U.S. diplomat kills man in car crash, leaves Kenya; widow destitute
NAIROBI, Kenya — An American diplomat who police say was speeding crossed the center line in his SUV and rammed into a full mini-bus, killing a father of three whose widow is six months pregnant, officials said Friday.
U.S. Embassy officials in Nairobi rushed the American and his family out of Kenya the next day, leaving the crash victims with no financial assistance to pay for a funeral and for hospital bills for the eight or so others who were seriously injured.
Latifah Naiman Mariki, 38 and whose husband was killed in the crash, was almost evicted from her house this week after her landlord demanded rent. Mariki's deceased husband, Haji Lukindo, was the family's only source of income.
Mariki told The Associated Press that neither the American driver nor anyone at the U.S. Embassy has contacted her, and she doesn't know how she will provide for her soon-to-be-born child and three children, ages 20, 10 and 7.
“It is difficult for me to handle this matter because my kids need to go to school. They need everything, basic needs,” Mariki said. “And we have no place to stay because we have to pay the rent. We have no money. ... Even if my kids are sick I have no money to take them to hospital.”
Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington, said the embassy extends its deepest condolences to Mariki's family and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. She said she couldn't comment on whether the embassy employee would return to Kenya.
“The embassy is fully cooperating with the Kenyan authorities as they investigate the accident and work to aid the victims,” she said.
The American driver of the SUV, Joshua Walde, was an information management officer at the Nairobi embassy when he got in the crash on his way home the evening of July 11. He gave a statement to police but because he has diplomatic immunity he was not detained.
A police dossier on the case shown briefly to an Associated Press reporter contained sketches of how police believe the accident happened. The sketch shows the American's SUV turning at a rounded four-way intersection on the edge of Nairobi and driving into the lane of oncoming traffic.
A police officer familiar with the case who insisted he not be identified by name because he is not an official spokesman said of Walde: “He was driving very fast.” Pictures in the dossier show that the SUV hit the front corner and side of the mini-bus, smashing in its frame. Kenyan mini-buses, known as matatus, also frequently drive fast and erratically.
A Facebook group of Kenyan mothers took up Mariki's case this week and are trying to raise funds for her. In dozens of comments online, many demanded accountability and expressed dismay that no financial help has been given.
“She's such a decent and honest lady you feel so bad for her. She wasn't employed,” Zahra Ashif, who started the Facebook thread, told AP. “The point is that (Walde) is not here so he can't be arrested, but after that point did he not have any courtesy to get in touch? ... For them life has gone on, but what about these kids?”
Walde is an 11-year employee of the State Department who has worked in Kazakhstan, Uruguay and Croatia. Shortly after the crash, Walde updated his work history on the networking site LinkedIn to put his time in Nairobi in the past tense, from July 2012 to July 2013. After the Facebook group noticed the updated resume and pointed to that as evidence that Walde would not return to face charges or help victims, the LinkedIn account was deleted, though a cached version is still available through Google.
Walde's wife circulated an email to sell a family vehicle and try to find new work locations for the family's nanny and gardener after the crash. AP sent an email to Walde's wife on Thursday asking if the family wanted to comment. No response was received.
The U.S. government is concerned about the impact the accident could have on bilateral relations with Kenya, a U.S. government official said. The official noted that embassy employees are typically evacuated for medical evaluations after traumatic events but are also flown out of a country to avoid any possible retribution or attack from others involved in an accident.
The police say the case remains under investigation. The Nairobi traffic police chief, Patrick Lumumba, said he is seeking assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to liaise with the U.S. Embassy. He said authorities didn't detain Walde because “we don't take diplomats into custody.”
A police spokeswoman, Ziporah Mboroki, said no charges had been filed against Walde the last time she checked.
“He is a diplomat and has the privileges of a diplomat. If you're a diplomat and you commit any crime in Kenya, the case is investigated and is forwarded to your embassy,” she said. “That's what the law says and we work per the law.”
A State Department guidance paper for U.S. law enforcement officials on how diplomatic immunity works says that even at the highest levels “diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a license for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions. The purpose of these privileges and immunities is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient and effective performance of their official missions on behalf of their governments.”
Farzana Jiwa employed Lukindo, the man killed in the crash, as a driver for the last seven years. Jiwa — who gave money to pay for Lukindo's funeral and to help pay his family's August rent — is angry that neither Walde nor the U.S. Embassy is helping the victims.
“I'm not asking him to go to jail, but do right by the family, it's so simple. Insurance would have taken care of it,” Jiwa said. “They couldn't jail him, they couldn't take his passport from him. All we want is for him to take some responsibility.”
Mariki, the widow, lives in a $125-a-month sheet-metal home in one of Nairobi's slums. It has no running water and the tiny and dangerous alleyways turn into a swampy mud pit when it rains. She must pay about $500 a year to send her two school-age children to class but doesn't know how she will afford it. She said she would like to see Walde prosecuted in court.
“What I want is justice to be done,” she said.