In 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta took Mashujaa Day celebrations to Machakos County where he unveiled the statue of Paul Ngei after whom Ngei estate is named. But Ngei’s standing as a ‘shujaa’ is debatable. Machakos town was where John Ainsworth, Kenya’s first Chief Native Commissioner, wanted the capital of the Kenya colony to be. Machakos, one of the colony’s largest ivory trading centres, was named after odieros mispronounced the name of wealthy Chief Masaku wa Munyati, the real Kahuna in business there. Wouldn’t Chief Masaku’s statue have been more befitting than Ngei’s? Ngei’s life did not mirror a distinguished hero. It was peppered by corruption charges, a murder trial, womanizing, blighting debt and eventual bankruptcy.
In Jomo’s Jailor: The Life of Leslie Whitehouse, biographer Elizabeth Watkins notes that Ngei was part of the famous ‘Kapenguria Six’ alongside Jomo Kenyatta in Lokitaung Prison which Ngei called the “St Lucifer’s Monastery of Lokitaung” as there were no “women, alcohol and cigarettes” Jeremy Murray-Brown informs us in, Kenyatta, the eponymous bio of 1973. In prison, Ngei hurled endless insults at Uhuru’s father, often mocking his “eight degrees” from England besides calling him a thief and “the hatred between the prisoners was serious,” writes Watkins, adding that Ngei and Kenyatta often had many a kerfuffle over food rations and prison tasks.
See, owing to his age (Jomo was 60 plus Ngei was the youngest at 29), Jomo was the camp cook while Ngei and the rest crushed boulders, dug own graves on rocky ground. Kenyatta endured Ngei’s jibes with studious indifference. The other inmates: Kung’u Karumba, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko and Fred Kubai did not make matters easier as “They would ridicule him and shout obscenities when he went to the latrines” writes Murray-Brown, adding that they even staged a hunger strike protesting against “the filthy habits of Kenyatta, who is a cook.”
Their simmering hatred saw Ngei and Co form a party, the National Democratic Party- held elections and distributed positions: Kaggia (president), Karumba (VP), Kubai (Secretary), Chotara (Treasurer) and Ngei as Assistant treasurer. Kenyatta, then depressed by constant bullying, was left out.
They even plotted to have the sickly Jomo killed by a new inmate, Kariuki Chotara, a convicted murderer who was jailed in 1957. At 16, Chotara, who later became a Kanu kingpin in Nakuru politics during the Moi era, was a minor and could not have been hanged for Kenyatta’s death! General China (Waruhiu Itote), later the deputy director-general of the National Youth Service, was the one who foiled the murder, knocking off Chotara whose knife was aimed at the old lion.
After the attack, Kenyatta wrote his daughter Margaret telling her “envy and hatred had no mercy...for although the attack was planned secretly and craftily, it didn’t achieve its aim. Almighty God brought me out of this danger...”
This tells you Kapenguria had eight inmates besides the ‘Kapenguria Six’! And Uhuru Kenyatta honoured Paul Ngei with a statue? The same Ngei who was adversely mentioned over the 1978 murder of Captain Judy Angaine, the daughter of fellow cabinet minister the late Jackson Angaine, and whom he was dating!
The same Ngei who wrote love letters to Kenyatta’s daughter, Margaret in “flowery and passionate language full of neat Kiswahili phrases” while they were in prison writes Murray-Brown, adding that Jomo got Ngei’s letters by mistake and turning to him exclaimed: “Hi, what are you going to say now. I’ve caught you, ehee! You’ve kept mum for a long time and you are a son-in-law... and never said a thing, hey?”
This is the same Ngei for whom the constitution was changed to have him return to parliament after he was implicated in multiple corruption scandals before bankruptcy brought his political career to grief in the 1990s. And did you know Ngei was expelled from Makerere University after stabbing a fellow student over a woman during a college dance?