LOLGORIEN, Kenya -- John Kaiser was a beefy, beaming Minnesotan -- a paratrooper and wrestler who became a priest. He loved to hunt buffalo on the Serengeti Plain. In his younger years he would bounce from Mass to Mass on a motorcycle over the dusty roads of western Kenya.
He had left the family farm 36 years ago with a passion for God, wilderness and adventure, and had come to build churches and schools in a country newly independent of British colonial rule. A conservative Catholic of intense faith, the parish priest lived ascetically, and what he saw happening to Kenya turned him into a crusader for social justice.
As malignant corruption took hold, he saw the people he loved victimized by political violence and power-hungry leaders. He watched as drought and AIDS ravaged the country. He publicly attacked the government and made dangerous enemies.
He seemed well aware of the risk. On Aug. 22, just before leaving his remote mission in the village of Lolgorien for a meeting in the capital, Nairobi, the Rev. Kaiser told his helpers: "Pray for me, for my life is in danger. But remember, faith is more important than the blood of people in this world."
Two days later he was found dead by a busy highway with a gunshot wound in the head. He was 67 years old.
Since 1997, Kaiser had been hearing from parishioners that more than a dozen girls aged 14 to 16 had dropped out of school, allegedly after having sex with a high-ranking politician.
Two of the girls, now adults, approached Kaiser, who introduced them to the International Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, known by its French acronym FIDA. The two women gave depositions, and FIDA began a private prosecution for rape against Julius ole Sunkuli, minister of state in the president's office.
Sunkuli, 39, who has been tipped as a possible successor to President Daniel arap Moi, strenuously denied the allegations. Moi said the case should be dismissed.
FIDA documents allege the women were harassed once the case was made public and at one point were jailed. All the same, FIDA and one of the women went to court June 23, while Kaiser sought material for more lawsuits.
The judge postponed making a decision on whether to allow a trial until Aug. 31. In late July, the woman announced she was dropping the case.
Paul Muite, a prominent attorney and opposition member of parliament, said Kaiser told him in late July about death threats.
"On several occasions local officials, one of them an intelligence agent, came to him and told him that a decision was taken to kill him and they told him to get out of the country or keep quiet," Muite said. "He definitely mentioned Sunkuli, and he mentioned (Industry and Tourism Minister) Nicholas Biwott as the people behind the decision."
On Aug. 23, in Nairobi, Kaiser went to dinner at the home of Bishop Colin Davis, but he left unexpectedly before eating, and without saying where he was going.
The next morning, near the town of Naivasha, a two-hour drive from Nairobi, his body was found. His double-barreled shotgun lay at his side.
His white Toyota pickup sat in a ditch 25 yards away. The driver's window had been smashed, but there was no glass near the truck. Moreover, Naivasha is not on Kaiser's route home, so there is no explanation why he was there.
Kaiser's money and meager belongings were left untouched, including documents and newspaper clippings pertaining to one of the rape cases and his human rights work.
Naivasha police said they instantly realized the crime scene had been staged to look like a suicide. Commandant Andrew Kimetto ordered a murder investigation. Kaiser's allies called it a political assassination.
The man from Perham was a man for all seasons.
A philosophy graduate of St. Louis University in Missouri, he was also a mason and bricklayer who built a dozen simple churches across western Kenya. He was a paratroop sergeant in the U.S. Army, and became a priest in 1964. He immediately joined the Mill Hill Missionaries of the Society of St. Joseph.
Stationed in the Kisii diocese, near the Masai Mara game reserve, Kaiser fell in love with the breathtaking hills, the endless open plains and the warm, welcoming Kisii people, said Carolita Mahoney, his sister, who came here for the funeral.
Kaiser would spend three years in Africa at a time, followed by three months of home leave, when he would visit his sister in Underwood and raise money at local churches.
His transformation from remote parish priest to nationally known human rights campaigner began in 1994, when he was assigned to the Maela refugee camp, where farmers had taken refuge after being pushed off their land.
Government officials, including Biwott and William ole Ntimama, blamed the dispute on tribalism. Kaiser gathered material purporting to show the fighting was part of a land-grab scheme orchestrated by the two Cabinet ministers.
Kaiser later provided his documents to a commission established to investigate the clashes. The government has refused to release the commission's findings.
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