Very rich sudanese

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Blood, Money and Prison
In May last year, four Kenyans found themselves in the middle of the most important corruption case in South Sudan’s history. Then they were all sentenced to life in prison.

I

She couldn’t recognize the man seated across her. He was hairy, skinny, and broken. She knew who he was, he was her son, but she couldn’t recognize him.

Two days before, on Saturday 24th October 2015, Esther left Nairobi on an early morning bus. She was headed to Juba through Kampala. On the other side of this trip was a son she hadn’t seen in months, and one who had been held incommunicado for most of the previous five months. The one time Anthony Wazome had appeared, on a hurried call with the news that he would be coming home, was in late June. Then he went offline again.

But here he was, right across from her. Her tall, dashing, light-skinned 33-year-old son reduced to a hairy, skinny, and subdued man. At first, she tried to not cry, to show him the steely image of a mother to a son in distress. But he broke down first. For both of them, the previous five months melted into a few minutes. The flurry of activities, the hundreds of meetings and protests, and the sleepless nights.

In the room with them, chaperoning this teary mother-son reunion, were three handlers. The rules were simple; they couldn’t discuss overly personal matters. The handlers listened keenly to the exchange, and cut it off after 15 minutes. Wazome was led back by his jailers, leaving his mom behind. Both of them unsure of when, if ever, they would meet again.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Esther tells me as we sit around a table on the upper floor of Jumuia Caf at All Saint’s Cathedral. There are four other ladies at the table, all family to Wazome and his colleagues. “When I finally got to see him, first for all of 15 minutes, he was devastated,” she says. “He hadn’t shaved for five months. They had tortured him, psychologically, and he was broken. He had become a small boy again. He asked me, repeatedly when he would come home,” she says, holding back tears. “Then he turned to his jailers and asked ‘you told me you would release me!”

The week before I met his mum in June 2016, Anthony Wazome and three of his Kenyan colleagues at a small company in Juba called Click Technologies were sentenced to life in prison. The hurried judgement was read out in Arabic, with no official translation for the four Kenyans among the 16 people in the dock. All of them were given a blanket life sentence for a fraud and forgery case where the owner of Click, a South Sudanese man called John Agou, had forged the president’s signature to request for payments.

In Nairobi, the 13 months of panic and anguish among the families became sheer terror. The four Kenyans: Wazome, Anthony Kia, Ravi Gaghda and Boniface Chuma, would spend the rest of their lives in a South Sudanese prison. On the judgement sheet, their names were tucked, all misspelt, at the end of a list that started with their boss, John Agou, and his wife, Sarah Anyath Chaat. Agou was at the heart of an incredible story involving fraud, and forgery, all in a plot to rob the highest office in South Sudan.?


The families of the Kenyans jailed in Juba stage a hunger strike outside the Old Treasury Building in Nairobi which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But in his defense, the third person on the list, Mayen Wuol, formerly the highest ranking officer in Salva Kiir’s office, argued it had nothing to do with the money. The real fight, he repeatedly said, was between John Agou and his 42-year-old brother, Arthobei Gadaffi, and stretched back four years. What Mayan was saying, and what most people involved believe, is that Gadaffi was the hidden hand behind the case, and was the source of all the documents and information that led to the hurried conviction. The entire case was related to the earlier one, Mayen added, and was about money, a sibling rivalry and revenge.

“How powerful am I?” Gadaffi asks when I ask him if he set his brother up. “How powerful can I be to detain the Chief Administrator, the Executive Director, and the Director of Communications in the President’s office?”

His picking out the third man is interesting, because the man, Chaat Bol, is John Agou’s father-in-law. Chaat was an aging paper pusher with little gravitas, climbing the ranks slowly to Director of Communications. Two weeks to the verdict, he was arrested and his name added in the middle of the charge sheet as person #10. He was released on a Tuesday and then re-arrested two days later when he went to check on his daughter and son-in-law.

Over a 41-minute conversation over the phone, Gadaffi says he had nothing to do with his brother’s case. He denies almost everything, except the fact that it was Mayen Wuol who first brought up his name. “I have been called many things throughout this case,” he says, “I’ve been called an economic hitman and a relative of Salva Kiir.” But many of the things he denies are a matter of public record.

A Small Fire in J1

Sometime in mid-2012, a small fire caused by a faulty wire in J1, South Sudan’s State House, destroyed a cache of sensitive documents. About a week later, the country’s Council of Ministers passed Resolution No: 33/2012; an elaborate plan to have all government offices inspected for faulty wiring. Execution fell on a man called Deng Alor, then the Minister for Cabinet Affairs. But Deng had other ideas.

Deng turned the resolution to mean that the government also needed fire resistant safes. He knew just the man, with just the company, for the job. Deng and the Finance Minister, Kosti Manibe, single-sourced 62 safes from Daffy Supplies International, owned by one Arthobei Gadaffi, then aged 38. The contract figure was an astonishing USD 7.59 million, meaning each safe would cost USD 128, 377.

But none was ever even delivered.

The money was paid in a single instalment. As soon as it hit the Daffy Supplies’ bank account, it was transferred to a sister company in Kenya called Daffy Investment Group. Two days later, Arthobei Gadaffi walked into Barclays Bank Queensway Branch in Nairobi. He withdrew a million dollars in cash from Account No. 2027165853, and walked out.

Although he was already a prime customer at the bank, this particular withdrawal was alarming. The bank called Kenya’s Central bank and the South Sudanese Embassy, enquiring whether the money was legitimate. The money seemed to have come from the South Sudanese Central Bank, but no one there seemed to know anything about it. So they asked the bank to freeze the account.

The next day, Arthobei Gadaffi strolled into the bank and asked to withdraw the balance in full. The account was frozen at the behest of the South Sudan government, he was told. He would need to go back and sort it out with them first. He went raving mad. He cursed and got violent, nearly breaking windows and getting into a fist fight. Today, over a phone call, Gadaffi denies any of this ever happened despite the fact that it was extensively covered on South Sudanese media.


Arthobei Gadaffi [Image Source]

Defeated, Gadaffi sneaked back into South Sudan a few weeks later. He was eventually arrested, and the money was wired back to the Central Bank’s coffers. Authorisation had been signed by junior accountants, but blame fell on the two ministers in charge. Deng Alor and Kosti Manibe were both suspended.

For his part in the ruse, Gadaffi was detained in Jebel, at the headquarters of South Sudan’s intelligence unit. A renown tenderpreneur with extensive contacts, he knew he would get out, someday. But there was something more disturbing: his adopted brother and business partner, John Agou, worked at the same place where Gadaffi was held for nearly a year. Every single day, from the confines of his cell, Gadaffi saw his brother walked right past, without even acknowledging him.

Then the 2013 war broke out.

Gadaffi’s path to freedom began with that war between Riek Machar and Salva Kiir. As the sound of gunfire rattled across Juba, he was handed a gun and a uniform and with them, his freedom.

John Agou and his cousin/brother, Arthobei Gadaffi crossed into Kenya as young boys in the early 1990s. Agou’s father, Wuoi, had inherited Gadaffi’s mum after her husband died. When the Sudan War escalated, the family crossed the border to get to Kakuma, a new refugee camp near a town with a similar name in what is today Turkana County.

Both boys went to Lodwar Primary, but Gadaffi was older and more street smart. Agou was quieter, less outgoing, and more book smart. Gadaffi went to Ruiru High School and Agou to Mang’u High School.

Agou, at first, wanted to be a journalist. After he was done with high school, in 2003, he joined the Kenya School of Mass Communication. Then he moved back to Juba to find his footing, working as a radio producer and journalist for multiple publications.

Arthobei Gadaffi, on the other hand, first flew out to Canada. He was deported back to Juba in unclear circumstances, and ended up a key government contractor. One of his primary companies, Jupiter Printing, provided most of the stationery in government offices. He was intricately connected to multiple layers of the government, and was rumored to be related to Salva Kiir. His answer to this possible family connection is at best dodgy: “What does being related with Salva Kiir have to do with anything?”

Something about John Agou changed in 2010. The journalist was recruited and trained as a spy in the months leading to South Sudan’s independence referendum in 2011. He first worked as a Personal Assistant to a Cabinet Minister and then ended up attached to the President’s office. Very few people ever knew, until his downfall, that he even worked for the government. In the President’s office no less.

Outside, he was young, immensely rich and powerful. He was almost always a silent partner in Gadaffi’s many companies, and together they were building what seemed like an unstoppable empire. One old friend recently recounted three separate anecdotes to prove this. In one story, while they worked together, Agou and Gadaffi would have bags of cash in the office, and cheques would be forgotten in drawers, unbanked, for months.

When Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi was attacked in September 2013, John Agou donated USD 500, 000 to aid in disaster recovery. He was clearly rolling in lots of money, but it didn’t raise as much suspicion as his brother’s had less than a year before.

In the other, Agou held a massive party for his wife-to-be, Susan Chaat, in early November 2012. She had just graduated from USIU and he invited friends to the basement of Sailors in Hurlingham, Nairobi. It was an open bar. By the time the tab was closed due to a fracas at 2am, the bill had clocked KES 800, 000. He later told his friends “You guys are cheap! The budget was Shs. 1.5 million.”


But there was a darkness to the man. Ever armed, he was domineering and vindictive. He was also a bully, even to the point of paying off Susan’s previous boyfriend to take a walk so he could have her. Susan was a catch. Her father worked in the President’s office, she had grown up in Nairobi, and she was ambitious. The November 24th 2012 wedding was much a political marriage as it was a romantic one.

To their friends, the Agou’s were rich, young, outgoing South Sudanese professionals. John was a businessman, a tenderpreneur with an eye for detail and millions to spend. Susan was the socialite, making friends across Nairobi’s celebrities and living large. They lived in a penthouse on Riara Road, in a building said to be owned by Agou and a few other silent partners. Agou flew to Nairobi nearly once every week, to see his young family, attend a Global MBA Executive Class, and run his other businesses.

In the months Gadaffi was in jail, John Agou took over whatever contracts he could, and built a new company.

The Empire John Agou Built

The Juba Arthobei Gadaffi walked back into after 8 months in Jebel had changed. His brother was now far more powerful and well-connected, and he had used the time to build his own companies. Unlike Gadaffi, who had always had to play from the outside, Agou worked in Salva Kiir’s office. Agou had gone it alone, cutting off his brother and business partner from the close knit circles that controlled tenders in the presidency. That, and many other things, would come up again as the beginning of John Agou’s downfall.

Among the companies John Agou built, in the early months of 2013, was Click Technologies. The first employee and business partner for this new venture was a Kenyan called Moses “Bush” Kibuku. Bush had run a small unit in Nairobi by the same name, but its prospects in Juba were by far more promising.

As its unofficial manager, Bush needed to build a team. Among his first hires was his childhood friend, Anthony Wazome. Wazome left a company called Escapade Prints and Graphics in Nairobi to join his friend’s new outfit. Agou himself brought in Anthony Kia, a second graphic designer, from a company called Brandcom in Juba. He also brought in Ravi Gaghda, a man he had known since 2010. Boniface Chuma was at the time the care taker of Airport Business Center, the building that housed the new unit. He became the general factotum: a mix between a driver, a messenger and a hand of the king.

There were other Kenyans, including Peter Nkonge who worked in Sales and Repair.

The company worked almost exclusively for the government although it ran a small shop that saw substantial business from walk-ins. With an owner who worked in the President’s office, it was probably one of the safest places one could work in Juba. Although salaries weren’t competitive, there was a lot of money floating around and an unofficial reward system for excellent work.


Six of Click Technologies’ employees pose for a photo outside the shop that would become a crime scene.



In early 2015, someone broke into Click Technologies and stole electronics, documents and some cash. A second theft, this time by an employee, raised the ante. He also stole money and documents, and threatened to use them against the company. But nothing seemed serious seemed to be happening. In that time, Gadaffi moved back to Kenya.

In mid-May, Moses “Bush” Kibuku crossed the border back into Kenya. His exit from Juba didn’t make sense, and never has, as he was Agou’s business partner and probably his most trusted lieutenant. His name would appear many times later in the investigation documents, and his role in the entire story is still incomplete.

Two weeks after Bush left, Click Technologies became a crime scene.

***

The same day Esther left for Juba, in a different bus using a different route, Boniface Chuma’s younger brother, Gakuhi, also set for an uncertain journey to see him. He saw him the next day, briefly, in the presence of three translators and a looming man-in-charge. It was agony, as the two of them tried to pack up five months of conversation into the 10 minutes they had been given. “We were warned not to talk about personal things,” he tells me over the phone. “He had been home five months earlier and had gained weight, but the Chuma I saw that day was disheveled and skinny.”

The next week, Ravi Gaghda’s dad Ramesh and brother Bhavik also left for Juba. “We were standing outside the room where we were supposed to meet Ravi,” says Bhavik, “and he was being brought in from the other side as we were walking in.” Ramesh looked his son dead in the eye and didn’t recognize him.

“I had to nudge him and tell him that’s Ravi,” Ravi’s brother adds. The previously clean-cut and slightly built Ravi was now so skinny that he had to hold his pants up as he walked.

“No way, that’s not him!” his father retorted.

But it was.

It was the same script. A short, chaperoned meeting where emotions ran high.

“Most of that time was spent in tears,” Bhavik says, looking at his dad. “Then when we could talk, we had to switch to Gujarati because our dad is not very fluent in English.” That agitated their minders who immediately snapped back and demanded they speak a language the others could understand.



Just days after the sweep of Click Technologies in May, both Ramesh and Bhavik had flown to Juba to look for Ravi. Ravi and Bhavik had been on the phone that day. Bhavik heard commotion in the back, and Ravi told him some men had come to the office. Then he hanged up on the promise that would call him back later. He never did. At least not for the next 40 days.

The two-day visit after Ravi’s line went dead ended abruptly after both Ramesh and Bhavik were warned, in no less words, that they would also be arrested. But at least they now knew where Ravi was.

On 7th July, 40 days after the sweep of Click Technologies, all spent in a small prison cell in the headquarters of the National Security, the Kenyans were told they could go home. But there was a rider. Ravi was sent to the Kenyan Embassy to get diplomatic staff to come pick up the other 4. They were all given back their things, including their phones. They all called their families, telling them they would be home soon. Chuma called his pregnant wife, and then updated his Facebook wall.?


Ravi returned the next day, alone. The Embassy staff had been surprisingly unhelpful so he had come back to see if there was another way. But there wasn’t. He was promptly re-arrested, and the psychological torture begun again. More than a month later, on August 25th, the same thing happened. They all called their families to tell them that they had been told they would be released. They were still held together, with a single meal a day, and no access to any form of representation. At some point, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in South Sudan called them “state witnesses” although no one had questioned them at that point.

The one detail they had managed to glimmer, from the snide comments their jailers made, was that this was about money, a lot of money.

In Part II [Link], a kidnapping at a wedding in Karen, a gun in court, and why Kenya has been reluctant to offer any help to her citizens held in Juba as ransom.
 
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Blood, Money, and Prison II
In the second and final installment, a kidnapping at a prominent wedding in Karen, a gun in court and why Kenya isn’t helping her citizens in Juba.

Read Part I here [Link]

II

Marula Manor is a 20-acre estate in Karen with a colorful and dark history. One of its earliest owners, Sir “Jock” Delves Broughton, was charged with the murder of Lord Errol in 1941. Errol’s body was found just up the road from the estate; he had just delivered Jock’s wife, Diana, home before he was shot in his car.

Today though, Marula Manor is one Nairobi’s top wedding venues. It has retained most of its colonial buildings, and the landscape is still mostly untouched but for maintenance. Most of it still feels and looks like it did on that cold night in 1941 when someone shot Lord Errol in his Buick. It is the perfect set for a wedding themed around grand ideas of an English wedding.

Surrounded by willow trees, the manicured gardens have played host to some of Kenya’s most prominent weddings.



On October 2nd 2015, just a few weeks before Wazome’s mum made the trip to Juba to see her son, such a couple held such a wedding there.

It was probably Kenya’s first truly celebrity wedding. The bride and the groom, Betty Kyalo and Dennis Okari, are both prominent newscasters. In the weekss leading up to the wedding, the hype of the ceremony turned into a giant billboard. Advertisers fought for space, even on the couple and their wedding party, down to the vehicles the two used to get to Marula Manor. RMA Motors provided a Jaguar XJ and an XF for the day. Darling Kenya custom-made a hair extension for Betty, and supplied extensions to her bridal team.

Although the marriage would fall apart just six months later, that Saturday in October 2015 was the culmination of one of the most anticipated social events of the year. One of the 150 names on the official guest list was Susan Chaat, John Agou’s wife.

As she dressed up for the wedding, Susan was worried. She had been stopped by Kenyan police a few times. They always seemed to know her. They had searched her penthouse on Riara Road and at least once, slapped her. The last five months had begun to feel like a bad dream. With a husband in jail and a son to take care, Susan needed a win. She needed to do something different.

Today would be different.

Marula Manor is hard to find if you’ve never been there. It’s one of the many driveways on Marula Lane, a nondescript, lonely road that branches off Karen Road. To get to it, in this unmarked, high class suburb, you have to actually know where it is.

Susan’s driver got lost that day as he drove Susan, her son, and her sister to the wedding. While he stopped to ask directions from passersby, his phone rang incessantly. It was his wife, enquiring where exactly he was and when they would be getting to the wedding. He brushed it off, instead focusing on getting his passengers to the top-billed wedding.

When he eventually took the right turn from Marula Lane onto the long, rocky driveway that leads to the estate, everything made sense.

Standing next to the guard at the gate was a small group of men, obviously cops trying too hard to fit in. When the driver stopped the car to be searched, the group approached them. One, a South Sudanese man, asked Susan to step out and into their car. Realising she was out of options, she told her sister to go on ahead. She would be back before the wedding started. It was probably just another interrogation; enquiring where Agou had hidden all the money he had stolen from the president’s office.

But she never came back.

By the time anyone realized what that small stop at the Marula Manor gate meant, Susan Chaat had crossed the border with her captors. Her name was added on the charge sheet, following her husband’s. Eight months later, it was on the judgement sheet. She too, would spend the rest of her life in jail.

***

The first person to be arrested on May 29th 2015, at Airport Business Center was John Agou. He was carted off in the morning by his colleagues, promising his employees he would be back. The police came back without him and arrested everyone, employees and unlucky customers combined. They made small talk, with one even asking Ravi to order for him a tablet from Nairobi, as they packed up everything they could see. Only one employee who had stepped out for lunch just seconds before the second sweep survived the sweep. Another, an Indian accountant, had been in Juba for barely a week.

Ravi Ghaghda had flown in just the day before, on Thursday. His father told me he had asked him to wait until the next week but Ravi had insisted he had to go back to work. Three of the other Kenyans in the company-Chuma, Wazome and Kia-had made the decision to quit Click Technologies the next week. The pay was bad despite all the government contracts and work floating around. Just days before May 29th, the three bought three bus tickets to Nairobi marked 4th of June, the Thursday after they were arrested. Wazome had already shopped for his mom and delivered the packages to the bus line office. When he didn’t show, the busline went ahead and sent the shopping to Esther in Nairobi.

But that was before the quiet morning of May 29th, when their workplace was turned upside down.

Click Technologies was just one of the theaters of what would turn out to be an intricate web. It wasn’t just Agou and his employees who were arrested that day. The third and fourth names on the eventual charge sheets were Mayen Wol and Yel Luol. Mayen was the Executive Director in Kiir’s office, while Yel was the Chief Administrator. They had both been suspended before, in 2012, after a suspicious burglary in the president’s office. The door was locked, the story goes, but the money was missing. On May 29th, as Click Technologies crumbled, investigators raided both Mayen and Yel’s homes. In all the sweeps, despite months of investigations, there was no arrest or search warrant.

John Agou, the investigators said, had requested an unauthorised payment of $1 millionfrom South Sudan’s Central bank. Given a recent freeze on such heavy withdrawals-partially triggered by Gadaffi’s scam and the war-the request drew interest. Agou had forged President Salva Kiir’s signature and stamps to request for the payment. At Click and at the homes of Mayen and Lol, the police found republican seals and papers with the president’s letterhead. But this wasn’t unusual; for years, Agou and Gadaffi had printed most of the papers in the President’s office, first through a company called Jupiter Printing. But the transaction that triggered the investigation seemed to have been one of many, most of which had already gone through.

In total, the investigation committee said, John Agou had stolen $14 million. He was part of a complex web of insiders in the presidency, and had used his power and education to beat South Sudan’s weak financial controls.

The court case eventually started in February 2016, nearly a year since the sweep of Click Technologies on May 29th.

16 people were eventually charged with multiple counts of fraud and forgery. They were transported to court in heavily guarded armored vehicles. There were roadblocks and elaborate security measures, even within the courtroom. The plenary had more National Security agents than civilians. Over its first weeks, a pattern emerged: defense witnesses always came back the next day after testifying, to change their original testimony.

In almost all the images of the trial, John seats at the back, next to his wife. They are mostly hidden from the camera, with only their heads visible. The four Kenyans always sit in the front pew, every time, as if being paraded as the faces of the scandal. Yet the lawyer who eventually took up the case routinely brought up the fact that the Kenyans were never mentioned in the testimonies. Ravi had made a payment request to the President’s office for some items including mosquito nets. This was brought up, but wasn’t part of the case itself.

John Agou’s first lawyer, Kiir Chol, pushed prosecution witnesses on the investigation and the haphazard arrests and searches. In late February, just a few weeks into the job, Kiir Chol was threatened at gunpoint in open court, in full view of the judge, Ladu Armenio. His tormentors, the policemen, wanted the notes his clients had been passing to him in the courtroom. Chol quit the case in protest.



The investigators said that Kia and Wazome were “involved in the forging of stamps.” The extent of their culpability was never determined, and they were never properly questioned.

Over the five months of the trial, it became clear that something else was at play. The kidnapping of Susan Chaat from Nairobi seemed to have been an attempt to up the ante and force Agou, like his cousin before him, to refund the money. But the narrative became that this wasn’t about corruption, it was about revenge. That while Gadaffi was locked up in Jebel, John Agou built a company and took over his brother’s contracts with the government. He cut him off from a business they had ostensibly built together, and in revenge, Gadaffi exposed the machinations behind the contracts.

Mayen’s assertions in court that this was Arthobei Gadaffi’s doing including one interesting nugget, that it had started with an article published online in July 2014. It was in fact a rather thrilling series of articles and replies published under pseudonyms on the South Sudanese news site, Nyamile.com. The first, published by a Dr. Thon Awan on July 7th, 2014, named John Agou, Mayen Wuol, Yel Luol and Kondok John Aguek as an insider conspiracy that was robbing the presidency blind. It was titled “Corruption in the Office of the President.” This was 10 months before the sweep of Click Technologies, and provides vital clues to the backstory behind South Sudan’s most prominent court case.

In February 2014, Dr. Thon wrote, Yel Luol had asked for $12 million to be transferred from the President’s special account to a trust fund of an organisation that had Yel as the chair and John Agou as treasurer. The money was quickly transferred across several accounts, with USD 2 million being sent to a trust fund in Susan’s and her son’s name.

Dr. Thon Won signed off as “Dr. Thon Awan holds a PhD in corruption and embezzlement, University of Yel and Mayen.” The byline seemed also tongue-in-cheek, and meant to actually taunt the four of them to try get back at him.

10 days later, someone calling himself “Dr. Anguie Anguie” posted a reply titled “False Allegations of Corruption in the Office of the President. In the middle of a spirited denial, the writer adds a curious line “My humble analysis is Dr. Thon seems to have been looking desperately for any little piece of information to convict on the ground of revenge for unknown reasons.” He doesn’t explain what revenge he is talking about, and doesn’t really say how he is involved in the case. He signed off as “a PhD holder in animal behavioral science.”

On July 24th, Dr. Thon posted a reply to the reply, identifying Dr. Anguie as John Agou. He paints himself as driven purely by patriotism, and even thanks John Agou for “stirring up a debate on corruption.” He then outlines a series of dossiers to be released in four parts, complete with documents. A few of those documents made it online, mostly showing requests for transfers by Mayen and Yel. Then there was silence for nearly a year.

In his defense, Mayen also said that other than the article online, Gadaffi had moved to Kenya and then sent an dossier to Thomas Ruoth, the Director General of External Security. It was this dossier that triggered the investigation, and informed most of the angles the investigators sought.

Gadaffi denies all this, terming it all a wild dream fit for a movie script. He admits he hasn’t been back to Juba in more than a year, and paints himself as a man only interested in the truth. In fact, he denies almost everything, including ever being arrested. He denies the Daffy International link repeatedly during the interview, despite its being widely reported on South Sudanese media.

For young elites like Arthobei and John Agou, Nairobi has always been a second home. They are part of South Sudanese refugees living and working in Kenyan cities; a testament of South Sudan’s informal moniker as “Kenya’s Ninth Province.” Most of SPLM’s leaders including Riek Machar, John Garang and Salva Kiir have lived in Nairobi, and continue to own real estate and other investments in Kenya. Some areas of Nairobi and Nakuru are informally known as “Little Juba” because of their high-worth South Sudanese expatriates.

So if the two countries are so intricately connected, why was Kenya reluctant to ask for a fair hearing at the very least?

***

Kenya was deeply involved in South Sudan secession politics. President Moi invited Riek Machar and John Garang to Nairobi after they fell out in 1993. The peace process with Khartoum begun around the same time, escalating in 2002 under President Kibaki and culminating in the Machakos Protocol, signed in 2005.

Kenya also sent several cadres of civil servants to train the new government after the July 2011 referendum. But it wasn’t all altruism. In the background, Kenya pushed to provide a sea route to the new, landlocked nation. The project, LAPSSET (Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport) is a gateway for both Ethiopia and South Sudan. It will include, once finished: oil pipelines, roads, airports, resort cities, an oil refinery and a railway line. Its success depends on South Sudan accepting the route even after one of its close allies, Uganda, chose Tanzania for its oil route to the sea.

All these might explain, partially at least, Kenya’s reluctance to even ensure that its citizens got a fair hearing in the most important corruption case in South Sudan.

“There were 8 Kenyans initially and four were released,” Washington Oloo, the Director of Consular Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,?tells me without clarifying if it was through the Kenyan government’s intervention. “While we can’t interfere with the sovereignty of the South Sudanese government, we’ve also objected to the sentence,” he continues, “this wasn’t not a capital offence.” What he doesn’t say, and what most families repeatedly accuse the government of, is a seeming reluctance to even try get some semblance of justice.

On their visits last year, the different families were told “We have no use for these ones, we just want our money back.” While no one explained exactly how they were connected, they figured that Agou, like his brother, had used Kenyan banks for his transactions. The prosecution did list 9 names, about half of which were Kenyan, that Agou used to source for jobs and process money. They included Moses Macharia, Moses Kibuku and David Kipkoech. Kibuku or “Bush” seems to be the only real person connected to the case on the list; every other name is made up or unrelated. The trust fund mentioned in the July 2014 articles was also set up in Kenya and might be the reason why Susan Chaat was kidnapped.

There’s something about people who suffer a common misfortune that binds them. As we sit around the table at Jumuiya, with different family members narrating how messy the last 13 months have been, they feel more like one big family than four different ones. They have attended countless meetings together, organized protests, and a hunger strike. It was the hunger strike outside Old Treasury Building, which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that eventually won them the October visitation.

The uncertainty of detention is like tragedy. For the people involved, time stops. They remember the dates that changed their lives. The places. The people. They narrate the stories of how it happened, and what happened, with an unnerving unease. It doesn’t get easier every time they do, and it shows.


The families of the Kenyans jailed in Juba stage a hunger strike outside the Old Treasury Building in Nairobi which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While officially, Kenya and South Sudan are bosom buddies, the story on the streets is different. In 2012, there were more than 50 Kenyans in prisons around Juba alone. Most were there for lacking valid travelling documents and being involved in shady deals. That same year, 15 Kenyans were killed by Sudanese nationals. The year before that, in 2011, Kenyan 22-year-old university student Noah Muruny was arrested while napping under a tree in Tongpiny, Juba. He ended up staying in a cell in Juba Central Prison for more than 2 years, without ever being questioned or tried for anything (he had overstayed his 3-month visa).

Washington Oloo tells me that the accusation goes both ways. “We are also accused of mistreating South Sudanese here. And no, Kenyans are not targeted in South Sudan.” It’s a difficult point to defend, but I prod him on what is supposed to happen if a Kenyan is arrested anywhere in the world.

“In such a case, we offer consular services, and go ensure that their rights are being protected. Our missions abroad ensure that this is done. We inform the families. We assist with the families to identify attorneys for the families.”

Did this happen?

Oloo argues that the accusation that Kenya has been unhelpful is untrue. It was the Kenyan Ambassador in Juba, he says, who first sought out the Kenyans and informed the ministry about where they were being held. “We have to engage with the other side, and find a possible solution,” he further adds. He mentions sovereignty and independence, and says that Kenya is “in discussions with South Sudan and other countries to get prisoner exchange.”

While the diplomat in him is cagey on the details, and skirts the question on whether Agou’s money in Kenya is the real reason why the Kenyans are going to spend their life in jail, he agrees that the sentence was too harsh. “We have also objected to that. None of the accusations leveled against the Kenyans were capital offences.”

Cleland Leshore, Kenya’s High Commissioner to Juba, has also asserted that point, telling the Sunday Nation that “We have an option of negotiating extradition and exchange of prisoners’ agreement, or initiate a high-level political intervention into the matter.” But Cleland’s record in Juba has been nothing but lackluster. The families of the Kenyans point to him specifically for being lax and passive, even in finding representation for the Kenyans. They also point to the fact that his officials at the Kenyan high commission in Juba refused to accompany Ravi back when he had been released in July last year.

At least once, in October 2013, Leshore and the high commission have been accused of complicity in the arrest and deportation of Kenyans in South Sudan. When he was arrested then, a man called George Githinji was told he was being investigated for sabotage at the behest of the Cleland Leshore. The two of them had had an argument the day before around the former’s role in highlighting the embassy’s laxity in assisting Kenyans in Juba.

As South Sudan erupts again, Kenyans in its towns and cities have found themselves trapped, again. It took the intervention of Red Cross to start evacuating Kenyans from Juba, after more than 15 Kenyan truck drivers had already been killed in a matter of days. The fate of those in South Sudan’s jails remains uncertain.

“Life has stopped for us,” Tejal Gaghda, Ravi’s elder sister, says, looking exhausted,” Nothing can go on until Ravi comes home.” True to her word, Tejal has dedicated the last year and a half to finding ways to get her brother back. She has met everyone there is to meet, including Raila Odinga who called Salva Kiir (he was in a meeting, so his PA picked up). All her phones have been bugged and a few of the people she’s reached out to have gotten death threats. The high profile nature of the case and the presence of some of its players, and possibly money, in Nairobi has made it dangerous for everyone involved.

“It feels like a dream. An unsolvable problem,” says Tejal Gaghda a few evenings later when I meet the entire Gaghda family. Ravi’s mom says nothing during our interaction; at some point she asks her husband to take her home. It has been a long day, her daughter tells me. But I catch a glimpse of that sadness I saw in Wazome’s mum a few days earlier. She can’t bear hearing this story again, so she leaves.

“It feels like a dream,” those words stick with me. There’s something about this entire story, even to the people in the middle of it, that feels surreal. Gadaffi himself refers to it as a “wild dream” about 12 times during our 41 minute conversation.

“I am married to a Kenyan,” he tells me towards the end of our conversation. ” This is my home, and this whole thing is putting my life in danger. I had nothing to do with it.” After a pause, he adds “John Agou and I are brothers, and brothers fight over inheritance, not government contracts.”

“What is happening to my cousin is a tragedy,” he continues, unprompted, “and he should be man enough and absolve those poor Kenyans because they were just his employees. I don’t interrupt him, so he goes on “If I was in the shoes of the family, I would write an open letter to Salva Kiir and Uhuru Kenyatta and ask them to intervene for those young Kenyan lives.”

But does he believe John Agou is guilty? “Blood is thicker than water,” Gadaffi responds without hesitation, “John Agou at the end of the day is my brother. Whether he is an Adolf Hitler, or anything, he is my brother.”
 

uwesmake

DRYFRY ARTIST
#11
nice read kama movie , @igweee nimetafuta mbicha ya Susan Chaat sijapata kindly weka hapa . Huyo Agou alifanya mbaya kuwacha ndugu yake akae ndani hio time aliiba pesa yet they were in business together thus Gadaffi had to revenge . the 14 m usd wanasema its true waliiba na iko hapa kenya in investments . John got greedy wacha akae ndani . but waachilie wakenya wetu .
 
D

Deleted member 2630

Guest
#13
nice read kama movie , @igweee nimetafuta mbicha ya Susan Chaat sijapata kindly weka hapa . Huyo Agou alifanya mbaya kuwacha ndugu yake akae ndani hio time aliiba pesa yet they were in business together thus Gadaffi had to revenge . the 14 m usd wanasema its true waliiba na iko hapa kenya in investments . John got greedy wacha akae ndani . but waachilie wakenya wetu .
604138_4896462535792_454776152_n.jpg susan and agou
 
#14
Interesting read. South Sudan is still in the 19th Century, it has a long way to go to be considered a 21st Century country but again it doesn't make sense how Kenyan Security organs can allow South Sudanese security agents to extend their theater of activities to Kenya, Kenyans wanted by South Sudan even for flimsy reasons may not be safe in Kenya.
 

uwesmake

DRYFRY ARTIST
#15
Interesting read. South Sudan is still in the 19th Century, it has a long way to go to be considered a 21st Century country but again it doesn't make sense how Kenyan Security organs can allow South Sudanese security agents to extend their theater of activities to Kenya, Kenyans wanted by South Sudan even for flimsy reasons may not be safe in Kenya.

kenya is a corrupt country when those sudi police came our inteligence was aware na wakapewa kitu
 
#16
kenya is a corrupt country when those sudi police came our inteligence was aware na wakapewa kitu
That is my point, Sudanese and Somali nationals come here and trample with impunity on the laws we have enacted and observe without the need of having them enforced upon us. So sad.
 

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