kuThere’s a lot of history we don’t find in primary or high school kids. 90s kids are especially disadvantaged since most of the interesting stuff in our nation’s history happened when they were either not yet born or too young to comprehend things.

Something very newsworthy happened in November 1987.

ELINOR CONSTABLE
Elinor Constable

Elinor Constable was the US ambassador at that time. She was interviewed by one Charles Stuart Kennedy in May 1996.

As the ambassador recounted, Moi’s government had started targeting missionaries in Western Kenya and throwing them out. This happened around the same time an American judge visiting the country to observe some trials, was dragged from a courtroom and reportedly taken to Nyayo House.

When the Ambassador tried to find out what was happening with her countrymen, she learnt of a letter circulating in government circles.

Narrating to the journalist, Ms Elinor said,

“The letter was from one of the missionaries to a minister in North Carolina, and it reported on the success that he and his colleagues were having in overthrowing Moi. It went on to say that no large country should be run by a black man. There were references to the Ku Klux Klan as being involved in this plot to overthrow Moi, and various other silly things. The letter was clearly a forgery.

So I called the Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary at home, and I said, “Listen, you better know this letter is a forgery. If you’re throwing the missionaries out because of this letter, then think again, because somebody is messing around here.” I got a vague reply.”

The government was not in the mood for discussions with the ambassador, and had already circulated the letter to all media houses.

The next day, all three major newspapers; Nation, Standard and Kenya Times, had one big, screaming headline, “Ku Klux Klan plot to overthrow Moi foiled.” 

An infuriated ambassador called the foreign ministry, and it went something like this.

“I don’t give a damn what you guys publish in your stupid newspapers. But if you touch one American citizen, it’s war. I will pull out the stops here. You will be so sorry.” “Calm down, calm down.”

“No, I won’t calm down. This is outrageous, this is inflammatory. You are nuts, it’s a forgery.”

“No, please stop, Ambassador.”

“No, I won’t stop. I’m telling you right now.”

The New York Times had by now also picked up the story. This is how they reported it.

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Kenya Charges a Plot by the Klan

Seven United States missionaries have been deported from Kenya amid local news reports that they were involved in a plot supported by the Ku Klux Klan to overthrow the Government of President Daniel arap Moi.

In a statement published Monday, President Moi said that his pro-Western Government had asked ”a number of foreigners” to leave this East African country and that it would not ”hesitate to take similar measures against others whose presence in Kenya may turn out to be likewise undesirable.”

But today the United States Embassy said that the reports of an American-based plot to overthrow the Government were unfounded and that a letter cited as evidence was a forgery.

All three of Kenya’s national newspapers have published front-page articles on the supposed plot. They reproduced a letter, purportedly written by Kenneth A. Caswell of the Foscoe Christian Church in Boone, N.C., asking members of the Ku Klux Klan to contribute $20 million to ”topple those governments surrounding South Africa.” $80 Million Reported Raised The letter, dated Aug. 15, said that $80 million had been raised to overthrow the Governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, whose leaders were regarded by American racists as a threat to South Africa.

Reuters reported that Mr. Caswell, who was described as the church’s treasurer and chief of covert operations, said that he did not write the letter and had no links with the Klan. But he did say that he had raised money for two of the missionaries – Paul and Marty Hamilton, who were working in the town of Thika in central Kenya – to come as missionaries. The names of the couple were mentioned in the letter, along with those of Gene and Sherry Throop, Curtis Burke and Bob and Durey Maxine.

A spokeswoman for the United States Embassy in Nairobi said that the seven missionaries left the country on Friday.

Other foreigners familiar with the situation also said they doubted the authenticity of the letter, which someone at one local newspaper said was provided by the Kenyan Government. These foreigners point to the fact that the letter began with a common misspelling of the Klan’s name – ”Klu Klux” instead of ”Ku Klux.”

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But it was perhaps the mention of war by the ambassador that got the government thinking. Within an hour of the ambassador calling the foreign ministry, Moi made this speech “Do not hurt any American missionaries. There may be a few bad apples, but most of these missionaries are wonderful people, and we love having them in Kenya.”

The former ambassador continued to narrate how she tried meeting Moi in coming days.

And then I tried to get to Moi, but nobody wanted me to talk to him. Everybody, I think, was a little embarrassed. The missionaries went home. There were a couple of articles, and then it all stopped. I kept trying to get to Moi. Finally I talked to my friend, Kiplagat, and I said, “Look, if I don’t talk to him about the missionaries, can I meet with him?”

We met, we started chit-chatting a little bit, and I said, “I wish you’d do me a favor. If you think you have a problem, I wish you’d call me.” Kiplagat started getting a little bit nervous, and I said, “Just promise me that if you think something is going wrong, call me.” And Moi said he would. And then I said to him, “You know, you’re right about the KKK.” I could see Kiplagat was ready to jump across the room and throttle me.

And I said, “They’d love to overthrow you. The Klan thinks it’s an outrage that a black man as powerful as you runs a country like this.” Where is she going to take this? And I said, “But you have to understand something. The Klan is bankrupt. They don’t have enough money for an airplane ticket. They can’t get over here. They can’t do anything to you.” And we started laughing about it. Afterwards Kiplagat said, you promised. And I said, “Just missionaries, just missionaries. I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk about the Klan.” So we put that behind us.

Now, remember that American judge who had come to observe some trials but instead found himself behind bars? The ambassador continues to narrate how that went.

But then not long after that they kidnapped Frankel. Now, what to do? My political counselor started getting hysterical, wanted me to call Moi. And I said, no, not yet. I want to know where he is first. I didn’t want the Kenyans to hurt him. We had enough contacts in the Kenyan police and intelligence and military, so I figured we’d be able to do that pretty fast.

We found him, I’ve forgotten who got the information, but we found him very quickly. He had been taken first to a local jail, and just thrown into a jail cell. They took his shoe laces away, his tie, his belt, and dumped him in with some common — we don’t know if they were criminals or not, but they were in the cell with him. Then they moved him to the Nyayo House and started interrogating him, among other things about the Ku Klux Klan, and they wanted to know why he had come to Kenya. “I just came to see a trial.” “Yes, but why? Who sent you?” They were getting almost paranoid about this.

When I found out where he was, I sent my chief of the consular section over to Nyayo House to find him. They didn’t want to let him in, and he said, “I’m here for the American ambassador, and I’m here to find the judge.”

While he was trying to get in, he saw someone at the end of the corridor, and he shouted, “Are you Judge Frankel?” And Frankel said, “Yes.” And he said, “I’m here to rescue you.”

At that point I did call Moi, he wasn’t there but I talked to his personal assistant, and I said, “You have Judge Marvin Frankel detained at the Nyayo House. He’s a distinguished American jurist. This is a scandal. You release him immediately. He also has a serious heart condition, and if you don’t let him out of there immediately, he could die.” That was a lie but that sometimes gets to them. He was released in 15 minutes. We took him straight to the airport, and put him on the next plane. He said, “I want to get out of this country. I don’t ever want to see it again.” Of course, that was marvelous publicity for Kenya. It was idiotic.

Moi claimed that he knew nothing about it, that this was the work of this security fellow. And that when he found out about it, he was horrified, and he’d released him immediately. I had no basis for contradicting him except to point out that there was a climate that existed in Nairobi.

Now that’s some history for you.