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Murder, Corruption and Greed

Murder, Corruption, and Greed

The Bridges’ Continuing Fight for Justice
by Sherman Pike
 

Pala International is pleased to reprint the following article that appeared in JEA News, Vol. 4, Issue 16, December 4, 2012, published by the Jewelers Ethics Association.

 

On the morning of August 5, 2009, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Masika Wetangula addressed a packed conference room at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Introducing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Wetangula referenced a meeting held by Secretary Clinton and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

President Kibaki and his team assured the Secretary of State that reforms are on course, that the war against impunity in the country is on, that the war against corruption is on, and all sanctuaries of corruption will be destroyed to make Kenya a cleaner and safer place to do business . . . [1]

Bridges and Friend photo image

Six days later and four hundred kilometers away, Campbell Bridges was brutally murdered by a group of men armed with spears, clubs, and avarice. Three long years later, the Bridges family is still seeking justice, and looking back on a life in Kenya that may be forever lost.

Outcry over the murder was immediate, and global. In an industry filled with larger-than-life personalities, the figure of Campbell Bridges was iconic. Those who did not know him knew of him. They knew of the ravine where a young Campbell had found both refuge from an angry water buffalo, and a cluster of intense green garnets. They knew of a tree house, of a python security guard, and of a man who truly and deeply loved Africa.

Less than forty-eight hours after the ambush, a shaken Bruce Bridges was interviewed by the BBC, and in haunting recollection described every terrible moment of the attack against himself, his father, and two security officers. [2] Though clearly in shock, Bruce spoke of what had occurred in heavy words that bore no trace of an event spurred by random events, or petty disputes. In fact, the attackers themselves had promised the ambush and Campbell’s death.

In 2006, the Bridges found that illegal mining activities were taking place on their concession. For two years, the Bridges, on behalf of their company, First Green Garnet Mining Company of Kenya, Ltd. (FGGMC), filed complaints with local and governmental authorities. The result of those complaints marked the beginning of direct threats. It has been estimated by Bruce Bridges that illegal mining operations led to the extraction of materials worth millions of dollars.

As time passed without action against the miners, they became more brazen, and almost as if to dare Campbell’s hand, they began placing protection notice signs at the site of their theft, bearing the name of another mining company, Tia Akili. In mining, a protection notice sign is placed to notify of the intent to mine. Bruce and Campbell were “shocked” to see these signs, as the land on which they were placed had been permitted to FGGMC since the early 1970s. Majority ownership of Tia Akili, which in English translates to “use your head,” is held by Kenya’s Assistant Minister of Education, Andrew Calist Mwatela. Of the remaining percentage in Tia Akili, forty is held by Regea Omar, one of the accused currently on trial for Campbell Bridges’ murder. [3]

Tsavorite photo image

What had begun as one illegal mining site grew to five, but FGGMC refused to abandon the established claims which were the result of hard work, and a geologist’s knowledge of the land. Instead, FGGMC continued to file complaints, and accumulate documentation. Almost all of the men involved in the illegal operation were identified by name, and photographed. After recording the license plate number of a Toyota truck which the group often used, the vehicle was shown as registered to Jacinta Mwatela, wife of MP Calist Mwatela, former Director of Kenya’s Central Bank, and current candidate for Governor of Taita Taveta County. [4]

With new evidence in hand, the Bridges appealed once again to local authorities, who finally made arrests of some men under a charge of illegal mining activities. According to a report filed by the Bridges family with the Kenyan Attorney General and British High Commission, Chief Inspector Kenneth Kalume received a call from MP Mwatela on July 21, 2009, threatening that Kalume would be transferred if he did not immediately release the men arrested. The suspects were released shortly thereafter, allegedly following orders issued by a former Deputy Commissioner of Police, instructed by Calist Mwatela, who also allegedly told Kalume, “You should not have arrested those people before you consulted the MP or the OCPD.” [5]

Following the release of those arrested, the threats against FGGMC began to manifest as actions, and on July 27, 2009, two FGGMC security officers were abducted while on patrol of the concession. They were handcuffed and beaten. As reported by the officers, they were released by their abductors with a message for Campbell, promising that they were coming for his head, along with his two chiefs of security. Unless left alone, the abductors would leave the Bridges’ camp in flames.

It was now clearer than ever before to the Bridges that their lives, and the lives of their employees, were in imminent danger. The illegal miners accosted the Bridges on August 10 as they were driving through the nearby Taita Saisal Estate. On this day death threats were issued to Campbell and Bruce Bridges as well as their personnel; the confrontation was reported to local police, to no avail. On August 11, Campbell and Bruce, along with four security guards, drove from their camp at the Scorpion Mine to visit Wundanyi District Commissioner Njenga Miiri at his home and made yet another appeal for protection. Bruce Bridges testified in court that after hearing what had occurred, DC Miiri confirmed that their documents were in order, and their claims valid, but that his hands were tied due to pressure from higher up. Bruce also testified that while in Miiri’s presence, the Commissioners’ phone rang, and after ending the call, Miiri showed Bruce and Campbell that the caller had been Kenya’s Minister of Gender, Dr. Naomi Shaban, demanding to know why the Bridges themselves had not been arrested for harassment of local miners. When asked about the alleged calls made by Shaban to Miiri and Voi OCPD Habert Khaemba, she responded, "I have a right to tell the police and the DC about the complaints of my people," and "I have a right to protect my constituents." [6]

They left the Commissioners home empty-handed yet again, and headed back up the hill. On the way, the group was warned by a local landowner that trenches had been dug across the single lane dirt road that served as their only route. One final appeal was made to local police for protection, and even with this new information, there was no help. The decision was made to continue toward camp. [7]

The ambush occurred between two roadblocks, and as the attackers streamed out of the brush, they screamed their intent. After two of the guards fled, just four men were left to ward off the attackers, woefully outnumbered, and under armed. The details of those terrible minutes do not require a retelling, but the repercussions of that day produced ripples, which have yet to reach shore.

Stories about Campbell’s murder were published worldwide, and messages of support came from every part of the gemstone industry. Time carried on for most of those who had mourned Campbell’s passing, but for his family, and for the remaining employees of FGGMC, the nightmare continued.

The first man arrested in conjunction with the murder was Alfred Njuruka, followed by several others and eventually one of the alleged masterminds of the illegal mining and attack, Daniel Mdachi Mnene Mwaghania, aka Suleiman. Mnene was reported to have been hiding in the border town of Taveta, which is home to his cousin, Dr. Naomi Shaban. The same MP Shaban, who had called District Commissioner Miiri on the day of the attack in an effort to “protect” her “constituents,” denied shielding Mnene, claiming that she made no effort to stop his arrest. Shaban told reporters, “Mnene who is a cousin to my mother was not hiding in my house because he has his own home in Nairobi.” In 2010, Shaban provided proof of income, and the offer of her shares in the Parliamentary credit union as collateral to release Mnene on bond. Rather than make the request in person, Shaban sent a letter with an officer Jimmy Mnene, who was attached to the national headquarters of Kenya’s police force, also known as Vigilance House. [8]

On the day of the ambush, one of the men who had remained to protect Campbell was Amos Kiamba, FGGMC’s chief of security. In April of 2010, Kiamba’s daughter Grace and her husband were hacked to death at their Mombasa home. The only item taken from the home was Grace’s identification card. In December of the same year, Kiamba’s other daughter was abducted, and later released. The violence and threats which continue to this day have forced Bruce Bridges to change housing for his heads of security multiple times, enrolling their children in new schools each time.

Eventually, seven men and one woman were charged in the murder of Campbell Bridges, and a start date for trial was set. The Kenyan press has covered aspects of the ongoing trial, including testimony by several witnesses. Also published have been articles describing the transfer of officers who worked the case, and claims of interference. MP’s Mwatela and Shaban have denied any involvement, labeling the claims made by the Bridges “rubbish,” and “unsubstantiated rumours.”

Certainly, many people worldwide are following the ongoing trial, and hope that justice will be done. However, even if those on trial are found guilty and sent to serve prison terms, Bruce Bridges is uncertain when asked about the future of FGGMC tsavorite. Regarding current operations in Kenya, Bruce says, “Our presence at the mine is simply a strong security force, along with a maintenance team and management. We are not actively mining at present.”

Looking toward the future of tsavorite and The Scorpion Mine, Bruce shows his passion for the material, but more so for the message.

If we were not able to successfully reopen The Scorpion Mine, it would be a tragedy for tsavorite production in the world. Not only is The Scorpion Mine the largest and most productive tsavorite mine in history, but it was a bastion of hope and true example of what could be achieved in a small/medium scale coloured gemstone mine in East Africa. It also remains the only truly professional and responsible tsavorite mine in the world, where when purchasing a gem, one was guaranteed that they had received a morally and ethically mined tsavorite.

Requests for action to protect legal mining operations may prove as effective today as they were six years ago, when all of this began. The challenges are great, and the entire region has become unstable, with random attacks and violence against miners and others constantly reported in area newspapers. Just last month, a neighboring miner was murdered and found in the bush a week after he went missing. And so is there any hope for the future of ethically mined tsavorite in Kenya?

Bridges photo image

Though the community of gemstone enthusiasts and dealers worldwide may not possess the power to directly affect the laws and internal struggles of Kenya, they do possess the passion to protect what has become one of the world’s most beloved gems. The authorities in Kenya, from the top to the bottom, must be made aware that the world is watching, and that actions taken against the innocent may not be so easily swept under the rug as they once were.

On the same day in August of 2009 when Foreign Minister Wetangula conveyed President Kibaki’s dedication to reform, Secretary Clinton addressed the challenges facing Africa, saying, “The solution starts with transparency. A famous judge in my country once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and there’s a lot of sunlight in Africa.”

NOTES

  1. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/08/126890.htm [return to text]
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8199627.stm [return to text]
  3. http://allafrica.com/stories/201110090063.html [return to text]
  4. http://allafrica.com/stories/201209010013.html [return to text]
  5. http://allafrica.com/stories/201110090063.html [return to text]
  6. Ibid. [return to text]
  7. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=1144021363 [return to text]
  8. http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-3924/minister-shaban-denies-bid-shield-murder-suspect [return to text]

If you would like to voice your concerns for the Bridges family, or comment on the future of ethical tsavorite mining in Africa, please contact the following:

We would like to thank the Bridges family for their assistance, commend them for their unswerving courage, and hope for the justice they so dearly deserve. To learn more about Campbell Bridges and the tsavorite he brought to the world, please visit Tsavorite.com.

Click to download a copy of this article in PDF.


JEA Archive: The Bridges’ Family Needs Your Help

by Lisa Brooks-Pike

Tsavorite photo image

 
In October of 2009, JEA Founding President Lisa Brooks-Pike was invited to meet Bruce Bridges, and witness Bruce’s efforts to protect his father’s legacy.

It was an honor to meet recently with Bruce Bridges, son of Campbell Bridges, in the office of Tom Elliot, owner of North American Gemological Laboratory. Within moments of Bruce’s arrival it was clear that he had the same great qualities and values as his father, and his passion for family and tsavorite is extraordinary. Bruce and his family have suffered great adversity and even greater loss yet Bruce’s dedication to his father’s lifetime of work and to tsavorite drive him forward with amazing strength and focus. . .

Click to read the complete article