No story is worth dying for, so goes the old maxim that aptly captures Photojournalist William Ndege’s close shave with death.
Ndege was forced to flee for dear life when a would-be newsmaker turned hostile. In fact, Ndege outpaced his three sources who had invited him to the assignment.
His brief was to record the unfolding reaction of a white settler who was accused of mistreating Africans of Ol Ng’arua in Laikipia even after Kenya had attained Independence.
GG Kariuki had just been elected MP when he started receiving complaints from locals that some of the white settlers were yet to come to terms with the fact that Africans were free from colonial rule. The settlers in Ol Ng’arua continued to restrict Africans from entering their farms. Two such notorious settlers were P H Preston, who owned Gatirima Farm, and a Mr Smith, known to locals as Kipkogar.
With his huge body frame, Kipkogar physically abused locals. Whenever Kipkogar got hold of a ‘misbehaving’ worker, he took him inside the wheat store, beat him up and then released him to go back to work. In May 1964, a complaint reached GG Kariuki that Kipkogar had beaten up workers and forcefully driven squatters out of the farm.
This prompted the newly elected legislator to visit the farm. He requested Ndege, who travelled from Nairobi, and Kanu branch officials Stephen Macharia and Manasseh Kimuya, to accompany him.
“The idea was for Ndege to witness the settler’s behaviour towards Africans, take photographers, and report the incident,” wrote GG Kariuki in his book Illusion of Power. They found Kipkogar, who was armed with two pistols, repairing a tractor. The settler did not wait for exchange of pleasantries. He angrily demanded to know what had brought the strangers to his farm. When GG Kariuki tried to explain that he was the area MP, and was accompanied by Kanu officials, Kipkogar retorted, “Stop it! You are like a child trying to put out a wildfire with saliva!”
He then jumped from the tractor and ordered the visitors to leave. “He was like a mad man, and we ran for our dear lives. Ndege, running ahead of everyone, forgot to use his camera,” says GG Kariuki in his memoirs.
The incident was reported to the police, and one of the newspapers, Sauti Ya Mwafrika, gave the matter front-page treatment. But no action was taken against the settler. Kipkogar subsequently left the country soon after harvesting his crop.