Paul Ngei picked his battles wisely, fought them to the end


Paul Ngei (back to camera) and William Mbolu Malu fighting over Machakos KANU branch offices, 1968. [File, Standard]

Renowned freedom fighter Paul Joseph Ngei was not one to be described as a coward of Machakos County for he believed in picking his battles wisely and fighting them to the bitter end.

And his battles were many. At times he was a soldier of love, but he also spent considerable time and energy fighting for wealth and health.

He at times bit more than he could chew as what happened on October 8, 1952. In his own words extracted from a letter he had secretly sent to Tanganyika but was intercepted by the government, Ngei confessed to doing the unthinkable.

"I had slapped the DO (Divisional Officer) at Kangundo (Pedraza) and threw a pail at him with several other abuses. The DO there got a shock and drove to Machakos saying that there was an element of Mau Mau at Kangundo.”

It is this letter that convinced the DO who also doubled as a magistrate that Ngei was Mau Mau leader. This earned Ngei a place in Kenya’s history for he was in custody when other freedom fighters were being arrested. His stint in prison brought him close to freedom fighters: Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai, Kungu Karumba, Bildad Kaggia and Achieng Aneko.

During the trial in Kapenguria, Ngei’s confession to the DO and the letter played a significant role in conferring to him the role of managing Mau Mau activities. These are some excerpts.

“Do you know what I sing daily in my small cell? Here is the tune: 'Bless Mau Mau, Bless Mau Mau, Bless all the adherents of Mau Mau, Bless all the oath takers of Mau Mau and cheer up my lads of Mau. Sing it Hennie and remember me in the cell. Yesterday, 21.10.52, all the leading KAU officials have been arrested. Government has proclaimed a State of Emergency, just like Malaya. White massacre planned is coming up. Nairobi is steaming up now.'"

There are differing accounts of Ngei’s fight with other prisoners at Lodwar; how he secretly wrote love letters to Kenyatta’s daughter Margaret; his plot to eliminate the future president and how he ultimately fought off auctioneers after leaving Cabinet.

In July 1968, as minster for Housing, Ngei decided to teach Kilungu MP William Mbolu Malu a lesson for dislodging him from Machakos Kanu leadership. The two leaders traded blows as they wrestled, to the shock of many. Ngei was incensed at Malu for forcing is way into the offices.

In 1978, Ngei featured prominently in the death of Captain Judy Angaine, a daughter of fellow cabinet colleague Jackson Angaine. Ngei had been dating Judy and had reportedly touched her inappropriately and declared his love for her in presence of her husband, a major in the military.  

The man with nine lives outlived Malu who died in 1971. Ngei featured in a number of controversies and fought many other battles before he succumbed to diabetes in 2004, aged 81.

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