Irene Githinji @gitshee
Time and again, yesteryear’s heroes bemoan neglect. Occasions like Madaraka Day are nostalgic reminders to those who played a part in the Independence struggle, that they may have been forgotten by a generation that is now without institutional memory.
Today, Kenya celebrates 55th Madaraka Day but the families of some liberation heroes say they have nothing to smile about.
Such a family is that of Fred Kubai, one of the ‘Kapenguria Six’, who was among those who agitated for Kenya’s independence and was detained alongside founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and four others.
Their pioneer generation is long gone, but Kubai’s family is still hopeful the government will one day consider their plight and in honour of their father and come to their aid.
We meet Kubai’s first born, Stephen, in his Kirigiti home in Kiambu built on less than an acre of land, the only property he says he owns.
He is assisted by his doctor Fred Oginga to get back to the house after a physiotherapy session, which he has to undergo everyday after he suffered a stroke. Stephen, 74, can neither walk on his own nor speak. He lost his speech and all he can do is nod and strike an occasional smile. His family is happy with the little progress he is making.
He cannot narrate his story but his wife, Lucy Nyaguthi, assists him in communicating.“On December 26, last year, Stephen was carrying out his daily chores around the compound and all of a sudden I heard him cough, it was a deep and alarming sound. I was concerned when he let out a groan before he collapsed. We all rushed to see what was happening and he told us he was unwell,” recounted Nyaguthi.
Since he suffers from diabetes and hypertension, they rushed him to Kiambu County Hospital and a quick check-up was conducted on him. Medicines were prescribed and he was discharged.
The next day, he was rushed to St Theresa’s Hospital and the family received what she describes as devastating news, that he had suffered a stroke.
Seeking medical treatment has been an uphill task since the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cannot cater for all his bills at the moment. The family depends on well-wishers and their local church since they cannot afford to cater for the expenses of treatment and physiotherapy. And that is not the only challenge the family has had to endure.
They say the genesis of their problems was the fact that their father, Kubai, did not write a will indicating how the huge tracts of land and other properties he owned would be shared out.
When Kubai, who as fate would have it, died on Madaraka Day, 1996, leaving five widows and many children, the family was bound to collide over inheritance.
Kubai had five wives — Mary, Sophie, Rebecca, Grace and Christina — and the family’s expectation was the property their husband owned would be shared equally.
But that was not to be. Instead, it was the beginning of the family’s protracted tussles in courts over property sharing.
Gideon Blacklaw Kubai, Stephen’s stepbrother, is bitter explaining how they have never come to terms with the fact that only the youngest wife, Christina, was made the sole executioner of his estate.
Blacklaw says he cannot comprehend that even accessing his father’s property, about 500 acres of land where their father was laid to rest in Mai Mahiu, is not within his reach as he would be viewed a trespasser.
The children of the other four widows want well over 1,000 acres that was owned by their father equally shared out as well as other business investments.
Another land they are determined to get back is located near Museum Hill, which is also in dispute with businessman Kamlesh Pattni.
“Since Mzee rested we have never settled, most of our time has been characterised by trips to courts in a bid to solve inheritance issues. And then came our lowest moments when the court ruled that the last of Kubai’s widows be the sole executioner of all the property. We appealed this decision,” Blacklaw says with evident bitterness in his voice.
He says their frustration is that all they have been receiving were promises from retired presidents Daniel Moi’s and Mwai Kibaki’s administrations, but nothing much has been forthcoming.
“All we have seen over the years from government is an invite to attend the June 1 Madaraka Day celebrations and other national holidays and even though we attend all of them, the promises of a better life are all we receive,” says Blacklaw.
“I have met President Uhuru Kenyatta during various State functions and he tells me to go see him but my attempts to get to him after the ceremonies have been futile. There are so many roadblocks to get to him,” he says.
Blacklaw, who went to primary school with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, is optimistic something positive will come up under this administration for his family.
He says his desire was to work in a government institution but his father would not let him and instead he was employed in one of the family hotels in Naivasha.
Even though he says that they will attend the Madaraka Day celebrations in Meru today, they are not happy that most of the children of a freedom fighter struggle to survive.
“Nothing about Kubai can be celebrated. Not even a single road has been named after him despite his immense contribution to this country,” adds Blacklaw.
Stephen’s last-born son, Anderson Thuita, also laments their situation but is quick to say the family does not want handouts but a long term solution to their problems.
From Stephen’s family coping with his sickness, to children and four widows who feel short-changed in the inheritance of their father’s state, the family says for them, they feel it is ‘not yet independence’.