Muindi Mbingu is Wavinya Ndeti’s great grandfather. By blood, and, as I quickly learn from my conversation with her, also by character.
Bold, brash and passionate, Muindi Mbingu was the face of the Akamba freedom struggle when the community’s lands were taken from them, and they were forced to live in native reserves in 1937.
Peter Nzuki Ndeti, his grandson and Wavinya’s father, would take after him politically when he was elected to The Legislative Council of Kenya (LegCo) as a councillor.
“He came from Ngelani. Ngelani was the place that had Mau Mau. You know the ones who fought for independence? My father was the secretary of Muindi Mbingu. Personal assistant and all that, during the struggle,” Wavinya tells me in an absolutely riveting conversation.
As a councillor, he was taken to Machakos, then to Athi River, which was in charge of Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos in those days. When it was divided up, he was taken back to Machakos and then Athi River.
“He was the chairman and councillor there from 1945 to 1992, then he retired. He didn’t want the seat. He told people, ‘I have gotten old. I cannot continue.’ So he left it. But he served for that long because he lived well with people. People loved him so much,” says Wavinya.
Wavinya is the last born of Ndeti’s 10 children, but out of all those, only she and her late elder brother, Ignatius Dick Ndeti got into politics. Dick Ndeti was councillor of Athi River after her father.
As a child, Wavinya, then a precocious little girl, loved going everywhere with her parents.
“I always liked to feel like their handbag. You know something like your handbag or your wallet that you cannot leave?” she says.
“When they left me behind, I would feel bad. But just going around with them to visit people, when they were doing their things and then we stop somewhere, I am bought some food or something, it made me feel closer to them.”
They also lived with five or six cousins and there was always a pot of food in their home, so that any visitor who came in, and they were many, had something to eat. Some of their ways rubbed off on her and today, she always has people around her.
“I keep on telling people our home was not our home. What was ours was not ours. We had five or six cousins living with us. When their parents passed on, my parents took care of them, and we also had the political family. So that home was always full,” she says.
Like eight of her siblings, however, she did not intend to join politics.
She is a computer scientist, and a pioneer of computer training in primary and secondary schools in 1998 (Computer Project for Schools in Kenya).
After scoring 31 marks in the last ever CPE examinations in Kenya and joining the Kenya High School, she would eventually attain a BSC in Computer Science, a master’s in Business Systems Analysis and Design and an MBA, working as a computer scientist in London for about five years before returning to Kenya.
“I started training computers in school in 1988 when I came from London. In fact, PS Chungu was the one who gave me the letter. I was the first one to be given the letter by the ministry to take computers to schools,” she says.
It was in London where she met her Nigerian husband, Dolamu Henry Oduwole.
“You know, when I went to London, my father warned me about Nigerians! (Laughs at the memory). I was told to be careful not to get involved with Nigerians, when I landed, the first man I met was Nigerian!” she says incredulously.
“I was reported by my uncle to my dad when I was going to do my masters that I had a Nigerian boyfriend. My dad was very annoyed. But I told him, ‘I’ve gone to London. I’ve not let you down. I’ve gotten my first degree and I now want to go and do my masters. What is so important about this person that you are telling me about? At the end of the day, you have to come and see him.”
So when she finished her master’s and it was time for graduation, her parents went not just for the graduation, but also “to check what type of a person he was.”
“That was an important moment, which brought me from girlhood to womanhood; the day they agreed and said, ‘Now you can get married to him’,” she says.
They had courted for six years before marrying, and the day she married the man she calls the love of her life, October 2, 1992, was one of her happiest days.
“He was a good man, so loving. In fact, my parents ended up loving him more than me! They protected him more than me.”
Had she ever considered moving to Nigeria?
“We agreed with him that the world had become a global village and we could live anywhere, be it Kenya, Nigeria or London, but we agreed to come and settle here. He loved Kenya.”
Her husband tragically died in September 2016 and was buried in the Ndeti’s family farm.
“Those were his wishes and the family accepted. He was a prince, and a prince is never buried outside the kingdom, but they consulted as a family and also asked the children.
“They felt that it would be good to bury him where the children could be going to see him. So the entire family came here and they allowed him to be buried here,” she says.
Wavinya’s social media is filled with pictures of her various farming endeavors, which she picked up from her mother, Elizabeth Nzuili Mukulu Ndeti.
“I might have been looking at it as if I was going there for fun but now when I look at it, I was learning something, because I’ve become a farmer now. I’ve taken over from her. I learned a lot from her in terms of farming.”
She might have still been a computer scientist and a farmer, but her parents had seen in her something that she hadn’t, and prevailed upon her to join politics by vying for the Kathiani constituency seat.
“They said, ‘Wavinya, we know you can do it. Go for it’,” she says. “I went to pray about it, and when I asked God, ‘Is this what you want me to do? Because I am finding this difficult’ I opened the Bible. He took me to Jeremiah 33:3. From that day I was at peace, and I went for MP of Kathiani,” she says.
Her parents, turned out to be right, because she ended up being the first and still only woman to be MP of the constituency since independence. She won by a landslide with over 27,000 votes, while the runner-up had about 9,000 votes.
As we have the conversation, she is about to resign and dive headlong into the race for Governor of Machakos, which she has done twice before. She serves as the Chief Administrative Secretary in the (mouthful) Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works.
“I know God-willing I am going to get it. Even last time I got it and it is there in black and white. What happened, happened, but I know this time I am going to get it. As long as you have a good relationship with people, they will vote for you,” she says.
Her main goal is to elevate people’s status and quality of life.
“Like in farming. If I can farm in Lukenya, which is a very dry place, if I can show people how to do it, things like drip irrigation they will live and eat well. One of my slogans is “chakula mezani, pesa mfukoni. Empowering people is key to ensure food on the table and money in their pockets,” she says.
If she succeeds, she may just end up having a major street, road or highway named after her, just like her great grandfather, Muindi Mbingu.