Isaac Newton Kinity of New Haven, formerly the Secretary General of the Kenya Civil Servants Union, in his home. Kinity had to flee Kenya to escape the violence there. An activist, he was targeted by the Kenyan government when he protested corruption and killing. He has been in the U.S. for several years as a refugee but is going back to Kenya on Jan. 9 as part of a rally over the disappearance of two Kenyans in 2013.Peter Hvizdak — New Haven Register
Refugee from Kenya who settled in New Haven returns home to fight corruption
NEW HAVEN >> Isaac Newton Kinity, a labor and human rights activist in Kenya, escaped several attempts on his life in that country before being admitted to the U.S. as a refugee almost two decades ago.
He has done well since then, purchasing a home here and property elsewhere to help his six children.
But despite Kenya’s reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world where citizens have little faith in their justice system, Kinity is going back this month to call for an inquiry into the whereabouts of two missing Kenyans.
“If I don’t do it, who will?” Kinity said in an interview in his New Haven home in the Dwight neighborhood.
Kinity was secretary general of the civil service union in Kenya, which had been summarily outlawed by then Kenyan President Daniel Moi in 1980.
Moi served from 1978 until 2002, where he centralized executive power at the expense of civil rights.
“It was the role of the union to condemn corruption because the president and his team were blaming it on civil servants,” said Kinity, who took over the union leadership position in 1995.
Kenya achieved independence from British colonial rule in 963 and has had a history of extra-judicial killings and financial scandals since then.
Kinity said civil servants were being forced to sign payment vouchers “for the purchase of non-existent commodities and for non-existent projects … When the union was invalidated, that gave room for the politicians to sign off on millions of Kenyan shillings.”
The New Haven resident said he and others spoke out about the corruption and the bribes that permeate the system.
“I was very aggressive in opposition to that,” he said.
“Detentions and political trials, torture, arbitrary arrests and police brutality reminiscent of the colonial era have become common during Moi’s tenure,” according to an academic analysis by international relations professors Korwa Adhar and Issac Munyae.
This was the situation Kinity said he and others lived through when they were targeted by the government, which enlisted the police to suppress any criticism.
Things didn’t improve under President Mwai Kibaki, where as many as 8,000 Kenyans were executedor tortured to death between 2002 and 2007 and 4,000 more were reported missing, according to the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic-Kenya.
Kinity said he was threatened six times by the government, but three were the most serious.
He said he was stabbed in the back in one incident and had a long recovery from his injuries.
Then in late December 1998, someone pointed a gun at him in his hometown of Nakuru, but the weapon misfired.
He left shortly after that for neighboring Uganda to buy medicine. Becoming ill while he was there, Kinity remained in Uganda for three days before returning home on Dec. 26.
While he was gone, Kinity said several men with guns came to his house and searched every room looking for him. His wife managed to escape and fled to her uncle’s residence where they went to the press with the story the next day.
When he was told of the incident upon his return, Kinity immediately fled with his 19-year-old son, Ben Kinity.
Dressed in old clothes to disguise themselves, they pretended to be asleep on the floor of a bus headed to Uganda. Police bordered it 20 times on the 200-mile trip, telling the driver they “were chasing a criminal,” Kinity said.
“It is a miracle we got away,” he said.
They were only in Uganda for a short time, Kinity said, when his son, against his instructions, went back to Kenya, leaving him in despair that Ben would be killed.
Shortly after that however, the younger Kinity made it over the border again, accompanied by his mother and four of his five siblings.
Kinity said his oldest daughter, for whom he has purchased a house in North Carolina, came later.
After two years in Uganda, the Kinitys came to New Haven as refugees in 2000 and were resettled by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services.
“I don’t know how to thank America,” Kinity said of the welcome he has found in his new country.
Kinity, whose union represented more than 500,000 civil servants, keeps up with events in Kenya and has had articles written in the Kenyan press about his upcoming visit on Jan. 9, as well as other protests he has held.
Kinity is trying to bring attention to the disappearance of Dickson Bogonko Bosire and Albert Muriuki who have been missing in Kenya since 2013.
Muriuki, a 2011 graduate of Columbia Law School, was an advisor to Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta on constitutional matters. He was last seen on Dec. 30 in Nairobi.
“This man had bodyguards and he still disappeared,” Kinity said.
Bosire, a journalist and author of Jackal News, an online paper, disappeared three months before that on Sept. 19, also in Nairobi. His family says he had been promised a job at the State House in Nairobi.
“He was writing about sensitive matters,” Kinity said, but he thinks his disappearance goes beyond that.
Kinity said people who had been with the two men before they disappeared were never interviewed by police. He said he doubts that the cases have ever been investigated, despite claims to the contrary by the government, now headed by Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya.
“The parents of these two men have been crying, but no one hears them. No one listens to them,” Kinity said. “People keep disappearing. This has to stop. There has to be a way of stopping it. How long can we keep quiet?”
He said he will be covered by the local media as he is well known for his human rights work and he expects to be joined by other human rights activists while he is in Kenya.
Kinity, 62, said the corruption that defined Kenya when he was there, has increased exponentially over the years.
The Anglo Leasing scandal, uncovered in 2004, where some $10 billion Kenyan shillings are said to have been laundered through phony companies, is only now being adjudicated with multiple former officials on trial.
Kinity, who still has extended family in Kenya, also made a trip last year, where he spoke out against corruption. Despite changes in the leadership of the country, Kinity told the Kenyan press at that time that he sees little progress.
“There is no leader who is willing to stamp out corruption. To get rid of the vice, we need someone who is courageous enough. Someone who is willing to take jail, even those close to him. At the moment, there is none,” Kinity said last December, as reported by the Daily Nation.
In 2014, Kinity also held a three-day protest outside the United Nations in New York, charging that the developed countries are not doing enough to halt the looting that takes place in nations like Kenya.
He said it is too easy for officials stealing from their countries’ treasuries to stash the funds in foreign bank accounts and investment projects.
“Corruption is very vibrant and the president is doing nothing about it,” Kinity said of the current leader. He said nothing will happen until the citizens overcome their fear and demand change.