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  Monday, August 16, 2004


A colourful career ends in dishonour
By Nixon Ng’ang’a

A stock description of veteran politician Paul Joseph Ngei might have been the man with nine lives but there was little of exceptional defiance to mortality when he finally succumbed to diabetes at the MP Shah Hospital.

At 81 Ngei certainly passes on at a ripe age having experienced his fare share of ups and downs, many of them well publicised.

His death would therefore have otherwise provided a genuine chance to hail the transition of a senior and prominent citizen who had served his time for the nation and his descendants.

But that is unlikely to be. In his last days, Ngei "downs" eclipsed the public prominence and affection the former freedom fighter and Cabinet minister so gallantly famed his name in.

He died mired in ignominious penury made more pronounced by his spectacles aimed at forcing the public to share and bail him out of his misery.

A 1990 court ruling declaring him bankrupt forced Ngei out of Parliament where he represented Kangundo.

It turned out to be the curtain raiser to his financial woes that culminated in his Nairobi Garden Estate house falling to the auctioneer’s hammer in 1999 over a Sh38 million debt he owed Continental Credit Finance.

More problems dogged him. He lost his legs to diabetes-linked amputation, which condemned his last years to a wheelchair. His long stay at hospital left him with huge bills that served to compound his already-lame finances.

The cumulative effect of all this was perhaps too much for his otherwise indefatigable soul and may have brought forward his death.

Ngei was among the famous Kapenguria Six who were arrested by colonialists over their links to the Mau Mau and its insurgence in the quest for independence in October 1952.

The others were founding President Kenyatta, Achieng Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba and Fred Kubai. His death leaves Oneko and the ailing Kaggia the only survivors.

Eloquent and dashing in his heyday, the ex-Alliance School student’s turbulent political career was often radical and combative and inclined to "independent-thinking."

His critics however consider him to have been a champion of ethnic and regional interests, which he effectively manipulated as a springboard to personal political and material fortunes.

After their release from Lodwar in 1961, Ngei joined the Kenyan delegation to Lancaster that discussed the country’s token independence. But he fell out with powerful Kanu secretary general Tom Mboya who had doubt about Ngei’s loyalty to Kanu.

Ngei formed the African Peoples Party (APP), a predominantly-Kamba affair, and after the 1963 elections, he formed an alliance with the Daniel Moi-led Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) to become the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

He dissolved his party by Kenyatta in 1964 and was subsequently appointed chairman of Maize Marketing Board.

In 1966, he was named to the Cabinet as the Minister for Marketing and Co-operatives and later Housing and Social Services. But soon, he was tasting what would later become a regular menu of doubts on his propriety.

Kenyatta was forced to suspend him from the Cabinet to allow for investigations following claims made in Parliament that Ngei had abused his office by engaging in a maize-export scandal while serving the board.

He was however reinstated after investigations absolved him of any wrongdoing.

In 1975, he found himself facing a serious threat to his political future when a court annulled his election as Kangundo MP the previous year for improper conduct.

But President Kenyatta intervened to save the political life of his friend through the (in) famous Constitution Amendment Bill No 1 of 1975 that gave the President powers to unilaterally pardon political offenders thus effectively reprieving Ngei.

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