Testing times for wives of political firebrands

Nasa strategist David Ndii's wife Mwende Gatabaki speaks at a press conference in Mombasa on December 4, 2017 after her husband was arrested while they were on holiday. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Mr Miguna Miguna's wife was anxious and made frantic calls during his detention to find out his whereabouts.
  • Last year, Nasa strategist David Ndii was arrested while on holiday with his family as his wife Mwende helplessly watched.
  • When Raila Odinga wa detained over the 1982 coup plot, his wife Ida was retired from her teaching job.
  • In 1987, the State blocked Koigi wa Wamwere's wife from travelling out of the country to be with her husband who was in exile in Norway.
  • Mr Kiraitu Murungi in 1990 fled to Britain then later to the United States. His wife and children joined him in exile after being blocked for some time.

You cannot choose relatives but you can choose friends, so the saying goes.

But what happens when a woman chooses to befriend a politically conscious man then later marries him? It is a relationship bound to have many testing moments, if the detention of various Kenyan personalities is anything to go by.


From Miguna Miguna’s wife Jane to Raila Odinga’s better half Ida to Kiraitu Murungi’s significant other Priscilla to Koigi wa Wamwere’s spouse Jane, women who love radical men have had icy experiences at the hands of the State.

Mrs Miguna is the latest to have a baptism of fire, having to live anxiously last week as the whereabouts of her husband — the self-declared general of the National Resistance Movement within the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) — were unknown as police moved him from one station to another ahead of his being ejected to Canada on Tuesday night.

Mrs Miguna, who resides in Canada’s Richmond Hill, was all that while making frantic calls to the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, as she told Canadian publication Macleans early last week.

“She [case manager] was not even able to tell me if he was dead or alive,” said Mrs Miguna, who has been married to the fiery lawyer-cum-politician for 16 years.

She added that she had to lie to her teenage children that their father was in an engagement whenever they asked why he had not arrived last weekend as he had planned.


Mrs Miguna’s will relate easily to the plight of Ida Odinga, wife of Nasa leader Raila Odinga.

Mrs Odinga, then facing the tough task of raising the family on her own, was retired by the government from her post as a secondary school teacher.

She would later be reinstated on humanitarian grounds as an education officer, only to be fired three years later.

The sacking was because she dared sue the government through lawyer John Khaminwa for detaining her husband following the attempted coup of 1982.

Such a lawsuit “is an incident that had never happened in Kenya before” as she told the Nation in 2008.

In a 2013 interview, she said former President Daniel arap Moi “destroyed my life” by the humiliation she suffered. “But I have rebuilt it and I have forgiven him,” she said.


Persons like Mr Odinga who were politically targeted by their State chose exile, but it did not always guarantee relief.

Former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere fled to Norway in 1986 as the crackdown by President Moi’s regime on perceived dissidents gained traction.

But when his wife Jane Nduta attempted to follow him there with her children in January 1987, she was blocked at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as they prepared to board an Air France plane.

“I cannot understand why they are being deferred from leaving Kenya,” said Mr Wamwere as reported in the Nation of January 12, 1987.

When Mr Koigi was in detention in Kenya, his wife led an anxious life as letters he sent to inform her of his plight were blocked by State operatives.

Mrs Priscilla Murungi, wife of Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, also faced a plight similar to Mrs Wamwere’s.

Mr Murungi was also forced into exile under Mr Moi’s regime because his law firm defended people arrested ahead of the botched 1982 coup, mostly university lecturers.

In 1990, as a crackdown against Saba Saba movement leaders intensified, Mr Murungi fled to Britain then later to the United States. His wife and children joined him in exile after being blocked for some time.


The anguish that wives of people targeted by the State face was laid bare last year by Mrs Mwende Gatabaki, wife of Nasa chief strategist David Ndii.

Last December, Dr Ndii was arrested at Leopard Beach Resort in Kwale County as Mwende helplessly watched alongside her 11-year-old daughter.

An almost similar scene played out during the 1977 arrest of celebrated author Ngugi wa Thiong’o due to his writings.

He recorded the dialogue in his book Detained. “Can you please give me a minute with my wife to sort out one thing or two?” he asked the police. The answer was, “It is not necessary.” “Can you tell me where you are taking me so that my wife here can know?” Ngugi asked. The answer was: Kiambu.

In the case of Dr Ndii’s wife, there was confusion on where her husband was being held; and in a press conference, she lambasted the police for the way they handled him.

“I do not believe these people and it’s because of how they handled us since yesterday; lying to us like children,” she said.

“My husband is not a criminal. My husband is not corrupt, he has never taken anything from public resources. He has not committed any crime that people know of,” she added.