A baby mama, a Catholic priest and the making of a murder conspiracy

A baby mama, a Catholic priest and the making of a murder conspiracy

Even as Julius Sunkuli wrestles with his younger brother over Narok senate seat, he has to grapple with a past tainted by claims of murder and rape of minor

Vultures in Kenyan Politics, Julius Sunkuli

Kenyan political Vulture, Julius Sunkuli

Former Minister of State in the Office of the President, Julius Sunkuli, who served during the totalitarian reign of Kanu under President Daniel arap Moi, is no stranger to controversy.

The minister, who also represented Kilgoris Constituency up to 2002, earned international fame owing to his alleged involvement in rape and murder, accusations he has denied vehemently.

During his heyday, Sunkuli, who also served as Kanu’s Secretary General, was accused of abuse of office, apparently after he had improper relations with a school girl. The minister is reported to have preyed on a 14-year-old girl from his constituency after her family approached him for financial assistance to raise her school fees in 2000.

According to reports, contact between the powerful Cabinet minister and the girl was made after Sunkuli told the mother he wanted to see the person he would be assisting. Evidence adduced before court indicated that he visited the girl’s home at night. Here, he convinced the parents to release her into his custody.

Allegedly, he took her to the bush where he repeatedly raped her and thereafter took her to his home, where she was forced to sleep in a children’s bedroom. The girl would conceive following what were reported as regular episodes of rape, although the minister did not take responsibility. The minor gave birth to a baby boy.

When she filed rape charges through outspoken Catholic priest, Fr John Anthony Kaiser, and the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida), Kenya, the minister allegedly dismissed her threat, saying he was untouchable. Fr Kaiser was later found dead.

The Mill Hill priest was born in Perham, Minnesota, USA, on November 29, 1932, and was ordained on July 11, 1964. He was posted to Kisii in 1993, before being transferred to Ngong Diocese where he remained until his death.

The girl had testified that Sunkuli raped her repeatedly in his office when she was 14 and that local administrator John ole Rompe and senior policeman Scaver Mbogho kidnapped her after she reported the matter to police. The kidnap and conspiracy to defeat the cause of justice charges against ole Rompe and Mbogho were also dropped.

Three years later, the minor, then aged 17, applied to drop charges against Sunkuli, who was at the time being treated as the prime suspect in Fr Kaiser’s murder. Immediately after the court ruling, security personnel whisked the minor to an unknown destination while hundreds of Sunkuli’s supporters danced outside the courts.

By championing the plight of the poor, at times faulting then infallible president Moi and calling for his arraignment before the International Criminal Court for abetting ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley, Fr Kaiser invited ire from the powers that be.

Fr Kaiser’s problems, according to an American author, Christopher Goffard’s You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya, intensified after he antagonised Sunkuli and other senior government officials, at times leading to betrayal by his own church.

Goffard wrote that shortly before his death, Fr Kaiser received summons from Giovanni Tonucci, the Papal Nuncio and Pope’s representative in Kenya, which disturbed him greatly. Fr Kaiser did not reveal his summons’ contents to anybody.

The priest is said to have grabbed his duffel bag, and entered his truck carrying his axe, rosary beads, his bible, neck brace and shotgun. He then disappeared down the red-dirt road on the half-day trip to Nairobi.

Prior to Nuncio’s summons, Kaiser had in 2000 received a letter warning him “utaona moto” (you will see fire). His superiors are said to have believed he was championing a lost cause that only served to provoke the Government. The cynicism, however, did not deter him.

Fr Kaiser also stoked fire and dared fate when he testified before the Akiwumi Commission, accusing Moi’s Government of atrocities against the population in 1998.

True to the threats he had received, on August 24, 2000, at 6am, Kaiser’s body was found near two acacia trees on the Naivasha-Nakuru highway.

Following what was viewed by many as murder, the Moi Government invited Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detectives from Washington, led by Thomas Carey, to conduct investigations. The team was summoned by then US ambassador Johnnie Carson, who had promised that the Bureau’s investigations would be independent. After an extensive probe, the FBI concurred with Kenya’s CID that Fr Kaiser had committed suicide.

The FBI concluded that Kaiser probably decided to commit suicide instead of being forced by his superiors to leave Kenya. The initial post-mortem, conducted by Kenya Government, concluded that Kaiser’s death was a suicide. FBI’s post-mortem also concluded that Kaiser killed himself, despite major discrepancies in the evidence.


The priest’s lawyer, Mbuthi Gathenji, maintained his investigation pointed to a potentially explosive cover-up by both the Kenya Government and the FBI. According to Gathenji, Kaiser’s death had all the hallmarks of a State-sanctioned hit, carried out by professional assassins—what he termed “Murder, Inc”—a vast apparatus of spies, security forces, and hitmen with apparent links to State House.

The FBI based its conclusion on the fact Kaiser had a family history of depression. Specifically, Kaiser suffered from bipolar disorder. The depression apparently explained the priest’s capacity to cry during mass.

Father John Kaiser before his death

Fr. John Kaiser

In his book, Goffard saw Kaiser’s bipolar as a condition that informed his courage, his sense of justice, his fearlessness, likening him to some great men suffering similar disorders, the likes of Lincoln and Churchill.

The conspiracy theorists appeared to have been vindicated when a Kenyan Mill Hill priest from Ukwala parish, Kisumu archdiocese, Fr James Juma, was forced by his superior to leave Kenya for South Africa after he took the government of Moi to task over Fr Kaiser’s death.

While testifying before the inquest formed to probe the priest’s death, Sunkuli denied involvement and declared he was as interested as other Kenyans in getting to the bottom of the matter.

Sunkuli told the inquest headed by Principal Magistrate Maureen Odero that the plot to incriminate him with criminal activities was hatched by his political enemies, including the late George Saitoti, William ole Nitimama and John Konchellah, after they learned that Moi was planning to elevate him (Sunkuli) to VP.

After he was cleared of the rape charges and the accusations of killing Kaiser, Sunkuli underwent a complete metamorphosis, from a hard-hitting Secretary General of the dictatorial Kanu party, to a diplomat who represented Kenya in China as ambassador.

Today, the former minister is facing a political rebirth. Sunkuli is ready to morph again from diplomat to senator, representing the people of Narok on a Kenya National Congress party ticket.

Interestingly, his younger brother Andrew Sunkuli has vowed to run against him.