Very little has been written about Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the lady who has kept first President Jomo Kenyatta’s family closely-knit for years.
Described by many as publicity-shy, Mama Ngina chose silence as the country’s (then) acclaimed political magazine, The Weekly Review, dedicated two of its editions to mourn President Kenyatta that August, and September 1978. Mzee Kenyatta died on August 22.
Her first born son — now President-elect Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was only two months shy of his 17th birthday when his father died.
“When people see me as a wife of the first President, no one knows what I have gone through,” she told the magazine, Women of Kenya, much later. “But I thank God for the struggle and the suffering of my husband.”
She went: “The most important thing the wife of a President can do is at least to make your husband have peace at home. The office of the President is a busy office. When people approach him to help solve their problems, he needs peace so that he can make his decisions with a clear mind.”
These, as it would turn out, were the only words attributable to her for years on end, until 2010 when she broke her silence during a 22-minute interview with the Kikuyu vernacular radio station – Kameme FM.
It was the first time she was speaking in public about the management of her family since she left State House.
“Mzee had no money, but I sold some land to help educate the children. I realised that education was the only thing that I could give them since with education and hard work, even without wealth, one can succeed.”
Her children, Kristina Wamboi (born 1952), Uhuru Muigai (born 1961), Anna Nyokabi and Muhoho (born 1964) have since been educated in the best schools in Kenya and the United States.
The country had just held a referendum to usher in a new Constitution when she granted the interview in Kikuyu where she asked Kenyans to be united “the same way they did when Mzee rallied them with the call of ‘Harambee’ so that future generations would be proud of what we have done for them.”
She said circumstances had made it necessary to have a new set of laws focusing on devolution and national development: “It is taking wealth back to the grassroots and giving people the chance to manage the money according to their priorities and needs.”
Mama Ngina was born at Ngenda in Gatundu, Kiambu County, the daughter of senior chief Muhoho Gathecha.
She is Mzee Kenyatta’s fourth wife and married him in 1951 when she was only 18. Jomo was 57 then.
When her husband died, she was at State House, Mombasa with her children Uhuru, Muhoho and Nyokabi during a family get together that the President had called as was his tradition, according to The Weekly Review.
Little is said about her education but she became a Roman Catholic and was known to attend Mass every Sunday in the Catholic mission with some of their children.
She was arrested soon after her husband was shipped away to Kapenguria by the colonial masters, where she was incarcerated at the Kamiti Maximum Prison.
When she went back to her home in Gatundu, she found that her house had been demolished. She became a farmer, planting maize, beans and potatoes on her farm and selling them at the market in Gatundu just like any other rural woman.
“We went through a lot of struggle to get freedom for Kenya, and we can’t go back there for the colonialists to return and rule us,” she told a crowd at Gatundu during prayers for the President-elect and his deputy-elect William Ruto ahead of their journey to The Hague.
Besides bearing the pain of seeing Mzee Kenyatta detained in Kapenguria only a year after they were married and later seeing him die on August 22, 1978, her greatest pain came three years ago when her son was named an ICC suspect.
Mr Kenyatta is facing crimes against humanity charges stemming from the 2007-2008 post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced over 600,000 people.
It was a sort of a déjà vu for her as she told of how her husband was tortured for a long time by British colonialists and likened the charges facing President-elect Kenyatta to the return of colonialism in Kenya.
“Kenyans are not ready to go back where they came from (referring to the colonial days).”
She has promised that a book about “where Kenya has come from” is on the way.
A part of the book, it is expected, will delve into her life from the house of a colonial chief to become the fourth wife of the first President of the country.
“Mama Ngina has been very blessed in life but she has also had to bear the greatest of burdens,” says Ngengi Muigai, former Gatundu member of Parliament and cousin of President-elect.
Mr Muigai was President Kenyatta’s successor in Gatundu MP’s seat.