Ideals that activist stood for yet to be realised

Mr Ntai wa Nkuraru (right) with Mr Raila Odinga, who is now Prime Minister, during their heyday as opposition politicians. Photos/ NTAI’S FAMILY

What you need to know:

  • Though Ntai wa Nkuraru fought alongside political heavyweights, the anniversary of his death in London is likely to be low key

The name Ntai wa Nkuraru remains etched in the minds of the Kenyans associated with the quest for the country’s second liberation.

Described by his “comrades in arms” as an immensely courteous and dignified man, who was also inventive and disciplined, Ntai’s memories remain as fresh as they were 10 years ago, when his life was suddenly cut short in Britain at the age of 33.

According to the post-mortem examination report, Ntai died of a heart condition.

Among the leaders who were Ntai’s associates in the 1990s are today’s political heavyweights, including President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi, Deputy House Speaker Farah Maalim, former Safina boss Richard Leakey, former Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara and the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

And although it is 10 years since Ntai died, his memorial is unlikely to marked with celebrations.

During his heyday as a political activist, Ntai represented the authentic and exuberant spirit that was rare among politicians.

He was only compared to patriots like Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Titus Adungosi, Pio Gama Pinto and others who left a lasting legacy in the lives of Kenyan youths but who, as fate would have it, had their lives cut short.

Repressive

At the age of 28, Ntai had already rubbed shoulders with key players in the stormy waters that was Kenyan politics at the time when the repressive Moi administration was under pressure to expand democratic space and allow multipartyism.

Ntai was the Youth Secretary of Ford Kenya, thus a member of the party’s National Executive Council. He later tried his luck in elective politics when he vied for the Tigania East parliamentary seat in the first multiparty elections of 1992. The party was then headed by the doyen of opposition politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Ntai’s move to Ford Kenya surprised many because Tigania East, like the greater upper Eastern Province, was considered a Democratic Party stronghold. At the time, DP was led by Mr Mwai Kibaki, who had on Christmas eve quit as minister for Health to found the party in 1991.

Many believe that it was because of being in the “wrong” party that Ntai did not win the parliamentary seat. He, together with other leaders from the larger Meru district, later re-grouped and defected to DP after the Moi administration declined to register the other party of their choice, Safina.

In the 1992 elections, Ntai lost marginally and swore to capture the seat at the next election. He was later appointed a recruitment and coordination officer of the Democratic Party.

The period before the 1997 General Election saw him become an editorial assistant at the now defunct Nairobi Law Monthly, an authoritative political magazine edited by Mr Imanyara. Ntai would later become the executive director of Mwangaza, a political pressure group from where he edited its newsletter, Nuru, before he moved to London.

“He went to London without any heart complications,” said his wife, Faith Karambu, in a recent interview with the Nation. However, a postmortem examination report on his death said he had died of a heart condition.

The widow, who is a Teachers’ Service Commission employee, says that from February 6, 1999, the day her husband was buried — leaving her with an 11-month-old son, Mwenda Ntai — she went through many trying moments.

Jog every morning

“I didn’t believe the autopsy procedure done in London and the report showing that Ntai died of pulmonary oedema (an acute condition caused by retention of water in the heart). He used to jog every morning,” she said, adding that she was too traumatised to ask for another post-mortem examination.

After Ntai’s death, several theories emerged. It was even claimed that the then Kanu administration, which had been cracking down on opposition activists, might have had a hand in his death. But the theory was dismissed as groundless.

Ntai had gone to London to study law at the University of London soon after the 1997 elections which he claimed had been rigged. The results upset him and he left the country.

It was in London that he would venture into the lucrative miraa (khat) business partly to finance his studies and also secure better prices for farmers who had been exploited by the deadly cartels of Somali origin who had monopolised the business.

In East London, where he spent the last days of his life, he shared a flat with a Somali couple who, according to Ntai’s family, were unhappy with his business success. In a December 29, 1998, letter — almost a year before his death — Ntai seemed to have a premonition of his death.

It read in part: “I have waited for months to transform tons of obstacles into successful business before I declare news of victory, but it appears a temporary wheel of misfortune is still holding us back.

“We thought by this time of the year, we could make millions, but fate has it that we have made massive losses on the following grounds: Entry into a monopolistic cartel where two Somalis, one woman controlling the business and doing everything to frustrate us. My partner was under a lot of scorn over linkages with Meru people....”

Despite all the bottlenecks he faced culminating even to death threats, Ntai was determined to succeed.

But on the night of Wednesday, January 6, 1999, when he was taking tea with his Somali friend in their rented apartment, he suddenly fell ill. Efforts to resuscitate him were fruitless as he died in an ambulance as he was being taken to hospital.

Today, his wife says that efforts to bring her husband’s killers to book have not borne fruit.

And the family is yet to get any help from politicians. At one time when Mr Kibaki went to Tigania West to campaign for the DP candidate in the by-election after the death of MP Benjamin Ndubai, Faith says the DP leader visited her and promised to help.

“But we haven’t received any information to date.”

Mrs Ntai, who now lives with her 11-year-old son in a rented apartment in Kangemi, Nairobi, appeals to the Government to help her.

She remembers one occasion three years ago, when she got information from her brother-in-law that the then Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi wanted to see her.

“I was upcountry in Meru when I received the news. I travelled all the way to Nairobi immediately but when I reached the reception, the secretaries told me I had no appointment and ‘waziri’ was away,” she recalls. She is yet to see the (now Energy) minister whom she describes as a friend of her husband.

“My husband referred to his colleagues as brother or a sister in the struggle. He was an honest person who loved every bit of whatever he was doing. Unfortunately, he died before reaping the sweet fruits of the struggle he always took part in,” she says.

Mrs Ntai, who says she is ready to forgive her husband’s killers, says Ntai had so much to offer in life.

During his funeral in Nguthiru village, Henry Scott Holland said: “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.

“Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the same easy way which you used. Put no difference into your tone. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.”

It has been 10 years since, but the memory of Ntai the man and the politician lives on.

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