How forged assassination letter nearly sparked war between Kenya & US government

"If you touch 1 American, it’s war...you will be so sorry"

File image of State House

In the past week, a suspected forged letter detailing an assassination threat on Deputy President William Ruto has dominated national attention, with Cabinet members being summoned to record investigations on the matter.

Preliminary investigations by the DCI indicated the letter was fake, although its authors are yet to be apprehended.

It is not the first time, however, that a fake assassination letter, has dominated national politics.

In 1986, at the height of President Daniel arap Moi’s crackdown on government critics, a letter emerged detailing a plan to assassinate several African leaders including the Kenyan head of state.

Ku Klux Klan

The letter was more of a memo, from the notorious American white supremacist group, Ku Klux Klan, to its sympathizers in Africa – particularly in South Africa where racist whites were presiding over the oppressive Apartheid regime.

The memo was signed off by a Kenneth A. Caswell of Foscoe Christian Church in the Klan-dominated state of North Carolina.

The target included the leaders of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Kenya where the paranoid President Moi was in power.

It indicated plans to raise USD 80 million (Sh8 billion) for their mission with the operatives being advised to start with Kenya because “our interests are mostly at stake, our our folks there need money”.

American missionaries arrested in Kenya

To add icing to the cake, the memo contained identities of seven people who were supposed to the alleged ground operatives of the Ku Klux Klan – the author went as far as revealing that the seven were hiding their identities by working as missionaries in Kenya.

The letter was leaked to the Kenyan press, appearing as a headline of all the major newspapers.

President Moi and his Vice President, Mwai Kibaki, led government officials in condemning the “white supremacists” – with blame being laid on critics of the authoritarian Nyayo regime.

University of Nairobi students had just staged one of their many strikes against the government, which Moi quickly blamed on white supremacists from South Africa (even though students at the time occasionally led demonstrations to condemn Kenya’s coziness with the Apartheid regime!).

 “Kenyans must expose fellow countrymen tempted to collaborate with evil foreigners in their machinations to destabilize the country,” Kibaki said.

The missionaries named in the assassination plot were quickly arrested before being released after the US government issued a statement, terming the letter an absurd forgery.

David Kimweli

The Washington Post was to later report that the letter had been the product of a Kenyan preacher, David MS Kimweli. The newspaper followed Kimweli’s activities in the US and realized that he had been fundraising money from American churches to help him spread the gospel in churches. Seven preachers, offered to travel to Kenya to help the Kenyan ministries.

Kimweli, unfortunately, had been using the money for his personal luxuries. The missionaries were not amused and one of them is reported to have reported back to Caswell about their Kenyan brethren’s treachery.

They say a cornered animal is dangerous, so Kimweli took advantage of the Moi government’s paranoia to implicate his erstwhile guests in a murder plot.

The government quietly let the matter rest – but little did they know that the matter would escalate.

A year after the matter appeared to have died down, two American activists, — Dr Robert Kirschner and retired Judge Marvin Frankel, came to Kenya to hear an inquest into the death of a suspected government critic and former rally driver, Peter Njenga Karanja, who had died in police custody.

If you touch an American citizen

Someone in government thought it wise to use the forged letter to keep off the scrutiny by the American activists - police secretly arrested the two Americans as they attended a court session in Nairobi. The American government was furious.

In a press interview 9 years later, Elinor Constable, (who served as US Ambassador to Kenya during the crisis), detailed how she threatened Kenya with war – prompting President Moi to order the Americas’ release within a few hours.

I don’t give a damn what you guys publish in your stupid newspapers. But if you touch one American citizen, it’s war. I will pull out the stops here. You will be so sorry,” Constable said of her furious conversation with then Minister of Foreign Affairs Zachary Onyonka (the father of Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka).

Later in the day, Moi described Americans as wonderful people and encouraged them to stay in Kenya.

The threat of war had been thwarted, with the only winner in the fiasco being Kimweli who was allowed to enjoy his loot in peace.

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