B: JOE KIARIE, NOV/08/2013, first published by ‘Standard digital, Kenya’ SSN;
This dramatic but sad story evidently exposes the corruption in the CID and the Ministry of Interior, the Security and even the ministry of foreign affairs in the Republic of South Sudan. Are we really now more corrupt than Kenya…..find out…
When Mr George Githinji received a call summoning him to the CID headquarters in Juba, South Sudan last month, he thought it was a cruel joke.
His fears were nonetheless confirmed when he was arrested and locked up in one of the country’s most dreaded detention facilities, supposedly at the behest of the Kenyan embassy in Juba.
After 30 days of torment while under illegal detention in a foreign land, the father of three was finally released and ‘deported’ with no charges preferred against him after his plight was highlighted by The Standard on Saturday last weekend.
Now back home, albeit ailing, Githinji, 52, has one resolute vow; “I will never set foot in South Sudan again. God has saved my life and I will not court death again.”
The businessman paints a picture of terrifying impunity in Africa’s newest nation, but most significantly, accuses the Kenyan government of betraying and failing to protect its citizens. He says his torment started on Thursday October 3, when he visited the Kenyan embassy in Juba seeking assistance to recover cash owed to him.
“I found Ambassador (Cleland) Leshore arguing with someone at the reception and he immediately turned to me, asking if I had returned to Sudan to disturb him,” he recounts.
He claims the ambassador was furious that while serving as the organising secretary of the Association of Kenyans in South Sudan, Githinji had alongside other officials highlighted the embassy’s perceived laxity in the media.
“He ordered me to walk out and report to State House that he had refused to offer me any assistance,” he claims. Githinji says he was shocked to receive a call at 9am the following day ordering him to report to the CID headquarters. “It is the last thing I expected,” he asserts. “I alerted my Kenyan neighbours and also called the Kenyans Association chairman Gideon Mungai”.
With cases of people disappearing without trace in the hands of security officers prevalent in the oil-rich nation, a Kenyan cleric popularly referred to as Bishop asked to meet Githinji so they could discuss the issue. “I rushed to Genus Hotel, a Kenyan-owned restaurant, and found him there,” he recounts.
But they only exchanged greetings before they were treated to a rude shock. “Just as I was ordering for tea, two men already seated in the hotel walked to us, identified themselves as CID officers and asked us to accompany them to the headquarters,” he explains.
“They said we were to record statements regarding anonymous calls that I had received; yet I had not complained to any South Sudan government officer about such calls.”
He says they were led to a white Mitsubishi double cabin van but instead of heading towards Juba town; it zoomed off to Jebel Kujur, a dreaded military facility popularly known as Blue House. The facility is located at the Jebel Kujur hills on the outskirts of Juba town.
“It was a hair-raising moment and I told Bishop that if we enter Blue House, we might disappear without a trace as no one had seen us being arrested and no one would know where we were. I told him to pray hard,” recounts Githinji.
One of the officers, he states, immediately ordered them to switch off their mobile phones and hand them over to him. “He told us that from then henceforth, we were in the hands of the CID.”
At Jebel Kujur, he says, they were separated and booked in at the reception. “There were two blocks on each side of the reception, both labeled ‘toilets’ at the entrance. I was led into one of the blocks, only to realise there were five cells inside. I was put in cell Number One,” he says. He describes the cells as dingy, dimly lit, with no ventilation and teeming with giant mosquitoes. A cold tiled floor was to be his new bed.
All the cells, he says, were full with people of diverse nationalities. Still in shock and not knowing why he had been arrested while Bishop was released the next Monday, the businessman says one officer identified only as Jacob volunteered to help him walk to freedom.
“He summoned me saying he wanted to save my life. He told me to give him 6,000 Sudanese pounds (about Sh210,000) which he claimed was for my transport to Nimule border crossing,” he narrates.
Normally, it only costs about 500 Sudanese pounds to travel to the border point. “I told him I did not have the money and he handed me a cell phone that I was to use to call three people who would bring me the money. He gave me up to midday the next day to get the cash but stormed out fuming when I told him I could not get that money in a day,” Githinji continues.
He was returned to the cell and this marked the start of a traumatising period that saw him stay for two weeks with no communication whatsoever from the duty officers.
After two weeks, he says he gathered courage and asked the duty officer taking the roll call why he was being held.
“He could not read properly so he showed me the file. My offence had been recorded as sabotage,” he asserts. “I inquired further and he told me it was the Kenyan embassy and not the government of South Sudan that had me arrested. He said he could thus not help in any way”.
Githinji who is supposed to be on daily medication for hypertension, says his pleas to be allowed access to drugs proved futile.
At 12.45pm last Saturday, the day The Standard on Saturday highlighted his story, Githinji says an officer called him and inquired whether he would be able to pay for deportation back home the same day. Fearing that criminal charges probably awaited him in Kenya, Githinji questioned why he was being deported.
“He told me I was not wanted in South Sudan as we were holding illegal political meetings. I implored further and he told me it is only my embassy that could answer questions regarding the meetings,” he says. Githinji says he was already time-barred to fly home that day, but was advised to book a ticket for a Sunday flight to Nairobi. “I called a friend who booked a ticket for me,” he states.
The businessman’s fears that he was just being illegally chased out of South Sudan and not deported were confirmed when he reached Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
“I thought I would find security officers waiting for me, but I only found my wife, daughter and brother. To date there is still no formal explanation as to why I have been chased away despite the fact that I had just signed a lucrative construction contract,” he says.
On Tuesday he recorded a statement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was assured that investigations were already underway and those found culpable would be punished. Reached for a comment, the South Sudan embassy in Nairobi said the issue was beyond her jurisdiction.