Nineteen babies appear mysteriously in Kenya. Are they the work of God, miracle births? Or have they been stolen? And how is the man suspected of being the ringleader allowed to carry on preaching in Britain? From a south London church to an illegal clinic in Nairobi, Steve Boggan goes on the trail
Even before you venture into Huruma, one of the worst slums in Nairobi, you know it isn’t going to be pleasant. The name itself means, “Have mercy.” Here, almost everyone lives on less than 60p a day. What passes for roads are rutted, often impenetrable mud tracks. People live in shacks or decaying concrete hovels. Children play next to open sewers and rummage through rubbish tips.
You might think it comforting, then, to see a whitewashed building rising from the sea of grime. Even better, this is a clinic – the Louciana clinic – and it caters to the needs of the poor.
Inside, four patients lie in three tiny wards. One has malaria, one is waiting for a diagnosis, one is suffering from typhoid and a fourth is breastfeeding a newborn baby. Sixteen-year-old Sarah Naliaka came here because of the centre’s low fees – 1,500 Kenyan shillings for the birth. That’s just £11 to bring her new daughter, Tanya, into the world.
What Sarah does not know is that the Louciana clinic is operating illegally. She is also unaware that it is linked to an alleged child-trafficking ring that claims to produce “miracle babies” from thin air, and has connections to an evangelical archbishop operating nine churches across the UK.
Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who now preaches near Rotherhithe in south London, has been implicated in the alleged theft or illegal purchase of up to 19 children in Kenya, including six found at his house in Nairobi two years ago. According to Deya, it was God who gave these children to his wife and several followers – including one who was having babies as closely as three months apart. This, he says, was why the children’s DNA does not match their supposed parents.
That explanation has not convinced police in Nairobi. The children have been taken into care, and seven people are facing charges in Kenya in connection with child theft and dishonestly obtaining birth certificates, after raids on the homes of Deya and some of his followers in 2004. The accused include Deya’s wife, Mary, 44, two of his followers from London, Miriam Nyeko, 41, and Rose Kiserem, and a couple from Nairobi, Michael Odera, 63, and his wife Eddah, 58.
Two midwives, Maurice Ochieng, 31, and Grace Juma Odongo Sunguti, 32, who supposedly delivered the “miracle babies”, have also been charged, while Kenyan police say they are preparing a request for Deya’s extradition from the UK. In Kenya, there is some bewilderment in the medical community over Deya’s continuing presence in Britain. He was questioned by detectives in 2004 but is now not even on police bail. He continues to preach in Britain, collecting money from his 36,000 followers and even starring on his own digital television channel. “This man had children in his home that were not his own, and the only way he can account for them is by saying they were the result of miracles,” said one consultant obstetrician in Nairobi. “Does that mean that you believe in miracle babies in England?”
Gilbert Deya claims he was born in church 54 years ago as his mother, Monica, a preacher, was giving a sermon. When I first interviewed him in 2004, he described being endowed with powers of healing while he was still a boy, powers that eventually resulted in him summoning miracle babies in infertile or celibate women.
“In 1967 something came to me as a light and I fell on the floor, like a dead person,” he said. “I woke up screaming, saying, ‘I am seeing Jesus!’ Christians were consulted, witch doctors were consulted and we found that the power of Jesus in me was strong. My mother slaughtered a cow and the whole family sang God’s glory and I was ordained a minister.” He established his first church in London in 1995 and now has has congregations in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Luton, Nottingham, Watford, Reading and Leeds. He also has supporters in Kenya, Guyana, Canada, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. All his followers are expected to give the church weekly donations. His church in south London, an old factory building bought for £1m several years ago, plays host to African-style evangelical Christian services, including “healing” by Deya and the driving out of evil spirits from children. Homosexuals, he says, are not welcome, but the selling of videos promising to bring wealth and happiness through prayer and donation is fine. One features Deya on the cover, posing in front of an executive jet with his name on the fuselage.
I met Deya again several months ago and he said he was outraged that he should have been accused of any impropriety, and angry that his wife, Mary, should be facing trial in Kenya for “child stealing”, as the offence is known in the Kenyan penal code.
“These babies are a gift from God,” he said. “We can’t understand why the DNA doesn’t match. That is beyond the understanding of man. We want a full investigation into this to find out what is going on. We have nothing to hide. If God is choosing to perform His miracles through us, then so be it.
“We are a respectable church,” he insisted. “Since these allegations have surfaced, the Charity Commission has conducted a full investigation and not found one penny missing. I don’t even pay myself a salary – the church looks after me. The car I drive, the clothes I have on, the food I am eating – people give them to me. The ministry is successful because we are preaching the truth. We don’t believe in homosexuality or gay marriage, so people donate.
“We are as puzzled as everyone else about these babies. But we have found cases in the US where mothers have given birth to babies and the DNA has not matched. That could be the answer.”
In fact, the Charity Commission has yet to publish its findings into the Deya inquiry, and the American DNA cases appear to be a red herring. Several cases have been uncovered in which a mother’s DNA did not match her baby’s because of a rare medical condition, but in each case the father’s did. Deya’s does not match the six children seized from his home in Kenya.”
Several weeks ago, Deya asked me to visit his wife in Nairobi; he cannot travel there himself as he would be immediately arrested. I agreed, but was surprised when not only Mrs Deya arrived at my hotel room, but also most of the alleged child-trafficking ring.
There was Miriam Nyeko, a former council worker from Canning Town in London. She was arrested by Kenyan police in August 2004, a month after supposedly giving birth to Daniel, a boy whose DNA was subsequently found not to match hers.
“It was a miracle pregnancy,” says Nyeko. She is a big woman in a pale lilac suit, and she is crying. “I had pregnancy tests and they were negative. I was due to have a scan later in August but I came over here for a short holiday and to attend a funeral, and I gave birth to Daniel on July 19.
“Then, on August 20, the police turned up at Mama Mary’s [Mrs Deya’s] house and arrested us. It was only after two weeks in custody that they accused us of stealing children. I have been here ever since. They have taken Daniel into care and I can’t leave because I am on trial. But I have children and a husband in London. I miss them so much.”
There is much to suggest that Nyeko may be a victim – albeit a spectacularly gullible one – in the birth of Daniel. Shortly after the baby was “born”, Archbishop Deya gave me a video that he claimed proved Nyeko actually gave birth to the child.
It was filmed in a clinic called Mama Lucy’s and showed a woman, seemingly drugged unconscious, being treated by a man and woman in gowns and masks. The film does not show the actual emergence of a child, but simply cuts to a bloody baby, complete with umbilical cord and placenta, between Nyeko’s legs. The “doctor” can be heard asking if she is awake yet.
Nyeko appears to be a deeply disturbed woman. She now believes she is carrying another miracle baby – which, she says, is four months overdue. “What can I do?” she pleads. “If I allow it to come out, they will take it away from me again.”
Nyeko says she was in custody for four months until Archbishop Deya put up 1.5m Kenyan shillings, or about £11,000, as surety.
Also visiting is Michael Odera. He and his wife, Eddah, had three “normal” children before Mary Deya assured them they were expecting a miracle baby, years after Mrs Odera had stopped menstruating. That was in June 1999. Since then, there have been 11 more.
“We now know that miracle babies come faster than ordinary babies,” says Odera. A salesman by trade, he is wearing a baggy suit and sweating profusely. “For example, we had John, born May 2000, then Mary, September 2000, and James, December 2000. “I want to defend the archbishop and his ministry. After all, these children were born because of prayer. I am convinced they are miracle babies.”
Two years ago, on Gilbert Deya’s website, www.deyaministries.com, there was a “miracle babies” link to the Odera family and their many children, asking readers to donate to their upkeep. I ask Odera if it is still operating. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says. The link has, indeed, now been removed.
The archbishop’s wife, Mary, won’t say anything until the arrival of her lawyer, Wandugi Karathe. Then she describes how she met Deya.
“My parents were working in Kampala in 1973 and that is where we first got together,” she says. She is wearing a smart dark blue suit and speaks quietly in an endearing, child-like manner. “We talked together with my parents and he asked me for a date. I liked him so much and we were married in the same year.”
Mrs Deya claims to have given birth to 14 babies, including two sets of twins (one twin subsequently died). It is difficult to elicit from her how many of these were of the miracle variety, but six remain in care following the 2004 police raid and subsequent DNA tests.
Days before being charged in 2004, Mrs Deya was treated at the Kenyatta National Hospital after claiming to have given birth to the latest miracle baby in the back of a taxi.
“I felt something in my womb,” she says. “God knows how long it had been in my stomach. I knew nothing about it. I thought I had had a liver problem, and then I took delivery in the back of a cab. By the time I reached hospital, he was born.” She called that baby Gilbert.
But what about the negative DNA results? “I don’t depend on DNA,” says Mrs Deya. “These children are like a miracle. DNA cannot match miracles. When I went for pregnancy tests, they could not find babies. When I went for scans, they showed nothing but I could feel something moving.”
The other visitors are the midwives who supposedly delivered many of the miracle babies, including Mary Deya’s and Nyeko’s. They are Maurice Ochieng and Grace Juma Odongo Sunguti and they have been charged with wilfully giving false information in order for birth certificates to be obtained. They both confirm that they were the medical staff featured in the video of the Nyeko birth.
Ochieng says he has assisted in many deliveries, and those of Nyeko and Mary Deya were “normal”. Asked if he has has any medical qualifications, he replies: “I don’t want to get in any trouble. Just leave that alone.”
I get similar assertions from Grace Juma Odongo Sunguti. The births, she says, were “normal”. Asked about her qualifications, she replies: “I don’t want to talk about that.
Detective Corporal Fatuma Hadi of the Kenyan criminal investigation department had told me earlier that Sunguti had pleaded guilty to providing false information and served a six-month sentence. Sunguti denies this, as does the lawyer, Karathe. As for qualifications, the police say neither of the “midwives” has any.
The following day, photographer David Levene and I travel to Huruma to check out the defunct Mama Lucy clinic, only to discover that it has reopened as the Louciana clinic. Inside, the nurses on duty, Elizabeth Akmyi Owuato, Sylvester Odero and Sylvester Njeri, show us what purports to be a licence to practise.
When we ask who is in charge, they reply: “Grace and Ochieng” – the “midwives” in the “miracle babies” case. Later, we get visual confirmation that Grace Juma Odongo Sunguti is working at the clinic.
In his office in central Nairobi, Daniel Yumbya, executive officer of the Kenyan Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, is shocked. He says no licence has been issued to the newly named clinic.
“An application for a licence was received from a Sylvester Njeri,” he says, showing me the file. “We have told him that a full inspection is first required and full details must be provided of all the medical qualifications of the staff. None of this has been done, so the clinic is not operating legally.”
The clinic was raided and closed down a week after we alerted the authorities. Yumbya confirmed it had no valid operating licence.
None of this, however, answers the question of just where these babies came from. Nineteen remain in care in Kenya: six from the Deyas, 11 from the Oderas, one from Nyeko and one more from a a woman who cannot be named for legal reasons. When the children were taken into care, the police issued pictures of them all. So far, 36 couples have come forward claiming to be the parents, but the police say they have had no positive DNA matches.
“The problem we have is that for child-stealing charges to successfully stand in court, it would be useful to have someone with a DNA match who can say, ‘That is my child – they took my child’,” says Det Corp Hadi. “It may be that the children were bought. We have assured the public that we will not prosecute anyone who sold a child if they come forward, but people may be afraid to.”
Millie Odhiambo-Mabona, director of the Cradle, a non-governmental organisation that provides access to justice for parents and children, says it has cases of child-selling and theft on its books in which children have changed hands for as little as 2,000 shillings – about £15. That, though, is particularly low.
“The going rate,” she says, “is about 20,000 (£150) for an African child, 60,000 (£450) for a coloured baby and 100,000-plus (£750-plus) for a white one – racism is built into the system. They are unwanted children, from poor mothers or sex workers who are unlikely to come forward to claim them back.”
When the prospective parents came forward, some of them claimed their children were taken at birth from the Pumwani maternity hospital in Nairobi. The hospital denies the claims, but Odhiambo-Mabona says she is dealing with one case involving the hospital, in which a mother gave birth to a child who was subsequently found to be HIV-positive. Neither of the parents had HIV, and Odhiambo-Mabona’s suspicion is that an unscrupulous staff member may be involved in switching healthy babies for either sick or still-born children and passing them on to other parents for money. Pumwani is a large and busy institution where some 26,000 babies are delivered every year.
When we visit, staff appear to be caring and attentive and are upset at the claims against the hospital. The director, Dr Charles Wanyonyi, says he has no knowledge of any child ever going missing. “There have been no such incidents at all,” he says. “A taskforce examined the claims and found them to be without foundation. It would be impossible to have doctors and nurses and midwives involved in such activity.”
However, many of the couples who came forward to claim the miracle babies remain unconvinced. None has been shown their negative DNA results and few trust the police.
One claimant, Elizabeth Njeri Njenga, 23, says she was given three caesarean operations that she believed she did not need at Pumwani hospital, between 1999 and 2004. On the first two occasions, she was told her baby had died shortly after birth. She never saw the children alive. Her husband, Daniel, was shown dead babies. On the third visit, she and her husband, Daniel, 30, saw their baby alive and well.
“The nurses were commenting on what a big baby girl she was,” says Mrs Njenga. “She was healthy and crying loudly. Later, the baby was taken to the nursery.”
Daniel says: “A few hours later, I was told the same story – your baby has died. Again I was shown a dead baby, but this time I had seen mine when it was alive, a big, healthy baby. The dead child I was shown wasn’t mine. It was tiny. I told them that was not our baby. I was so convinced, I refused to take it home for burial.”
The Njengas are convinced one of the miracle babies is theirs, even though they have been told their DNA does not match. So are Francis Mbugua and his wife Lucy. One of the children in care bears an uncanny resemblance to their son, Christopher, who was kidnapped in Njororo, 250km north-west of Nairobi, six years ago. Police say their DNA does not match the child’s, but they have not seen the results for themselves.
“When we went to the children’s home to see if that child was Christopher, I immediately had this feeling that he was – the way only a mother can,” says Lucy. “The authorities have guessed he is six, but we think he is eight and has not been looked after very well.”
Francis says Christopher had two birthmarks, one at the base of his thumb and another on his buttock, round and greenish in colour. The child, who was one of those recovered from the Odera family, had both birthmarks.
“They let us visit him every month and now he waits for us and is upset when we have to go home and leave him behind,” says Francis. “We haven’t seen the DNA results that say he isn’t ours. We don’t believe the police’s results but we can’t afford independent tests of our own. Only an independent test would convince us, but even then, if we’re allowed, we would try to adopt him. Whatever anyone says, we now consider him our son.”
For now, this is where this confusing story ends, with lies, deceit and heartbreak. At the headquarters of the Kenyan criminal investigation department, Detective Chief Inspector Albert Ariada, the man overseeing the investigation, says that only one man can answer the many questions that remain.
“For us to be able to conclude our investigations successfully, there is a need to see Gilbert Deya,” he says. “He is the main player and he holds the key to all this. He needs to tell us how he did these miracles”.