Ndingi: I have lied only once

Published on 01/08/2009

By Joe Kiarie

Emeritus Archbishop of Nairobi Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki helped to smuggle Prof Wangari Maathai to safety at the height of Government crackdown on human rights activists in 1993.

In his biography, A Voice Unstilled: Archbishop Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki, the clergy reveals how priests were forced to tell lies when their lives were in danger.

Retired Archbishop Ndingi

Maathai was by then one of the most vocal activists and the Government had outlawed all her meetings.

Ndingi says pairing up with Maathai in her campaigns sent panic waves within Government.

He recalls an instance on March 3, 1993 when Maathai was invited to a meeting to discuss the rehabilitation of displaced people at Christ The King Cathedral in Nakuru. Ndingi was the bishop there.

To ensure she did not attend, police placed roadblocks on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway starting March 2.

Armed officers scanned every vehicle to ensure the environmentalist did not sneak into Nakuru.

Execution of plan

Ndingi arranged with Fr Ndikaru wa Teresia and financial secretary Fr Francis Mirango to sneak the professor into Nakuru and provide her with accommodation.

“This was a risky and almost impossible mission. Everyone knew Wangari and the route to Nakuru was full of roadblocks. Besides, Ndikaru was also a marked man,” it is revealed in the biography.

Under the well-executed plot, Maathai went to Uthiru where Ndikaru was to pick her at 9.35am. Ndikaru was also on the run, having waged a fierce environmental crusade against Kel Chemicals Company in Thika.

“The location was ideal because the place was teeming with people. No one seemed to notice a sickly-looking lady, dejected to the core wearing a bui bui and gazing into nothingness as if she had lost all hope of living,” the book notes.

The priest arrived at exactly 9.35am. Maathai easily recognised the white Toyota Corolla with registration number KAA 203G and walked towards it.

“She opened the door and got onto the back, slumping down like a patient collapsing. The car started off at a steady speed,” the biography describes the onset of the 140km journey to Nakuru.

The duo came across the first roadblock at Kamandura/Limuru Road junction. The police waved the slowly moving car on after peering in and seeing a “Somali lady”.

The next roadblock was at Delamere in Naivasha but the officers “were not interested in a rugged looking man wearing a cap and a Somali lady seated at the back”.

At Gilgil, it was different as the officers manning the roadblock were not regular policemen but General Service Unit personnel. They waved down the car and the occupants said a prayer in Kikuyu, “Mwathani utugitire na utuiguire tha (God protect us and have mercy on us).”

Ndikaru narrates how one burly GSU officer asked in a rude voice: “Where are you going?” all through looking at the woman at the back.

“I have never felt that kind of fear in my life,” he discloses.

The ‘Holy’ Lie

He was about to respond when the officer sharply cut in: “Kwani mama ni mgonjwa?” (Is the woman sick?) “Ehh ni mgonjwa,” (Yes she is sick), Ndikaru recalls telling the ‘holy’ lie hoping “God would forgive me”.

Retired Archbishop Ndingi’s biography, A Voice Unstilled, by Waithaka Waihenya and Ndikaru wa Teresia will be launched on Saturday. Photo: Martin Mukangu/Standard

“Haya basi kimbia haraka umpeleke hospitali pale Gilgil (Then hurry and take her to hospital in Gilgil,” the officer told him.

They later drove past other roadblocks, all the way to Ndingi’s house.

But just ten metres from the house, they came across another roadblock, manned by armed uniformed and plain-clothes officers.

Arrangements had been made in advance that they would arrive at the residence at 1.10pm. It was already 1.08pm and thus knew they were expected.

“The officers looked at the car and the old lady but were not interested. Then the gates to Ndingi’s residence flung open and Mr Samson Mwangi, the bishop’s driver, came out pretending not to know what was going on, though he did,” Ndingi notes.

As Mwangi thought of how to fool the police so they could not scuttle the plot, a group of nuns emerged.

“How are you sisters?” Mwangi greeted them loud enough for the officers to hear.

“We are well, how is the bishop?” the biography quotes the nuns saying in response.

“The bishop is okay. But what are you doing here? You should be at he stadium where I hear Prof Wangari Maathai is addressing a mammoth crowd right now,” Mwangi told the nuns.

This was a lie aimed at fooling the officers to leave so that Maathai would be sneaked into the bishop’s house.

Mwangi recalls how he could, from the corners of his eye, see the officers incensed, obviously believing they had been caught flat-footed.

Risk worth taking

“Some of them gathered themselves and left while others hurriedly worked their walkie-talkies.”

The car drove up to the gate as the police were by then not interested in its occupants.

Ndikaru dropped the activist right in front of the officers and left after 15 minutes. On his way back to Nairobi, the GSU officer who he had interacted with at Gilgil asked him: “Ehh, habari tena? (How are you again?).

And before the priest could answer, he said: “Usijali mama atapona. Wanaume ni kujikaza (Don’t worry, the woman will be well. Men should be brave and strong.”

Ndingi says all through, he knew he was taking a risk, but believed Maathai needed protection and that she was fighting for a just cause.

The next day, she made her way to the meeting venue, alongside Ndingi and several foreign embassy representatives.

But police scuttled the meeting; although the biography says the publicity the event gained was “enough to arouse the sensibilities of the nation as to what was going on in the Rift Valley”.



Read all about: Prof Wangari Maathai Catholic Church archbishop



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