Self-described LGBTI rights activist/journalist Fred Odinga of Kenya has apparently defrauded supporters out of thousands of dollars’ worth of contributions they made in response to his appeals for protection against violent alleged enemies. Victims of his apparent scam have included dozens of individual donors, this Erasing 76 Crimes blog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, Free Press Unlimited, International Media Support and Front Line Defenders.
Odinga’s story started in late 2015 when he reportedly interviewed intersex Kenyan teenager Muhadh Ishmael at Malindi Hospital after the youth was mutilated by family members for acting like a gay man. Muhadh reportedly died on Dec. 21, 2015, and Odinga’s article about those events was published in this blog on Dec. 23, 2015, under the pseudonym “Joseph Odero.” It is not currently clear how much of that article was untrue.
After the article appeared, Odinga reportedly notified police of the crime, began receiving death threats, was attacked on Jan. 18, 2016, in Kakamega by apparent supporters of the family, was left for dead, was taken to the hospital by well-wishers, had a kidney transplant, took shelter in a safe house with his five orphaned siblings, testified against Muhadh’s family in a murder trial in Malindi, testified against his attackers in an assault trial in Kakamega, and took refuge in Tanzania for several months after his younger brother was killed as revenge for Odinga’s role in the trials. The trials reportedly ended in guilty verdicts in late 2016, with three members of Muhadh’s family each sentenced to seven years in prison and three of Odinga’s attackers each sentenced to one year in prison.
The veracity of that remarkable account was substantiated — or so it seemed — by dozens of documents, including medical reports, hospital bills, photographs, numerous receipts, emails from Odinga’s attorneys, the burial permit for his brother, a six-page verdict from the Malindi murder trial and a five-page verdict from the Kakamega assault trial, and prison documents verifying that the Malindi defendants and the Kakamega defendants were all serving their sentences.
In March 2016, the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative contributed £415 to pay Odinga’s attorney to put pressure on Kakamega police to investigate the reported attack of Jan. 18, 2016. The attorney’s contacts with police reportedly laid the groundwork for the trial, conviction and imprisonment of Odinga’s three attackers in Kakamega.
A Nairobi-based journalist working for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists investigated Odinga’s claims in July 2016 when Odinga sought financial assistance from CPJ to pay for his medical care at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya. This blog contacted the hospital’s finance office, which verified Odinga’s statements about his hospital bill. CPJ’s investigator told this blog that he did not interview Odinga in person, but did contact Odinga’s doctor at Moi Hospital to check on Odinga’s statements. After CPJ received the investigator’s report, it authorized payment of $1,000 for Odinga’s hospital bill.
This blog has paid thousands of dollars from the accounts of blog publisher Colin Stewart and his wife, Sue, to keep Odinga alive at secret locations and to provide transportation for Odinga and his attorneys to the trials in Kakamega and Malindi. The blog has also sponsored online fundraisers to support Odinga under the acknowledged pseudonym “Joe Odero.” The latest was a July 2017 fundraiser “Brave gay journalist needs your help,” which appeared both on Facebook and on Generosity.com. It stated:
“Because of his reporting, Joe Odero was bludgeoned, left for dead, and lost his brother in a revenge murder. That all occurred because his journalism had exposed the murderous mutilation of an intersex Kenyan teenager in late 2015. It also helped send six attackers to prison in late 2016. Joe then had to flee from Kenya to save his life.
“Now he’s supporting the four surviving members of his orphaned HIV+ family and hoping to complete his university education. Please help him.”
Between the two fundraisers, people contributed $2,483, which went to Odinga.
This month, the fundraiser on Facebook attracted the attention of LGBTI activists in Kenya, who declared it a scam and stated that Odinga is not even gay. Still convinced that Odinga’s tale was adequately documented, the blog on Aug. 18 published an article about the Kakamega verdict, which had not previously been publicized. (Stewart had held off reporting the results of the two trials, planning to write a book about the whole sequence of events.)
The Aug. 18 article included links to uploaded copies of the Kakamega verdict, a police medical report on Odinga’s condition after the January 2016 attack; and documentation stating that the three convicted defendants were confined at Kakamega Prison. Each of those documents had been provided to the blog in emails from Odinga’s reported attorney, Kennedy Ochieng-Okello. He also provided comparable, as-yet unpublished documents related to the Malindi trial.
A member of the west Kenyan LGBTI rights group Nyarwek (the Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Kenya Network) told Stewart that the Kakamega documents must be fake and that Nyarwek would investigate.
Previously, a few Kenyan activists had expressed skepticism to Stewart about Odinga’s account, but without supporting documentation. Odinga, however, had repeatedly claimed that members of Kenya’s LGBT community were working against him, were cooperating with Muhadh’s family, and might have accepted bribes from them.
While awaiting the results of the Nyarwek investigation, the blog hired its own investigative reporter in Kenya to research the veracity of Odinga’s documents.
That reporter concluded that the prison documents are fraudulent:
“I shared the prison warrants with a senior official at Kenya Prisons headquarters. He says they are forgeries. First, the warrants bear prisons logo instead of Kenya’s Coat of Arms.”
In addition, the investigation revealed that none of the people whom Odinga described as attorneys, including Kennedy Ochieng-Okello, can be found on the Law Society of Kenya’s search portal.
“It is obvious they are not genuine advocates in Kenya,” the blog’s investigator stated.
His investigation is continuing.
Meanwhile, one Nyarwek member reported seeing Odinga in Kisumu, his hometown, rather than at a distant university where Odinga is allegedly pursuing his studies with support from the recent fundraiser.
Other LGBTI rights supporters on Facebook have recently reported receiving apparently fraudulent pleas for financial help from Odinga.
The Rev. Colin Coward, the founder of the Anglican LGBTI advocacy group Changing Attitude, said that Odinga had sent him a request for money so he could travel to Nairobi for a job interview.
Odinga denied making that request when Stewart confronted him with it. Odinga said that he had lent his phone to a neighbor and inadvertently left himself logged onto Facebook. The neighbor must have sent that plea to Coward, Odinga stated.
Separately, Coward told Stewart about his earlier interactions with Odinga:
“[After a trip to Kenya,] having been very impressed by Fred’s ability in leading worship and preaching on the Sunday I was in Kisumu, he began requesting money for medication for siblings and himself, and reporting stories about deaths, of his mother and sister, his own HIV status, and other dramas. I was communicating with a school friend of his at the same time, living in Nairobi, who told me about Fred’s girlfriend and her financial expectations which Fred was satisfying partly through money received from me. I concluded that Fred was a fantasist with a clever ability to elicit money from me on false pretenses. Despite having other contacts in Kenya, I have never met someone able to corroborate Fred’s stories.”
“I am feeling very disturbed by what you have discovered as a result of your further investigations into Fred’s activities. He is still a human being. He also seems to have remarkable abilities in initiating stories and creating fraudulent documents as evidence. If only he had been able to channel his creativity in a positive direction.”
LGBTI rights activist Melanie Nathan of San Francisco, the executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition, said that Odinga reached out to her this month, stating that his house had just been covered with anti-homosexuality graffiti. He sent her a photo, but Nathan recognized it as a photo that had been published online in 2014 by the magazine Mother Jones. When she pointed that out to Odinga, he replied:
“Gosh, I just realized I sent you wrong photos let me sent you a clearer pic in a short while.”
“He had been communicating with me for some time – always with a story why he needed money. I was suspicious as there was always a different story and they were inconsistent. Seemed he would forget what he did before. However I knew I had something on him when I could prove this clear lie with the picture from the Mother Jones article.
It was then that I contacted several of his FB friends and he has asked all for money with a story of sorts. I put a warning on my FB page.”
Odinga has written articles for this blog and been the subject of other blog posts under the pseudonyms “Joseph Odero” and “Joe Odero.” In its coverage of sometimes violently homophobic societies, this blog uses pseudonyms — and always acknowledges them as such — when necessary to shield the identities of writers and others whose safety could be jeopardized if their real names were used.
This blog apologizes to its readers for publishing the articles that, on investigation, now seem to be fraudulent. All previous articles by or about Odinga have been removed from the blog or labeled as “FAKE” or “FAKE?” (for articles about Muhadh Ishmael’s burial) or “STATUS UNKNOWN” (in the case of the original article about Muhadh’s death). They were labeled rather than simply removed from the blog so any readers who follow links to them will see a warning label rather than merely an “Oops! That page can’t be found” error message.
If possible, the blog would like to repay anyone who contributed to a Joe Odero fundraiser. Contributors are welcome to send requests for repayment to [email protected], including details of the amount and timing of your contribution.