Why Kenya is a 'safe haven' for exiled rebels

Kenya is not only a hub for tourists, investors but also foreign insurgents.

Nnamdi Kanu during his trial in Abuja, on February 9, 2015/ AFP

On June 27, 2021 the leader of a secessionist movement calling for the secession of a small area in South-Eastern Nigeria was arrested and deported from Nairobi.

Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian national was arrested by Nigerian authorities in Nairobi and flown to Abuja, Nigeria's capital city in an act of extraordinary rendition, his family and lawyer have claimed.

Kanu has been on the run since 2017 when he left his homeland after soldiers of the Nigerian Army stormed into his home in Abia, a state in South-Eastern Nigeria.

Kanu's outlawed movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which agitates for a separate state for ethnic Igbos has been labeled a terrorist organization by the Nigerian government.


Igbos, one of the largest communities in Nigeria with over 40 million people have complained of marginalisation and resentment since the 1967 Nigerian civil war.

The civil war was fought between the government and Republic of Biafra, a state which had declared its independence from Nigeria in 1967.

The conflict was a result of Igbos feeling they could no longer coexist with the federal government dominated by the interests of the Hausa and Fulani communities of Northern Nigeria.

Kanu's brother, Kingsley revealed on July 1 that his sibling had spoken to him in June indicating that he was in Kenya.

“I spoke to him on the phone, he was well, in Nairobi. His associates said he went out, he didn’t take his documents with him so he wasn’t planning on going anywhere. Then all of a sudden we see him paraded in handcuffs in Abuja,” Kingsley said.

However, the Kenya High Commissioner to Nigeria, Wilfred Machage denied allegations that Kenya had a hand in the arrest and deportation of the fugitive.

Kenya was not involved in the alleged arrest in Kenya and extradition to Nigeria of Mr Kanu. These allegations are fictional, imaginary, and deliberately concocted to fuel antagonistic feelings among a certain section of the Nigerian people", said the envoy.

This is not the first time Kenya has been involved in an extradition case. Over the years, as wars and political conflicts raged across the globe, exiled rebels have found a home away from home in Nairobi. They include:

Abdullah Ocalan

Ocalan is a Kurdish political prisoner and founding member of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party.

On February 2, 1999, the Turk arrived in Kenya as a guest of the Greek Embassy. Ocalan at the time was a fugitive from Turkey wanted for his role in the Kurdish rebellion in the '80s.

The Turkish intelligence officers had followed him to Syria, and across the world until he landed in Athens, where he was later flown to Nairobi.

On 15th February 1999, the vehicle that was carrying Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from the Greek Embassy to JKIA sped off, leaving the rest of the fleet behind.

A high speed chase followed on Uhuru Highway but the chase cars lost the lead car. By the time they figured out what had happened, Ocalan was shackled and blindfolded, and on his way to Turkey.

Monica Haas

Haas, a German national was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), an organization founded in 1964 with the sole purpose of the "liberation of Palestine."

The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 and the expulsion of PLO from its Tunis headquarters had forced PLO sympathisers to South Yemen where terror group cells from East Germany, West Germany and the Soviet Union arrived in droves.

On January 25, 1976 Haas was sent to Nairobi by Wadia Hadaad, the leader of Palestinian rebel group The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an offshoot of PLO.

Hass was in the company of three Palestinians and a German couple. Their mission was to use missile launchers smuggled in through Uganda to bring down an Israeli plane landing at Embakasi Airport.

Immediately they disembarked the plane, all five were arrested by Kenyan intelligence and interrogated by Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence unit.

They were secretly held at a Kenyan army base. Then they were drugged, shackled and smuggled to Israel to stand trial.

Seth Sendashonga

Sendashonga was the Minister of Interior in the government of national unity in Rwanda, following the military victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front after the 1994 genocide.

A moderate Hutu politician, he wrote 600 memoranda to President Paul Kagame in his few months as minister. The memoranda mostly covered the use of excessive military force on Hutu civilians. He resigned in July 1994, and fled to Kenya.

In 1996, Francis Mugambo an attache at the Rwandan Embassy ambushed and shot Sendashonga who later survived.

Two years later, there was another assassination attempt on the former Minister. This time round it was successful. On 16th May 1998, two men opened fire on the car Sendanshonga was in, killing him and his wife’s official UN driver.

Sendashonga’s wife said the slain exile had been scheduled to testify as a defense witness for a genocide suspect.

The death of Sendashonga led to the closure of the Rwandan embassy in Nairobi for several months.


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