prompted Ida and her daughter, Winnie, to file an objection to that, arguing that Lwam is a suspect in the death. They claim she vanished soon after Fidel was buried and investigations into the death were launched, then cut off communications.

The death of Fidel remains a mystery as it was a major blow to Raila’s family as he was seen as heir-apparent of his father’s political dynasty as well as business empire. His body was discovered in his Karen house on a Sunday morning after spending Saturday afternoon and evening with friends before being driven home by a taxi.

At around 6.30am, Lwam said she went to check on her husband only to discover his lifeless body. She then called her mother-in-law, Ida. “It remains unclear why she hastily ran away and kept off the family,” Ida and Winnie say in their submission.

Fidel Odinga’s Treasures

Fidel and Lwam lived in Tipuana Park in Karen Nairobi. Family records show Fidel had 10 properties and seven bank accounts. The properties include the Tipuana Park house, two parcels of land in Kisumu and one in Kajiado, shares in two companies – Axum Investments Ltd and Ambesa Investments Ltd.

It has also emerged that Fidel held one account each at Diamond Trust Bank, Stanchart, Stanbic, ABC Bank and three accounts at Gulf Bank. Fidel also owned four cars – two Range Rovers, a Nissan Sunny, and a Mercedes Benz.

To strengthen her case seeking to have the court to wrestle Fidel’s estate from Lwam, Mama Ida reveals that Fidel had twins from a different relationship. Birth documents show the twins were born six months after Fidel’s death but do not indicate the father of the minors.

While the certificates indicate that the minors were born on July 1, 2015, Ida claims the late Fidel supported the minors while he was still alive. Lwam, who claims the Raila family has not been supporting her son’s education, says if it’s proved the two were sired by Fidel, she would include them as beneficiaries. – businesstoday.co.ke

China Invented Paper Money, Now It’s World’s 1st Country With Digital Currency

China, which is regarded as one of the largest economies in the world has announced that it will be launching its own digital form of currency for its citizens.

Reported first by Wall Street Journal, this novel digital currency called ‘digital yuan’ will be controlled entirely by the nation’s central bank. However, it showcases stark differences from Bitcoins and other forms of cryptocurrencies. Unlike Bitcoins, it will lack the anonymity and non-traceable nature. Instead, it’ll offer a transparent perspective of the economy to the nation. According to a report by TOI, China’s digital currency has been in development since 2014, right after bitcoin started to gain popularity in the nation.

Is China the only one with digital currency?
China isn’t the only nation working on a digital currency — central banks across the world have been developing their own form of digital currencies. The US is working with the researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop its own form of a digital dollar, Sweden too has developed and even conducted real-world trials of a digital krona. The Bahamas also has the ‘Sand Dollar’. But China is the first massive economy to have shown a functioning digital currency that’s already rolling in several parts of the nation, which gives it a massive head start.

It works just like a wallet-based payment system

Bitcoins are not as easy to use as a credit card or hard cash. However, China’s digital yuan would work similar to the existing payments app-based system that are common in the nation with apps like AliPay or WeChat Pay. Users will be able to download and store their funds in wallets and use QR codes to transact with people or vendors.

The idea behind the digital yuan is to eliminate the movement of cash — something that’s already reduced drastically in the nation. This, however, doesn’t affect the physical money that’s invested for a long term in banks. The amount will be distributed via commercial banks around the nation. To avail the digital currency, the banks will have to deposit specific amounts with the Public Bank of China.

Early trials were seen in Shenzhen, and several other major cities in China with food delivery and ride-sharing apps. In the initial stages, transactions with smaller amounts are permitted to be used using digital yuan. The minimum amount however is yet to be determined.

How will it help?

With digital currency becoming the norm, it will offer the government better visibility on how the money is flowing in the economy, while also allowing them to track the illegal flow of funds. This could also enable them to try out experiments by focussing monetary policies on specific economic classes and regions. China has a broader aim of internationalising its currency (just like the US Dollar) and as its popularity gets wider, more people could be encouraged to use this as a form of currency for making payments globally.

Should India have a digital currency?

If India were to create a digital currency of its own, it will first need to make sure it’s the most secure form of currency, to prevent it from being stolen in a fraudulent manner. India however could face an even bigger challenge of adoption as even with UPI, many are scared to link their numbers due to scam callers and fraudsters. The implementation of any future digital rupee will need to be robust enough to eliminate such concerns. But if it does manage to get the basics right, it could offer the additional transparency we need to eliminate corruption and the movement of black money that has plagued India’s economy. – indiatimes.com

Kenya-UK ‘complicated relatio- nship’ since days of Jomo, Moi and Kibaki

President Daniel arap Moi (centre), Vice-President Mwai Kibaki (right) and Queen Elizabeth the second of Britain are entertained by traditional dancers at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport on November 14, 1983 before she left the country after a visit.

Some four years ago, Dr Poppy Cullen, now a lecturer in international history at Loughborough University, published a remarkable book about the post-colonial relationships between Kenya and the UK. The book, Kenya and Britain after Independence: Beyond Neo-Colonialism, looks at the archives of former British High Commissioners in Nairobi, the policy makers in London and how they navigated their relationship with Kenya.

For those who are still wondering why the UK decided to put Kenya on the Covid-19 “Red List”, even though our numbers are not anywhere near some rich nations, there is a growing literature and archives that can now help us understand the British “official mind” when dealing with Kenyan matters. Kenya has called the recent move by the UK as “punitive…discriminatory, divisive and exclusive in their character.”

What happened, and why is the once solid relationship now complicated?

A few years ago, I sat down with Dr Chris Murungaru, the former powerful minister for Internal Security and he explained how the British were incensed by Mwai Kibaki’s Cabinet decision to legalise the Mau Mau movement and, to cap it all, build a monument in honour of Dedan Kimathi, the man they had hanged as a “terrorist”.

More so, and hardly 10 days after Kibaki was sworn in, he ordered his Finance minister Daudi Mwiraria and then Central Bank governor Andrew Mullei to cancel a ten-year multibillion-shilling printing tender award that had been given exclusively to British company, De La Rue, to print the Kenyan currency. In a follow-up letter, dated March 13, Mr Mullei confirmed the decision in his letter to Mr Mwiraria: “That De La Rue be informed that a decision has been made to go for open tender for the supply of our notes for the period after December 2004, it being understood that De la Rue will be free to participate in the bidding.”

 

That is how the previous stock that bore the portrait of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was released since there were fears of a shortage of notes. Actually, the initial meetings had agreed that new orders bearing Kibaki’s portraits be printed but that appears to have been shelved.

The British company’s contract had been signed on December 5, 2002 and had been single-sourced. While previous contract periods were five years, the Moi mandarins had given De la Rue a ten-year contract. “There was no reason for the former government to award the contract as early as they did unless there was something fishy,” Mr Mwiraria told the CBK governor.

Cold-shoulder politics

That caused bad blood between Harambee House and State House – and while these years are not covered in Dr Cullen’s book, one should look at the current bad blood between Uhuru Kenyatta’s government and the UK as a continuation of this cold-shoulder politics.

It is now known that the State House entry of Kibaki in 2002 was unanticipated by British top echelons – and they had pegged their hopes on Moi’s candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. With Moi in power for 24 years, the British had cultivated links with various Kanu insiders and heavily relied on them to maintain the status quo.

They, and Kanu too, were confident that there would be no change of policy that would affect their geopolitical and economic interests. But then, and to their surprise, Kibaki won. After that, the British funding dispersed under the Department for International Development (DfID) programme fell from 1.8 per cent in 2001 to 0.7 in 2003 as they paid in kind Kibaki’s coldness towards them. The British, despite his ruthless record, had supported Moi and never failed to recognise his controversial wins after the introduction of multiparty elections.

 

The only person Moi had problems with was High Commissioner Jeffrey James, who he dismissed as a “meddler” in one of the most undiplomatic farewell in State House. But his replacement, Edward Clay, did not fare any better with the Kibaki government. With no insiders in the new Kibaki government, the British watched as their place was taken by the Chinese and as business tenders that previously went to UK companies were opened to competitors. That was what led, generally, to Clay’s “they are vomiting on our shoes” remark.

Actually, Kibaki left the State House without making a State visit to the UK; a sign that despite the diplomatic-speak of cordial relationship with the UK, London’s influence on Kenya had reached rock bottom – or there was no link between Kibaki’s State House and the High Commission. Britain had to struggle to have the military training memorandum renewed. Has the UK lost touch with the Kenyan ground? We can only answer this question by looking at history.

At independence, and this is on record, the British relied on Attorney-General Charles Njonjo and their spy Bruce Mckenzie as their interlocutors. “These two dominant figures… were invaluable channels to the President and meant that I need rarely press to see him personally,” High Commissioner Peck would later say. As Cullen writes, McKenzie – thought to be the head of M16 in East Africa – “was simply an intermediary, who saw this as an excellent way of pursuing his own interests.” That was the same with Mr Njonjo and both invested in the same companies with links to the UK.

 

In British circles, or as High Commissioner Sir Anthony Duff later wrote, Njonjo was a “black Englishman, outwardly an intelligent man of urbane charm.” So connected were these two in London that in 1966 when they were to travel to UK to deliver Kenyatta’s letter, the head of the East Africa Division, a Mr Scott, said, “If the ministers turn up with a mission to deliver a personal letter from President Kenyatta to the Prime Minister we should find it difficult to side-track them to either the Commonwealth Secretary or the Minister for Defence.”

Covid-19 excuse

It seems that there is a tacit message that the UK wants to pass to Kenya by banning entry of its citizens using the Covid-19 excuse. Perhaps our place in Westminister is not as important as we purport in Nairobi and again, I have to look at the records that are available.

We need to, once again, read the 1969 Duncan Report which made distinctions in the way the UK organises its business around the World. The British interests, whatever you hear at the diplomatic podium, are still organised into two spheres as expressed in the much criticised Duncan Report. There is what they call the “Area of Concentration”, which then included North America and Western European countries, and what they called the “outer area.” Within the Outer Area were identified high priority countries such as New Zealand, Japan, Australia, (apartheid) South Africa, and Japan. Has this changed? Certainly, not.

In the Duncan Report, most of the poor and developing countries were put in the remote side of the Outer Area and were dealt with depending on particular British interests. British development economist, Sir Richard Jolly, actually dismissed the attempt to disengage from ‘third world’ as “inconsistent and illogical – supposedly based on hard-headed cost-effectiveness calculations but in fact using a confused logic.”

 

It appears that former colonies, such as Kenya, were only important to the British foreign policy shapers as long as they fitted within its global ambitions with the British officials hoping to “maintain the benefits of the empire after independence while avoiding its costs” as Dr Cullen puts it. For many years, the drivers of British interests in Kenya – for instance Njonjo and McKenzie in the Kenyatta days – benefited from the arrangement and as Cullen argues, “they had substantial power to shape and direct their relations with Britain to their benefit”.

It seems that Britain, in recent years, has been unable to cultivate friends and allies at the heart of the Uhuru Kenyatta government – the way it had done during the Jomo Kenyatta and Moi years – “men who would be prepared to work with the British and to British timetables.”

 

Historians say this was, apparently, done by some elites around Kenyatta “who decided it was in their interest to foster this”. The British had all along supported a Moi take over from Kenyatta and he was in the inner circle that was briefed on Kenyatta’s funeral – which was secretly organised by McKenzie many years before Kenyatta died.

An encouragement

When Moi came to power, Prime Minister James Callaghan sent a personal message to him, which was handed in Cardiff. It said: “Your many friends here have admired the way in which you have led Kenya since the death of Jomo Kenyatta. Your assumption of the highest office is an encouragement to all of us.” They meant it.

With Njonjo as Moi’s main man, the British felt comfortable, until Moi thought that the British were grooming him for the presidency. So central was Njonjo that when the British wanted to raise the matter of novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s continued harassment, the High Commissioner Stanley Fingland recommended that the Lord Chancellor speaks informally to Njonjo rather than Moi. With the death of McKenzie, Mr Njonjo had remained the most significant British ally.

To understand how Kenya has been viewed over time in the UK, there is what is called “habits of thought” and these are the ones which determine how particular decisions are made in Westminster. “Policies were made through a series of decisions based on precedent, ideas of national interest, circumstances and pragmatism,” says Dr Cullen. Actually, she argues that policy towards Kenya has always been “pragmatic and reactive” though there was no single dominant interest.

 

Historians say that Britain keeps Kenya as an ally mainly because of military relationships and its stake in Kenyan security. More so, Kenya is strategically located and was useful during the Cold War. With the Cold War over, even the calibre of officials sent to Nairobi has gone down, according to historians. Previously, and Dr Cullen notes, those who were sent to Kenya as High Commissioners received the KCMG, the Knight Commander (of the Order) of St Michael and St George.

Kenya at independence was strategic and had retained the former Governor as High Commissioner to help reshape perceptions in London. Those days, Jomo could order a replacement of a High Commissioner. For instance, when Geoffrey de Freitas was accused, in a July 1964 letter from MacDonald to Duncan Sandys, as “doing great harm to relations between British government and the Kenya government”.

He was said to be “an unfortunate liability” for failing to endear himself to Kenyans. It is now believed that he was removed at Kenyatta’s request. The war of words between Nairobi and London can only be seen through these lenses. It is not about Covid-19, or failure by Britain to help Kenya access the vaccines. It is a complicated relationship. – nation.co.ke

Nairobi mototrists stranded as police block major roads

Police block major roads in Nairobi to enforce curfew rules

Nairobi residents headed home on Saturday evening were met with a rude shock after the police shut down major routes including Thika Road. Citing 8pm curfew rules, security officers were adamant that residents would not be let through until 4am when the curfew ends. Hundreds of Nairobi residents are stuck on busy highways including Waiyaki Way, Lang’ata and Ngong roads.

Those stranded have taken to social media to share their predicament. “They have said that we shall spend the night on the road till 4am. The cars are not moving on either side and there’s an ambulance with a patient here, who will also have to wait. This is just before Mountain Mall,” YouTuber Diana Marua shared.

 

An illustration of the road closures reported by Nairobi residents in transit as at 10pm on April 17, 2021. The temporary roadblocks have also been mounted at Kayole Junction, Wilson Airport, Lang’ata Road, Mwiki, Kasarani, Junction Mall, Coptic Hospital, Arboretum, Ruai, Utawala, Two Rivers and at Kenyatta University Hospital.

The move has been criticised by a section of Kenyans who feel it may lead to formation of gatherings that may lead to more Covid-19 infections. “Compliance with necessary#COVID19 public health measures is not about TORTURE as happening on Thika Road but about National DIALOGUE and community ENGAGEMENT on protecting lives,” tweeted Dr Githinji Gitahi, CEO Amref Africa.

“Who thinks for this Country? Surely! So they decide to mount a road block in the middle of Thika Road because people couldn’t get home by 8pm?… What nonsense is this?…you want to tell me now Corona won’t be able to pass that roadblock? What the hell is going on?” Posted Xtian Dela. “Thika Road is like a bad movie. Imagine essential workers caught in that traffic; kids and sick people caught in that traffic. Two wrongs don’t make a right,” posted Carol Radull.

 

Others Kenyans, however, supported the move. Abraham Mutai wrote: “I totally support the blocking of Thika Road. Kenyans NEVER respect CURFEW times or even MOH protocols. We only wait for such times to shout our lungs out. If you can’t respect the 8pm CURFEW, sleep on THIKA ROAD. Thank you Kenya Police for following orders. Follow them all the time!” Police finally allowed motorists along Thika Road to go through. The highway was reported to be clear as at 11.45pm. – nation.co.ke