Pheroze Nowrojee - Father John Kaiser stood firm against injustice (Part 1) - The Star

On the Naiyasha-Nakuru road, there stands a cross rising tall on the verge of the road. On it is written "Rev. Fr. John A. Kaiser, Died here on 24.8.2000." The cross commemorates the life and memory of Father John Kaiser.

During this month of a glorious restoration for Kenya, we will also be celebrating the life of one who during the dark times gave his all so that we could win this glorious day for Kenya. Ten years ago, during those dark times, on August 24, 2000, Father John Kaiser was murdered by persons whom the Moi era's (otherwise omniscient) security forces said they could not identify or trace.

Father John Kaiser was born in the US in 1932. After military service in the US Army, he became a missionary priest as a member of the Mill Hill Mission (the St Joseph Missionary Society), and came to Kenya in 1964.

He was a priest who did not shut his eyes to wrong-doing nor lose his voice in the face of injustice. Fr Kaiser had the "remarkable ability to recognise evil for what it was". As early as 1968, he became convinced, by what he saw around him of the conduct of Kenya's rulers, that "if I, as a priest, were to live according to my conscience, I would have to be much more involved in the ordinary

He did not shut his eyes to wrongdoing nor lose his voice in the face of injustice. Kenyan citizens' struggle for injustice." He never deviated from that call of conscience. He unerringly and unceasingly identified that evil for the remaining 32 years of his life. It did not make him hesitate for an instant that the evil came successively from the most powerful in the land, or from shadowy squads around them, or from the provincial maladministration or greedy prominent families and their local beneficiaries.

As the 1992 ethnic attacks pushed whole communities into camps for displaced persons, he was to see despoilment, displacement, dispossession,- killing, the destruction of dignity. He spoke out against each. He tended to his parishioners in these camps, particularly at Maela, where thousands sheltered uncared for.

He entered these areas, illegally and in defiance of the barricades of the Moi government. He did this with other brave persons of caring: Catholic nuns like Sister Nuala Brangan and others from the Consolata Sisters and the Loreto Order, and Fr Francis Mwangi of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, all min¬isters whose names too will never be forgotten.

Fr Kaiser was beaten by the Provincial Administration into a semi-conscious state, handcuffed, thrown on to the floor of a Land Rover and physically moved out of the area. Earlier, he had already been identified by the Moi regime as a threat. He now became a target. He was brought under surveillance. He had become a danger to its ability to stifle dissent and exposure. This did not deter him in any way. He continued to attend to those who needed him and to speak out against those he saw as the perpetrators of the wrongs around him. His courage was inexhaustible, and he continued confronting injustice in its face.

Archbishop (as he then was) John Njue wrote, "Moved by compassion for his parishioners who were evicted, traumatised, hungry, suffering, reduced to dressing in rags and housed in plastic makeshift shelters under the burning sun, this simple parish priest challenged individuals, governments and nations at whose door he laid the blame. Neither did he fail to point a finger at himself or his church for failing to do more."

We call people like Fr Kaiser, 'simple'. This is not the appropriate word. For such persons, by their example, call us to the complex and difficult task of living by what we believe is right.

The ethnic attacks continued in the years that followed — away from the limelight, in remote areas, and for the personal benefit of the powerful. Fr Kaiser's parish was one such remote area.

He saw it all. His refusal to join the conspiracy of silence only increased the danger to him, already perceived as an enemy by the Moi regime lords in his area, like Julius ole Sunkuli, the local MP and powerful Secretary-General of Kanu, later to be mentioned in the Akiwumi Commission Report.

As the 1997 elections approached, the ethnic clashes again surfaced to national news. Fr Kaiser spoke out even more. He named persons in Moi's Government as the instigators of violence in Trans Mara. He spelt out the violations that the State-instigated ethnic attacks constituted.

The writer is a lawyer.

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