Archbishop Ndingi Mwana Nzeki Biography: Ndingi's plan that saw 'bui bui' clad Maathai beat tight police cordon

Archbishop Ndingi found like-minded allies in the person of Maina Kiai, who was to become the chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights at the turn of the decade and Prof Wangari Maathai, who was later to be awarded the Nobel Prize for her fight against social injustice.

Prof Maathai, the environmentalist-cum politician, was one of the most vocal politicians at the time and one who was constantly in the government's bad books. The government could not condone any occasion where Prof Maathai was present or where she was addressing people. Her pairing up with Ndingi was particularly seen as hair-raising and the government constantly kept her in check.

On March 3,1993, there was a meeting to discuss the rehabilitation of the displaced people at the hall of Christ the King Cathedral in Nakuru and Prof Maathai was invited.

The embassies of Canada, Germany and Netherlands had also sent representatives to give views
on how best to resettle the people. There were many people gathered at the gate of the cathedral.

As the bishop and the professor walked from the bishop's office to the cathedral, they were met
by an astonishing sight.

The cathedral had been cordoned off. There were General Service Unit (GSU) and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) personnel all around. The police were fully armed, "as if they were at war" and they were stopping people from entering the compound. Priests were required to identify themselves before they could be allowed entry into their church. Though they put up a strong resistance, the police were not in any mood to compromise. They stopped the meeting but the publicity it gained was more than enough to arouse the sensibilities of the nation as to what was going on in the Rift Valley.

Wangari's crusade did not have the benefit of awe and fear as that of the bishop. She was a marked person in a way that the bishop was not. The bishop, however, lent her every kind of support. Her relentless battle with the government had started a little earlier when she mounted a serious campaign against the construction of Kenya Times Tower (KIT) in Uhuru Park.

Wangari's view was that the construction of the complex would ruin the city and turn it into a concrete jungle. Almost single handedly, she waged a war against the development, drawing the anger and earning quite a number of enemies but also admirers.

Members of the ruling party, Kanu, were never comfortable with her. They railed, and threatened her so many times that she was in constant fear for her life; she was constantly in need of protection.

Together with another crusader, Fr Ndikaru wa Teresia who had also waged an environmental crusade against a company called Kel Chemicals in Thika, they were people on the run.

Kel Chemicals was emitting harmful gases into the environment; endangering the lives of those living in the surrounding.

In 1992, Wangari was at the peak of her crusade. This was also the time that her life was totally threatened. She was followed everywhere and was never sure of where she would be the following day. Where could she hide from the seeming omnipresence of security people? As they say, it is in the middle of danger that those who are threatened find the best refuge.
Ndingi even though a marked man, arranged to house Wangari.

How Maathai teamed up with Ndingi to fight for the rights of victims of ethnic cleansing in R. Valley

On March 2,1993, he arranged with Fr Ndikaru wa Teresia and Fr Francis Mirango to assist the professor go into hiding in Nakuru. This was a risky and almost impossible mission. Every one knew Wangari and the route to Nakuru was full of roadblocks.

Besides, Fr Ndikaru himself was also a marked man. But this was a time to take risks and it was better to try out the mission than wait and get caught unawares.

Fr Ndikaru was to meet Wangari at Uthiru, 10 kilometres from the city. The location was ideal because the place was teeming with people. No one seemed to notice a sickly looking lady, dejected to the core, wearing a buibui and gazing into nothingness as if she had lost all hope of living. Those who saw her must have dismissed her as another Somali lady probably looking for her kin in the densely populated and cosmopolitan suburb.

Fr Ndikaru arrived at 9.35am. The scrawny lady recognised the white Toyota Corolla car, registration KAA 203G and ambled towards it. She opened the door and got onto the back, slumping down like a patient. The car started off at a steady speed. No suspicions aroused, it got onto the highway and started the 140 kilometre journey to Nakuru.

At Kamandura-Limuru road, they came across the first road block. The car slowed down, the police peered in and saw a Somali lady. They waved the vehicle on. The next road-block was at Delamere in Naivasha. The police were not interested in a ragged looking man wearing a cap and a Somali lady seated at the back. They probably thought it was a taxi, so they waved it on.

But in Gilgil, tougher luck was awaiting them. The people manning the road-block were not regular police but GSU personnel. These would be more difficult to fool than the others. They waved down the vehicle. At this point the occupants of the vehicle said a prayer in Kikuyu, "Mwathani utugitire na utuiguire tha" (God protect us and have mercy on us).

"Where are you going?" a burly GSU man asked in a rude and abrasive voice, all the time training his eyes into the vehicle and the figure slumped at the back. Fr Ndikaru thought that the officer would recognise Wangari and his heart raced with terror.

He was cold and full of fear. "I have never felt that kind of fear in my life," he was to later say. He was nearly responding when the officer cut in; "Kwani Mama ni Mgonjwa?" (Is the old lady sick?) "Eee ni mgonjwa sana" (yes, she is very sick). It was a holy lie and "God would forgive me," Fr Ndikaru recalled.

"Haya basi kimbia haraka umpeleke hospitali pale Gilgil (then hurry and take her to hospital in Gilgil).

"That was the Holy Spirit at work," Fr Ndikaru told Maathai who also could not see it any other way.

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