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Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki’s Illustrious Career And How He Rode Out of Mercedes Car-Gift Blemish

by litfeed
2 mins read

The name of retired Catholic Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, who died last week, at the age of 88, was synonymous with Nakuru.

It was in the Nakuru Diocese, where Ndingi served for many years and had his famous clashes with the Kanu regime of the time.

He came up against a harsh ruling party machinery, under then President Daniel arap Moi, which was irked by the criticism from within its own Rift Valley backyard.

Many remember how Bishop Ndingi fearlessly denounced the tribal clashes in the early 1990s that pitted the Kalenjin against the Kikuyu, and other communities settled in the former White Highlands.

He courageously opened the doors of churches for the people driven out of their homes and farms. He allowed them to pitch camp in the compounds.

On March 31, as the country began to battle with the coronavirus epidemic, the curtain finally came down on a religious leader, who had been living quietly in retirement, having etched his name in the annals of political history.

He will always be remembered as a sociable man, and a calm voice of reason.

In his message of condolence, President Uhuru Kenyatta, himself a Catholic, described the late Mwana a’Nzeki as a loving and outstanding man of God. He said that his servant leadership would be missed by fellow Kenyans.

The only blemish on Ndingi’s impeccable career appeared to be the relatively small matter of a car gift. However, it was not just any car, but a Mercedes Benz limousine bought for him by business tycoon and influential politician Njenga Karume, as a personal gift.

It was just after Ndingi’s transfer to head the Nairobi Archdiocese, succeeding Maurice Cardinal Otunga.

Both men were renowned for being down-to-earth clergymen and not interested in material possessions in line with their calling to serve God and the faithful. While serving in Nakuru, Ndingi was known to be a simple man, who used a small Peugeot car for his travels. This, however, changed dramatically when he became the Archbishop of Nairobi.

The donor defended himself, saying there were no ulterior considerations. He just wanted his archbishop to have reliable transportation. 

There was an uproar but Ndingi chose to keep the vehicle and use it. Besides this, Ndingi served diligently until his retirement. 

Ndingi came into the national limelight in the 1980s, when he joined a group of fellow outspoken clerics at the height of the Kanu stranglehold on the country, where President Moi’s word was the law.

Moi had been terribly shaken by the coup attempt of August 1, 1982, and moved to strengthen his grip on power by turning Kanu into a repressive machine.

Then out of the blue, he introduced the so-called mlolongo or queue-voting system in the place of the secret ballot around which the country’s democracy had been shaped.

The most notable thing was that in some places, those with the shortest queues were declared the winners.

The 1980s were the most troubled times in the political history of Kenya. It was the season of detention without trial and torture of Kenyans branded dissidents by their own governments.

Bishop Ndingi joined other vocal and courageous clerics such as Anglican Church of Kenya’s Henry Okullu and Alexander Kipsang Muge and Timothy Njoya, of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

When Kanu introduced the thoroughly flawed mlolongo (queue-voting) in 1986, Ndingi came out fighting. The Catholic bishop lamented about the killing of democracy.  Bishop Muge also decried the open intimidation and bribery in the queue voting.

However, this was not Ndingi’s only brush with authority. He was among the first Kenyans to speak out against the tribal clashes that ravaged the Rift Valley in the run-up to the 1992 General Election.

In a much earlier glimpse into his crusade for human rights, after he became the first African Bishop of the Machakos Catholic Diocese in 1969, Ndingi spoke out against the mass oathings that were taking place in central Kenya, with the tacit approval of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

This was after the assassination of flamboyant Cabinet minister and former trade union leader Thomas Joseph Mboya. The country was then sharply divided along ethnic lines, with a bitter fallout between the Kikuyu and Mboya’s Luo, who had been close independence struggle allies.

Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki was born on 25th December 1931, at Mumbuni wa Mundu Village, Mwala constituency in today’s Machakos County.

In 1961, he was ordained as a priest and eight years later became the Bishop of Machakos. On 1st August 1969, he was transferred to Nakuru Diocese. After 27 years in Nakuru, he was promoted to Assistant Archbishop in 1996.

He worked under Maurice Cardinal Otunga, who stepped down in 1997, paving the way for Ndingi to serve as the Archbishop until his retirement on 6th October 2007.

Thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, the symbolism will not be lost when Ndingi is buried on Tuesday, 7th April, in a simple ceremony to be attended by only about 100 people. After a requiem Mass at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Ndingi will be buried in a crypt in the church, where he retired as the head of the city archdiocese.

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