Two notable events happened in the last one week – one was the visit of the Uganda-born Seychelles President Danny Faure and the other was the death of Bill Parkinson, the former Safari Rally chairman and aviation industry investor.
Parkinson is the man who recently sold his airline to an American mercenary, Erik Prince, a former US Navy Seal and the founder of the notorious Blackwater, a private army outfit.
The visit by President Faure was significant, not because it was his first state visit to any country since his election in October 2016, but because it was the first by a sitting Seychelles president since the July 1990 premier visit by President France Albert René.
Faure is a member of René’s former party, Seychelles People’s United Party, now known as Parti Lepep (People’s Party), which deposed former President James Mancham, a known friend of Kenya’s post-independence Cabinet minister Tom Mboya and Attorney General Charles Njonjo.
In his free time, too, Mancham would play squash with the likes of former Police Commissioner Bernard Hinga and Criminal Investigations Department (CID) boss Ignatius Nderi.
He was also an avid rally driver, the famous co-driver to Safari Rally ace Vic Preston.
Now, this is the forgotten story of how Bill Parkinson was entangled in the Seychelles coup – a story that led to his exit from the Safari Rally and dramatic fall.
Two years ago, I had written the story of how former Police Commissioner Ben Gethi and Njonjo were involved in one of the many abortive Seychelles coups and attempts to reinstate Macham.
It is a story that he always wished away – and close friends say as much.
In the final Njonjo Commission of Inquiry Report by Justice Cecil Miller, Parkinson is dismissed as “an acrobatic liar … (who) shamelessly admitted having lied freely …(and) felt obliged to do so …”
When Mancham died aged 77 in January this year at his Glacis-Sur-Mer complex in Mahe, the largest island in the Seychelles archipelago, there was hardly any mention of his political flirtation with the likes of Parkinson, who was fondly known as “Babu” in old age.
Thus President Faure’s visit is a notable diplomatic achievement given that Kenya and Seychelles have had a rough history thanks to escapades that partly involved Parkinson, a Kenyan citizen and former police officer, who served in the Special Branch for 14 years.
In 1986, President Rene was planning to visit Kenya in a bid to have President Moi throw out the many coup plotters who had camped for years in Nairobi.
The Kenyan visit was to follow the 1986 Non-Aligned Summit in Harare.
But a day before the meeting ended, India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gadhi informed President Rene that his Minister for Defence, Ogilvy Berlouis, together with Raymond Bonte, were planning to assassinate him at the Victoria Airport once he returned from the Kenyan trip.
Gandhi gave Rene his presidential plane, Air India One, and “disguised as a woman” and wearing the Indian Sari dress, he flew back home.
This was part of what became known as “Operation Flowers are Blooming” – the only time the Indian Navy helped thwart a coup in Africa.
Gandhi also sent a military naval ship, Vindhyagiri, which purported to have an engineering defect to dock for several weeks at Port Victoria; just in case.
Parkinson was an Irishman who had acquired Kenyan citizenship, and had strong connections to apartheid South Africa.
While doubling as a Special Branch officer – then under the faceless sleuth James Kanyotu – Parkinson had been approached by the CID deputy director DJ Irwin, and asked if he could participate in a secret venture. He agreed.
He was to have one of his planes fly the former Seychelles President Mancham and his cabinet back home after a plotted coup, led by South African mercenary Mad Mike Hoare, succeeded.
Also brought on board was Cedrick Vincent Gontier, an Assistant Commissioner of Police.
It was Parkinson who agreed to reserve his aircraft “November 821 Charlie Alpha” and gave the fictitious names of the people who were to be on board.
He also applied to the Civil Aviation Board to have permission granted to fly “the American tourists” – Mr and Mrs Morgan, Mr and Mrs Bowman and Mr Nescott to Seychelles.
He also engaged a New Zealander pilot, Captain Schraft, and another Nairobi-based Captain David Leonard as the navigator.
Parkinson had bought an air ticket for Capt Leonard to fly from London to Nairobi for the secret mission.
Parkinson had lied to Captain Leonard that this “commission” had the blessings of the Kenyan government and when asked “who”, he replied “your previous employer”.
Apparently, Leonard was previously working with Boskovic Air Charters where Njonjo was a director and shareholder.
A booking officer for Sunbird Aviation, which operated Parkinson’s Beechcraft 200 aircraft, later admitted that it was Parkinson who booked the flight to Seychelles and provided the names of the fictitious tourists.
The names had been given to Parkinson by some Seychellois residing in Nairobi.
The “tourists” were to be flown to Seychelles from Mombasa on the day of the coup.
Interestingly, according to Parkinson, only five people in Kenya knew about the 1981 Seychelles coup.
These were Captain Shraft of the Norwegian Church Aid, Captain Leonard, Mr Irwin and Mr Gontier.
For all this, he was to receive Sh50,000 and the two pilots would have received Sh6,000 each.
He also later admitted to have spoken to Njonjo about the coup.
How much Parkinson knew about the Seychelles coup will never be known since he had been “sworn to secrecy” by Irwin, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, and his deputy Gontier, the man who was handling the flight matters.
The reason Gontier and Parkinson were the main contacts was because Gontier, though a senior Kenyan police officer, was Seychellois – a great supporter of former President Mancham.
During the 1984 Njonjo Commission of Inquiry, Parkinson tried to influence the two pilots to change their statements in order to cover-up the role of Sunbird Aviation.
And when he was cornered and asked whether he ever discussed the Seychelles matter with Njonjo, he said: “My discussions were centered on the Safari Rally and I may have referred to Seychelles in loose terms …”
That was when Justice C.B. Madan got worked up with Parkinson’s lies: “Come on, cut these Safari Rally matters and put them in your pocket and talk about Seychelles …”
At the squash court of the Aero Club in Nairobi, Parkinson had discussed the Seychelles matter with both Captain Shraft and Captain Leonard.
“I recall telling them that they will take the aircraft to the Seychelles flying the Seychelles cabinet in exile back to the Seychelles …”
At the time of the planned flight, President Moi was the chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
When President Rene accused Kenya of having a hand in the planned coup, the small group of Kenyans who knew the truth kept quiet.
Actually, Moi dismissed Rene’s statement as malicious and was backed by his Minister of State GG Kariuki. Both, most likely, had been kept in the dark.
“I was aware in my heart that the allegations were not entirely without foundation,” Parkinson later admitted, “what was uppermost in my mind at that time was the protection of the state in view of the fact that I was aware that the Kenya government was implicated through CID headquarters.”
RESIGNATION FROM RALLY
As a result of Parkinson’s dalliance with Seychellois exiles, relations between Kenya and Seychelles hit rock-bottom.
That Parkinson emerged from the Njonjo inquiry as a liar is well documented.
He was often criticised for making contradictory statements.
At one time, lead counsel Lee Muthoga told him: “Mr Parkinson, a liar must have a good memory and that is the weakness in your whole setup. You would want to lie and lie, and your memory is so bad.”
At the point where he said that he never saw the need to tell Njonjo what he knew about the Seychelles plot and what he had discussed with Irwin, Parkinson was cut short by Justice Miller – “You are so hopeless,” he was told.
Parkinson would immediately resign from Safari Rally Limited and he was replaced by Nicholas Ng’ang’a.
He would continue to work in the aviation industry and set up the largely successful Phoenix Aviation in 1994.
It was a passion that he had ever since at age 18 when he was taught to fly a Tiger Moth at Wilson airport by two ex-RAF pilots.
His Phoenix Aviation provided first generation jet aircraft to Amref Flying Doctors, and Parkinson with his son Steve – now Phoenix CEO, have been running the company.
Interestingly, Parkinson recently sold some of his shareholding to the notorious American mercenary Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater blamed for the killings of Iraq civilians when it served as a military contracting firm.
The Washington Post once described the firm as a “symbol for mercenaries and impunity in Iraq and elsewhere”.
Prince is also at the heart of the Trump administration and his sister Elisabeth Dee “Betsy” DeVos is Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, a story that we recently told here.
In other news – perhaps unrelated, the Washington Post reported on April 3, 2017 that Prince was in Seychelles in January to meet some United Arab Emirates officials “as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump”.
The White House has denied that story and Prince’s spokesman has said: “Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication.
The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”
And that is how Seychelles has a place in our political history – thanks to Bill Parkinson – and President Faure’s visit might help undo some of the damage done in years past.
“You owe Kenya an apology”, screamed the Daily Nation of June 22, 1984. But Parkinson never apologised.
[email protected] @johnkamau1