Charles Njonjo whose full name is Charles Mugane Njonjo was born in 1920 in Kabete. He was Kenya‘s first post-independence Attorney General from 1963 – 1979 and the Minister for Constitutional Affairs( 1980-1983). He is the son of ex-Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo. Njonjo is also popularly referred to as “The Duke of Kabeteshire”.
Charles Njonjo Family
Charles Njonjo is married to Margaret Bryson they got married in the year 1972.
Charles Njonjo is married to Margaret Bryson and has been blessed with three children who have all succeeded in their various professional fields. One is a barrister, the other is a scientist and the last born is a veterinary doctor.
Early Life and Career
Njonjo was the son of Josiah Njonjo, a colonial paramount chief and one of the foremost collaborators of British rule in Kenya. The Njonjo family were close friends of Harry Leakey, whose son (Louis) and grandson (Richard) would later play important roles in archaeology and Kenyan politics.
After completing his secondary education at Alliance High School in Kikuyu, Njonjo enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Law. He returned to Kenya and was appointed a legal clerk in the colonial government in 1955, having completed a Law degree at Lincoln’s Inn in the United Kingdom. This was at the height of the state of Emergency, which had been declared to defeat the attempts of Mau Mau freedom fighters to gain independence. After returning to Kenya Njonjo severed in the Colonial government where gain a reputation as a diligent lawyer, and therefore was considered to become Attorney General in Independent Kenya under president Jomo Kenyatta.
In 1976, during a period of tense relations between Kenya and Uganda, Njonjo took part in secret negotiations with Israel that proved instrumental in the success of the Israeli military’s Operation Entebbe. The government of Kenya allowed the Israeli armed forces to use Nairobi airport as a stopover base in the context of the military assault on Entebbe airport that ended a week-long hostage crisis involving Israeli air passengers taken prisoner by a PLFP commando.
President Jomo Kenyatta died in 1978, to be succeeded by Moi as Njonjo had anticipated. Charles Njonjo entered into parliament in April 1980 after retiring as attorney general at the age of 60, a post in which he had served for 17 years. He had considered politics for over a decade but hesitated due to a lack of a popular base. He was elected MP for Kikuyu unchallenged after the incumbent MP had resigned his seat the day before Njonjo announced his candidacy. In June 1980 he was selected for a newly created cabinet position by Daniel Arap Moi, as minister for home and constitutional affairs, during an expected cabinet reshuffle.
Charles Njonjo was a Crown Counsel handling cases under Companies and Bankruptcy Ordinance in the Supreme Court as well as serving as the assistant registrar general up to 1960. He served as Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions before he was appointed Kenya’s Attorney General, succeeding A.M.F. Webb, QC, in 1963.
Njonjo resigned as Kenya’s Attorney General in 1983 and rejoined Parliament as the new Kikuyu MP after incumbent Amos Ng’ang’ a stepped down for the Attorney General who became a disciplinarian renowned for bureaucratic efficiency and supporter of state control.
Charles Njonjo played a pivotal role in the life of a young nation by ensuring that the colonial and conservative Constitution remained. But he made several changes, including repealing in 1963 colonial laws that had turned the country into the Kenya colony. He ended capital punishment for the rape of a white woman by a black man.
That whites were to be judged by White judges (who had jurors and not assessors as was the case of Africans) was restructured and racially separated courts abolished in 1967. Colonial passbooks were also replaced by identity cards.
Charles Njonjo made his office powerful by not only being at the center of political power and decision making but also by straddling the police force, legal fraternity and the Civil Service. He incorporated the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and made it part of his chamber’s criminal prosecution.
He moved the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 1971 that introduced the death penalty for those found guilty of robbery with violence. He helped avert a Constitutional crisis when the ended the Change the Constitution lobby group that wanted the law amended to bar a sitting Vice President from automatically succeeding the President upon death or incapacitation.
He tabled amendments to the Marriage and Divorce Law that intended to reduce the number of unmarried women in Kenya by, among others, upholding the equality of women in marriage.
Charles Njonjo was feared and loathed as his office gave him powers to initiate and end cases without being subject to a higher authority.
Njonjo did not repeal oppressive laws, such as the Public Order act that restricted Kenyans from assemblies, while the Societies Act led to the enforcement of the sedition laws on ﬂimsy grounds. Media freedom was restricted further weakening the Constitution as a guarantor of individual freedom.
There were no mechanisms of challenging the constitutionality of any legislation enacted under his watch
Many political dissenters were detained without trial on minor offenses as Njonjo retained detention laws and ensured tough prison conditions for inmates. Kenya became a single-party dictatorship after Njonjo lobbied parliament to amend the Constitution.
Through amendments to the Marriage and Divorce Law 1972, he refused to make adultery a criminal offense.
He opposed the use of Kiswahili in Parliament, a move that was defeated in the house in 1975 when both Kiswahili and English were declared official languages.
Why Charles Njonjo married at the age of 52
Born in 1920 in the privileged family of Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo, the young Njonjo tied the knot in 1972, when he 52.
By this time, ‘The Duke of Kabateshire’ had gone to Alliance High School, proceeded to Fort Hare University in South Africa where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and had also obtained a second law degree from Lincoln’s Inn University in the United Kingdom.
When he married his wife, Margaret Bryson, on December 4, 1972, Njonjo was already a powerful Attorney General in the government of Kenya’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
One may wonder why it took 52 years for an educated, wealthy and powerful man to find the love of his life?
There have been reports that Kenyatta was uncomfortable with a bachelor AG and hence he forced ‘aging’ Njonjo to get married.
In a past interview with renowned journalist Jackson Biko, the former Kikuyu MP kept the record straight and revealed why it took him so long to settle down.
“Because I couldn’t find a girl I could live with,” said Njonjo.
Pressed further to explain how he could have lacked a girl to marry despite meeting so many of them in Kenya and abroad Njonjo replied: “All those girls [and] I couldn’t find one I could live with. It took me a long time but eventually, I found one and I married her at All Saints Cathedral… she was in the choir.”
Charles Njonjo Diet and Exercise
Njonjo is said to keep to a frugal diet of a cup of tea and two toasts of bread in the morning, and lots of fruits and vegetables at lunch and supper. If you invite him for nyama choma, you will eat it alone.
“I look after myself. I swim daily, I used to do 12 laps, now I do only seven. I also have a bicycle which I ride for 10 minutes daily. I also hit the treadmill for about 10 minutes daily. I’m also careful about what I eat; I don’t eat nyama choma, I eat a lot of veggies,” revealed the man who does weekly rounds in his coffee and dairy goats farm in Kiambu.
Charles Njonjo – Duke of Kabeteshire
The ‘Duke of Kabeteshire’ is now the last man standing. ‘Baba Wairimu’ doesn’t mind cremation, but wouldn’t tolerate people gathering to raise funeral money when he finally goes to that ‘land where no traveler returns’ as Shakespeare put it.
The other independent era politician still alive is retired President Daniel Arap Moi, but he was not in the first Cabinet.
Like the Mois, the Njonjos genetically enjoy long lives. Take his father, Chief Josiah Njonjo. He was still around bending his 80s at the height of the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry in 1984.
His sisters sampled ripe old ages, while Njonjo still drives himself to the office daily to oversee operations of the family fortune which sweeps across banking, insurance, aviation, hospitality, ranching, large scale farming, property, real estate and equity in listed firms.
Facts About Charles Mugane Njonjo
- Sir Charles Mugane Njonjo, born 1920, is the son of former colonial chief Josiah Njonjo.
- He received a degree in law from Fort Hare University in South Africa. After Kenyan independence in 1963, Njonjo was appointed Attorney General.
- Charles Njonjo, the former Attorney General never intended to marry an African girl, let alone a woman from Kabete where he was born in 1920. Njonjo, a member of the Kenya Bachelor’s Club, later married Margaret Bryson in 1972 at the age of 52.
- His greatest political loss was the death of President Jomo Kenyatta.
- He was a Member of Parliament of Kikuyu Constituency and was subsequently appointed as the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
- He has little faith in the current Kenyan constitution.
- He married late because he couldn’t find a girl he could live with.
- He is one of the wealthiest men in Kenya.
- At 95, he swims daily.
- He owns about 20 suits, all tailored in Britain.
- He stopped reading, doesn’t watch TV, and is not interested in Facebook.
Charles Njonjo Interview: I miss the power to do good
To describe ‘Sir’ Charles Njonjo as immaculate would be how the sky might attempt to describe the color blue. It seems pointless and wasteful. But he seems to wear that adjective on his cuffs, doesn’t he?
At 95, he remains regal and enigmatic — not to mention a celebrity; Kenya’s first Attorney-General for over 15 years, Member of Parliament for Kikuyu Constituency, minister for Constitutional Affairs in Daniel Arap Moi’s government and, more recently, chairman of the East African Wildlife Society. Not to mention the prominent businessman tag.
Njonjo, who featured prominently (and powerfully) in the post-independence politics of Kenya, was known for his “hawkish” brand of politics and is often touted as one of the wealthiest men in Kenya.
In-person, despite being five years shy of the centenarian tag, he refuses to be bowed by age (or man, for that matter). He remains resolute in his signature pinstripe suits and a blue checked shirt that he had on when I met him in his Westlands office.
On his wrist gleamed an understated Patek Philippe timepiece. He was amusing, unapologetic, a straight-shooter, deliberate and astute. Shrewdness radiated through his very being, and when you held his unwavering gaze and looked deep into his rheumy eyes, you couldn’t help feeling like a ball of wool in the paws of a cat.
Interviewer: What’s the story of that odd-looking bracelet on your wrist?
Charles Njonjo: Oh this? This is an elephant bracelet. It’s a celebration and support of elephants. I wear it because I believe in the conservation of elephants. I believe we all have to save these animals for future generations.
Interviewer: What kind of a person were you in your prime; standing at the elbow of the bearded Jomo Kenyatta – the first Attorney-General of an independent republic, well-scrubbed in your pinstripe suit?
Charles Njonjo: You know, I miss the discipline of that time. I miss the power I had, the power that I could use for the common good. I miss the nation that we had then, a strong nation. There is nothing that went on that we didn’t know about; we had the proverbial long arm of the law.
We were always two steps ahead, we knew what conversation you had in your house the previous night. What happened in Garissa recently would never have happened because we had total control of security.
Interviewer: What has changed over time for you, socially and politically?
Charles Njonjo: What has changed in this new Constitution that we have. It is good but at the moment, because we don’t understand it, it’s bad and it’s dangerous. It has brought a lot of misunderstanding, ambitions, and greed for power.
All these governors and this paraphernalia that go with it; motorcade riders. It’s brought ugliness and pretense. The whole intention of our Constitution was for the government to be closer to the people. That hasn’t been the case.
Interviewer: Are you happy with the work of the Judiciary now?
Charles Njonjo: No. (Pause) I think we have a lot of people there who are inexperienced. This is because of the appointment of people who are not seasoned.
Interviewer: You were once a very powerful man. What did you learn about power and influence?
Charles Njonjo: That you can use it and misuse it. I used it for good, I could have used it to destroy.
Interviewer: Did power change who you were?
Charles Njonjo: No, it made me humble. Power can make you arrogant and ruthless.
Interviewer: How do you manage to maintain yourself like this at 95?
Charles Njonjo: I look after myself. I swim daily, I used to do 12 laps, now I do only seven. I also have a bicycle which I ride for 10 minutes daily, on top of the treadmill which I do for 10 minutes daily. I’m also careful about what I eat; I don’t eat nyama choma, I eat a lot of veggies.
Interviewer: What is your greatest struggle in life now?
Charles Njonjo: (Pause) I’m struggling about you and your Press. I get my paper at 6 am and I read it until 7 am and I just get depressed with what I read. Then I wonder why I bother reading this newspaper, to depress me? It’s a habit though.
Interviewer: Look, you have done well for yourself in life, but you still wear a suit every day and come here to work! When will you say this is enough, I won’t come to work anymore?
Charles Njonjo: Maybe when I’m cremated. Otherwise, I will wait until I cannot move a limb. As long as my feet can carry me, I will come here daily.
Interviewer: Do you think about death, do you fear to die?
Charles Njonjo: No. Death is something you can face, why fear it? I don’t engage in that kind of thought and I don’t want anyone to raise money when I die… friends meeting at the cathedral… I don’t want any collection of money.
Interviewer: Just how much are you worth? Do you know?
Charles Njonjo: I’m a poor man. I’m not worth anything.
Interviewer: Do you drink alcohol?
Charles Njonjo: I don’t drink much… if I’m to drink, it will be just a bottle of beer and maybe a cider, that’s it.
Interviewer: Ok, so you don’t drink. What’s your sin then?
Charles Njonjo: My sin? (Thinks). I don’t sleep enough. I’m unable to do eight straight hours of sleep… that I regret because I’d love to have a deep sleep.
Interviewer: And why can’t you?
Charles Njonjo: Because I’m thinking… and I’m worried… (Pause)… I’m thinking of things… you know, like what will you write about me after this? I debate with myself in bed.
Interviewer: What do you least like about Sir Charles Njonjo?
Charles Njonjo: (Pause). I like myself… no, I do.
Interviewer: Have you been a good father?
Charles Njonjo: Yes.
Interviewer: How do you figure?
Charles Njonjo: Because I have looked after my kids well, I have seen them through their education; one is a barrister, the other is a scientist and one is a veterinary doctor. They have turned out well, I think. I have given them what my father gave me, an education.
Interviewer: What was your limitation as a father?
Charles Njonjo: (Laughs) You know, sometimes these kids argue with me, saying dad, this is not right, this isn’t supposed to be like this… my son was arguing with me last night from the UK. He doesn’t agree with what I say and I can’t force him, because that’s his position.
Interviewer: But him arguing or not agreeing with you isn’t your limitation, is it? What is yours?
Charles Njonjo: That I can’t flog him… (chuckles)… I mean I can’t beat him up.
Interviewer: You would prefer to beat him up?
Charles Njonjo: (Chuckle) No, I prefer to talk to him but he wasn’t listening, but in the end, I won the argument! (Laughs).
Interviewer: Do you have an inheritance plan in place, or will we be treated to a public circus of kids fighting for their father’s wealth when he’s long gone as we have witnessed in the Kirima and Karume cases?
Charles Njonjo: Yes, yes… we have sat together and they know what they will get and inherit. There is a will they can’t challenge and I advise our people to write wills because what we witness with the people you have mentioned is sad. If they were to come back to life today, I don’t know what they would say!
Interviewer: Why did you marry so late?
Charles Njonjo: Because I couldn’t find a girl I could live with.
Interviewer: You? All those girls you must have met in Kenya and abroad? Not one single one you could live with?
Charles Njonjo: All those girls [and] I couldn’t find one I could live with. It took me a long time but eventually, I found one and I married her at All Saints Cathedral… she was in the choir.
Interviewer: Were you looking for a choir girl?
Charles Njonjo: No, she just happened to be in the choir. (Laughs).
Interviewer: Is Kenya better or worse now than it was in the 1960s?
Charles Njonjo: Yes, even your shilling is worse off.
Interviewer: Your suits are an urban folklore. Is it true that you once had a suit that had your initials – CN – inscribed in the stripes?
Charles Njonjo: Yes, I used to have that suit; bought it in London, tailored in London.
Interviewer: Why pinstripes?
Charles Njonjo: That’s what I like — not a plain one like yours. (Grins)
Interviewer: I don’t even wear blazers, I did all this for you. Don’t you think I have tried?
Charles Njonjo: Yes, you have tried but next time you come here without a tie, I will show you the door.
Interviewer: How many of those suits do you own?
Charles Njonjo: I don’t know, maybe 20?
Interviewer: What has been your greatest loss in life?
Charles Njonjo: My greatest loss was the death of President Jomo Kenyatta. There was a man I followed and trusted and that’s the man who used to lead the country with a rungu (club) but at least we were united. I could go to North Eastern and come back. You try and do that today, you’ll be back a corpse.
Interviewer: Who is your closest and most trusted friend?
Charles Njonjo: Today? (Pause) I trust myself. It’s difficult to say, apart from my own family, the only man I trust is Richard Leakey. I hope he saves our wildlife with his new appointment (as chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Services). (Pause) Who is the editor of your paper?
Interviewer: Rhoda Orengo, why?
Charles Njonjo: That’s a lady…no, this is not the man who I’m thinking of who writes for you people, a nasty fellow who wrote an untrue story about my involvement in the CMC scandal.
Interviewer: You see, CMC Motors was a company started by Europeans to sell vehicles and the way they were doing it in those early years was that European employees used to get paid part of their salaries here and part in England to supplement their salaries and to maintain their way of life, but also to keep them interested in working here.
Some directors were being paid from overseas but your people picked that and said that was wrong. But it wasn’t only CMC that was doing it during that time. Many companies in East Africa were also doing it to maintain their European staff.
Interviewer: You must be referring to the audit report by Webber-Wentzel. I’m not acquainted with the facts of this report but I’m informed that it said that you were involved in a scheme with some directors at CMC Motors to over-invoice imported vehicles and funnel the funds in offshore accounts…
Charles Njonjo: The audit by the South African company? (Dismissive wave). No, nothing to do with that. That money was kept in England and was done by the book. I didn’t take trouble replying to that news report, I treated it with contempt.
Interviewer: What is the most common question people ask you when they meet you?
Charles Njonjo: They don’t ask me anything, they are usually intimidated. But you are a brave young man, asking me all these questions, I commend you for that. Thanks.
Interviewer: Are you a romantic?
Charles Njonjo: I’m not, I’m a factual man. I don’t imagine romance. I’m not going to engage in fantasies and things like that, nothing.
Interviewer: When you once went to Ronald Foods in town for lunch with Raila, a cross-section of your tribesmen felt, at that time, that you were jumping in bed with the enemy, they felt betrayed….
Charles Njonjo: (Long stare) Don’t Kikuyus eat ugali?… (Pause) Don’t they? Why can’t I eat ugali with Raila without it being turned into a cinema?
Interviewer: What are you reading now?
Charles Njonjo: I stopped reading books.
Interviewer: How do you fill your time?
Charles Njonjo: I visit my coffee farm in Kiambu every evening. I also have a goat farm for milk. That occupies my time.
Interviewer: Do you watch TV?
Charles Njonjo: No.
Interviewer: Are you on Facebook?
Charles Njonjo: What is Facebook?
Interviewer: Where the devil lives, you don’t want to be on Facebook.
Charles Njonjo: No, what is it though?
Interviewer: It’s a social media platform where people connect with friends and share things.
Charles Njonjo: Is it a gathering of people at night? I don’t know these modern things. I don’t even know how to use a phone like this one you are using to record me… my phone only keeps numbers.
Interviewer: How much do you have on you right now?
Charles Njonjo: What do you mean? As we speak?
Interviewer: Yes, in your wallet. I want to know how much a man like you walks around with in cash.
Charles Njonjo: Let me check….[fishes out a wad of cash — guesstimate Sh10,000 — held together with a silver money clip].
Interviewer: Money clip! Sexy!
Charles Njonjo: (Laughs) Okay, this interview is over. You have enough.
Adapted from Business Daily