After they were condemned to life imprisonment in a foreign country, the four Kenyans have been reunited with their families yesterday.
In a complete turn of fate, overwhelmed relatives and friends received them with hugs and hearty laughters at a Nairobi hotel, more than two and half years after they were sentenced in South Sudan.
“We are very happy to be back home. The most important thing is tumekuja nyumbani (We are back home). Any person who is not in a nice place, the only thing you wish for is freedom. We were wishing to see our families. We are happy, we are back home and of course the experience (in prison) was not good,” said Antony Keya Munialo.
Their freedom was only guaranteed after the intervention of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his counterpart in South Sudan, Salva Kiir.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Monica Juma travelled to Juba, the South Sudan capital on Monday to receive them, following the presidential meeting in Nairobi on November 29, a day after President Kenyatta was sworn for a second term.
Boniface Muriuki Chuma was also jailed in the conflict-prone nation that is barely eight years old.
He said: “A prison is a prison. We left our families back home. Whatever we were prosecuted about is something that we didn’t do. We are innocent and that is why.”
The others are Mr Antony Mwadime Wazome and Mr Ravi Ramesh Ghagdha.
Reading a written statement on behalf of the four, Mr Ghaghda said: “We thank President Uhuru Kenyatta and also congratulate him for being reelected. We are here today because of our government and all the prayers by Kenyans and our families.”
‘THE SUDAN FOUR’
They came to be known as the Sudan Four, a slogan that picked in social media and street marches to put pressure on Kenyan government to intervene.
Initially they were detained without trial for several months and later charged with stealing $14 million (Sh1.4 billion) from the Office of the President through forgery.
The charges stated they committed various offences including fraud, conspiracy to defraud the government, money laundering and terrorism financing.
The court said they forged signatures including that of President Salva Kiir, the army Chief of Staff and other government officials.
The PS, together with three ministry officials travelled to the country to receive them.
She said President Kiir pardoned them, to secure their freedom.
After presenting the four to the family and media, she said the government would protect all Kenyans in distress while aboard.
The PS stated: “The government will remain committed to protect all Kenyans wherever they are. However continue to get deeply concerned with cases where Kenyans travel to take up jobs without bothering to take due diligence or referring to the government to confirm the nature of companies or credibility of companies offering those opportunities.”
She went on: “To the families and friends it has been a long period of uncertainty and anguish. As a government we too have been deeply concerned and have continuously engaged with South Sudan at various levels to have the issue resolved.”
Dr Juma said the freed convicts were given a clean bill of health after undergoing medical tests.
She added that no conditions were given for their release, saying the rule of law was upheld before the presidential pardon.
“There are bad companies all over including Kenya that are involved in recruitment. These four are lucky because in other cases, people return home with injuries or in body bags,” the PS noted
The four were locked up On May 29, 2015 and charged alongside 12 South Sudan nationals who were also cumulatively jailed for 67 years.
Before they were freed, they had complained that they were not given a fair hearing.
They further argued the sentences were harsh and that they were proxy victims of business wars between rivals, one of whom was their employer, for lucrative government tenders.
One of the South Sudanese sentenced include businessman John Agou, who was a senior security officer in President Kiir’s office, and his wife Anyeth Chat Bol.
The two founded the business Click Technologies which supplied electronic items to the Juba government and employed the four Kenyans.
Mr Agou, the court found, conspired with his employees to swindle the Office of the President and other ministries, by receiving payments for deliveries that never were.
On Wednesday, a Kenya Airways plane carrying the four together with the ministry’s delegation landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 5.30pm.
But after landing, they were quietly driven out of the airport in a convoy of government vehicles.
The four underwent debriefing by government officials before being allowed to unite with their families.