Like a ship cruising on a dark night, he died unnoticed. And in his passing, Kenya lost a veteran journalist-turned-historian who had put his life on the line fighting for a better country.
Although in his later life Wanguhu Ng’ang’a, who died on February 11 this year after a long illness, has been known for contesting elections on a number of occasions, unsuccessfully, he had permanently etched his name in history in 1964.
He made his name, not by writing award winning stories, but for training a group of Kanu hardliners who almost kicked out Jomo Kenyatta from the leadership of the ruling party.
Wanguhu’s tribulations started a few minutes after Kenya fully gained her independence on December 12, 1964, when the Lumumba Institute was opened by Kenyatta.
The institute funded by Russia was the brainchild of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who had used his own money to buy a 23-acre coffee estate along Thika Road in four months at a cost of 27,000 pounds (about Sh3.5 million), which he then converted into Lumumba Institute.
The principal of the institute was Mathew Mutiso, the father of former Kilome MP John Mutinda Mutiso, while Wanguhu was his deputy principal and the registrar was F Oluande.
Other staff members were a Chinese undercover agent, Wang Te Ming, who had a diplomatic passport and presented himself as a journalist, as well as Hosea Jaffe, a South African.
Lumumba Institute under the chairmanship of Bildad Kaggia, Kenyatta had been told, was to be used to elaborate the spirit of Harambee and would later grant scholarships and bursaries.
Kenyatta was a trustee of the institute while members of the board were Jaramogi, Pio Gama Pinto, Achieng Oneko, S Othigo Othieno, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubai, F Oluande, Paul Ngei and Joseph Murumbi.
The first batch of students were 114 and comprised Kanu’s district chairmen, secretaries and treasurers. There were two Russian lecturers, Alexei Zdravomyslova and Andrei Bogdanov.
Initially, the institute was to admit 108 students but this was left to Jaramogi. Kenyatta and his advisers would later regret this oversight.
The real intentions of Lumumba Institute became clear on July 16, 1965, some 16 days after the first batch of 84 students graduated from the institute and staged a coup at the Kanu headquarters, then on Nairobi’s Mfangano Street. They removed the entire Kanu leadership apart from Kenyatta and Odinga.
The group temporarily took over the heart of Kanu and even confronted the government, criticising Tom Mboya’s Sessional Paper, which defined the country’s guiding political ideology, African Socialism.
Earlier on April 29, 1965, a total of 50 students of Lumumba Institute had issued a press statement criticising African Socialism, which angered the country’s leadership.
Mboya was bitter with the students for writing leaflets criticising members of the Cabinet and wondered: “Was this the kind of things that the country was being told was in the best interest of Kenya?”
Mboya added: “We have to remove this impression that the Lumumba Institute is an ideological institute because it is not and the only way to do this is to bring the official stamp of the government.”
Former President Daniel Moi, who was at the time in charge of Home Affairs ministry, described the behaviour as “the worst to come from a Kenyan institution”, adding that the institute was infiltrated by professional instigators. Shortly after the institute was closed by the government and foreigners expelled. Wanguhu would later explain that the real intention was simply a plot to remove Kenyatta from the party but this failed because the plan was hastily executed by Jaramogi whom he accused of impatience.
It was at the college where Pinto was to write a parallel Sessional Paper to rival Mboya’s, which was to be tabled immediately after the government’s was rejected. The scheme was then to mobilise MPs to pass a vote of no confidence in Kenyatta’s government.
This plot failed. The socialist sessional paper was never prepared. Pinto was killed and the Kanu takeover was thwarted a few hours later by police who arrested all the 26 Kanu die-hard members who had invaded the party headquarters.
The perpetrators, including Wanguhu, were arrested and tried by a senior resident magistrate, Maini, who found them guilty of forceful entry into Kanu offices in Nairobi, causing a breach of peace, unlawful assembly and trespass. The ringleaders who were identified as Wanguhu and David Kuyenda were jailed for 18 months.
Twenty six years later, Wanguhu found himself in custody again in January 1992. He had been arrested alongside other opposition leaders, including former Vice President Josephat Karanja, James Orengo, George Njanja, Matu Wamae, Wambui Otieno, Kimani Wa Nyoike and Abdulkadir K Hassan.
The Ford officials were arrested after a rally where they were accused of spreading rumours that Kanu was planning to hand over power to the opposition. The country was at the time preparing for its first multiparty elections. Besides politics, Wanguhu, who lived by the mantra “the goal is not to live forever, the goal is to live fully” has left an indelible mark.
He authored Kenya’s Ethnic Communities: Foundation of the Nation, an 822-page book that explores the differences between various communities and the similarities cutting across most ethnic groups in the country.
Earlier in 1963, he had authored a manuscript, The Road to African Socialism.
While breaking the news of Wanguhu’s death, the family said in an obituary notice, “It is with humble acceptance of God’s will that we wish to inform you that our beloved dad Dr Wanguhu Ng’ang’a took his final bow last night, February 11, 2020. He has fought the good fight and finished his race and even at this trying time we find comfort that dad is now in a place of no pain only glory.”
The family appealed for support to offset the “hefty medical bill”.
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