Nding Mwana A’nzeki, A Fearless Advocate Of Human Rights, A Man Of God
By Rev Fr Dr Ndikaru Wa Teresia
In the early 1990s the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai was a vocal critic of the KANU regime because of its adverse policies on environmental matters and its disregard for human rights. Gatherings of her Green Belt Movement had on several occasion been violently disrupted and at one time the government was hunting her down in an apparent attempt to silence her.
Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a Nzeki [file photo]
Bishop Ndingi Mwana a Nzeki then the head of the Catholic Church in Nakuru, offered to give her refuge in that Rift Valley town and Father Ndikaru wa Teresia, another thorn in the fresh of the Kenya African National Union [KANU] regime, was picked by the bishop to drive her from Nairobi to Nakuru. The two drove to Nakuru incognito in a small car.
Ndingi’s book, ‘A Voice Unstilled’ which Fr Ndikaru was a co-author, thus records the incident; “In 1992, Wangari was at the peak of her crusade. This was also the time her life was totally threatened. She was followed everywhere and was never sure of where she would be the following day. Where could she hide from the seemingly omnipresence of security people? (But) as they say, it is in the middle of danger that those who are threatened find refuge. Bishop Ndingi even though a marked man, arranged to house Wangari (and) on March 2, 1993, he arranged with Fr Ndikaru wa Teresia and Fr Francis Mirango to assist the professor go into hiding in Nakuru”.
This was a dangerous mission as Wangari was a prominent public figure and the road from Nairobi to Nakuru was awash with police road blocks. And to make matters worse, Fr Ndikaru was also a critic of the administration.
Fr Ndikaru picked Wangari, disguised as a sickly dejected old woman clad in a bui bui at Uthiru in the suburbs of the city at around 9.30 in the morning in a white Toyota Corolla registration number KAA 203G. She got into the back seat and like a real sick person collapsed into the seat as Ndikaru steadily drove away from the city.
At the Kamandura-Limuru junction Fr Ndikaru remembers how they were stopped by the police but when they saw the ‘sickly Somali’ old lady at the back, they just waved them on. The same happened at a road block opposite the Delamere farm in Naivasha.
However at the former toll station near Gilgil, they were hailed down by mean looking General Service Unit (GSU) officers and gripped in fear they said a silent prayer asking God for protection and mercy.
Of this incident, Ndingi’s book narrates, “Where are you going?” a burly man asked in a rude and abrasive voice, all the time training eyes into the vehicle and the figure slumped at the back”.
Fr Ndikaru was terrified that the officer would recognize Wangari. “I have never felt that kind of fear in my life”. But before he could respond, the officer enquired, “Kwani Mama ni mgonjwa” (is the old lady sick?) to which he automatically and in relief responded, “Ee, ni mgonjwa sana” (Yes, she is very sick), which he calls a ‘holy lie’ but given the circumstances, he believes God forgave him.
“Haya basi, kimbia haraka umpeleke hospitali pale Gilgil” (then hurry up and take her to hospital in Gilgil). There were no other major incidents on the rest of the journey to Nakuru and Ndikaru dropped Wangari at the garage of the Nakuru cathedral at around one in the afternoon. Fifteen minutes later he was on his way back to Nairobi and apart from an almost hilarious exchange about the ‘old sick woman’ at the Gilgil police road block his journey back was uneventful.
During the tribal clashes of the early and late 1990s, Bishop Ndingi along clergymen including Timothy Njoya, Alexander Muge, Henry Okullu, David Gitari, Mutava Musyimi and Fr Ndikaru among others who came on board later, fought for the common man who had been displaced, something that was frowned at by the government at that time.
Rev Fr Dr Ndikaru Wa Teresia [file photo]
Some of his fellow bishops did not take kindly to his outspoken nature especially when he told off the KANU regime, accusing it of fueling of ethnic cleansing of the 1990s. Although it was assumed that when Christian leaders met the late President Moi in 1992, they spoke in one voice, ‘A Voice Unstilled’ revealed that there were sharp differences during the meeting with the president. Ndingi was uncompromising.
Apart from feeding and providing basics to those displaced during the clashes, Ndingi housed them at the cathedral in Nakuru. He also worked closely with the priests who were working for justice and peace in the Rift Valley during that volatile period.
This may have informed the decision by the third president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki to appoint Ndingi the chairman of the Committee for the resettlement of the internally displaced persons in 2008. The committee was to oversee the return home of the victims of the 2007 politically instigated clashes.
The bishop will also be remembered for his passion for education and the health of less endowed Kenyans. Ndingi who had been ordained by Pope Paul the V1 in 1969 in Uganda, did a lot in the development of schools in Nakuru and Nairobi. This zeal for the development of the two basic institutions, must have led to his promotion to Nairobi. In Nairobi he continued to carry out development of these basic institutions among other spiritual and social engagements.
Ndingi was a simple man who advocated for African inculcation in the church. He was not attached to material things and was neither money-minded nor power hungry. He was a fiercely honest man who stubbornly stuck to his guns especially when he believed it was for the good of the down-trodden, which at times led to sharp differences between him and fellow bishops
He freely worked with and encouraged priests in whatever they were doing for public good, but did not shy off from pointing mistakes and punishing the same where necessary. But neither did the straight shooting bishop keep grudges; he was reconciliatory and owned up to his mistakes.
He also protected those in the justice and peace committee even if it meant going all the way up to the presidency. Where some of his fellow bishops would rather keep their peace, Ndingi called out excesses of government with no regard to who he would offend as long as he was on the side of the marginalized in society.
Ndingi was a human rights advocate who stood for social and political justice through his fight for human rights, equality and eradication of poverty.
He will be remembered for his outstanding virtues that among others include hard work and courage. This was mainly manifested in his defense of the oppressed, the violated, the abused and the marginalized especially during the ethnic clashes of 1992 and 1997.