By Washington Osiro
Charles Mugane Njonjo, the former Attorney General (AG) of Kenya has been in the news of late. The ageless anglophile is fast approaching the “10th Floor” of his existence on God’s green earth and in his practiced courtly fashion, the soon-to-be centenarian spent the occasion touring Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park aided by a $300 “sedan chair” specially kitted for those unable to lord over the park’s demanding terrain. The “helicopter” – as the contraption is called – is carried, much like some colonialists were, by a team of eight to twelve African porters who take turns at ferrying their “tracker/s”.
Njonjo joins an exclusive group of humans who have lived to see their 100th birthday. According to United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the site Statista.com, the former AG is one of approximately five hundred and thirty-three thousand (533K) members of the world’s Centenarian Club and THAT, in any language and/or any country, IS an achievement.
Happy Birthday “Sir Charles” and may you live another one hundred years!
Having dispensed with the salutations, let me now turn to an issue I have championed and will continue to do so:
Given the prominence Charles Njonjo (has) played in Kenya’s socio-political life and his longevity, the man represents a fountain of knowledge that Kenyans are most likely going to miss out on because he has yet to pen his memoirs or autobiography even though he has proffered opinions, many that have been captured in publications and in books.
Unfortunately, giving an opinion or offering a quote is usually not enough given some of the weighty matters (of national and regional importance) Njonjo has been involved in orchestrating in his role as a public servant notably, Kenya’s Attorney-General and Minister for Constitutional Affairs. One such matter of note would be Kenya’s peaceful transition from the tribal authoritarian rule of Jomo Kenyatta to the tribal authoritarian rule of Daniel Moi.
I would be curious, indeed very much so, to hear Njonjo’s take or counter to the characterization over his role in the “Change the Constitution Movement”:
That the AG, who quashed the attempted legislative putsch by lawmakers and powerbrokers from Central/Mt. Kenya aimed at preventing then-Vice President Daniel Moi from ascending to the presidency after Jomo Kenyatta, did so because he thought that Moi was a “pliant transitional figure he could manipulate until the time was ripe (for him) to succeed….” (p34, “Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir”, Smith Hempstone)
One can grab on to Moi biographer Andrew Morton’s characterization of the nonagenarian – that he (Njonjo) “took him (Moi) by the hand and told him not to worry…..(that) nothing will happen (to him)…..” – as evidence of the man’s humanity/compassion and constitutionalist creds but I would like to hear what he, Njonjo, has to say in response.
I would be curious to hear from the so-called “Prince of Kenya” or “Lord Charles of Kabeteshire” regarding his academic chops – as called into question by Fitz de Souza (p231, “Forward to Independence: My Memoirs”) Did he, Mugane Njonjo, graduate from the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and if so, what does he make of de Souza’ insinuations?
Njonjo’s failure to pen his memoirs has allowed others to characterize his person and his role in creating the corrupt and balkanized anglophilic shithole that the former British colony remains six decades after independence. And the likes of Jeremiah Kiereini (“A Daunting Journey”), Marshall S. Clough (“Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory & Politics”) and Fitz de Souza (“Forward to Independence: My Memoirs”) among others have only been too willing to fill in the void – or offer their insight.
For my part, I will offer this qualification: I never met the 99-year-old former Attorney-General so I cannot attest to his person other than what I have read (as written by others) including the afore-mentioned books and the heavily researched and footnoted book “Kenya: A History Since Independence” by historian Charles Hornsby.
Keith Somerville, writing in “Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa” implicates Njonjo in the slaughtering of Kenya’s ivory to line the pocket of his boss Jomo and of family and of friends. Citing Game Warden Ian Parker’s EBUR Report on the ivory trade in East Africa, Somerville writes that “the AG, Charles Njonjo, had, on a number of occasions intervened to prevent charges being brought against those involved in illegal (ivory) deals……(with) President Kenyatta…..described as personally authorizing permits to export ivory…..” (p113-114). The so-called stickler for the law is described as offering cover for the illegal trading in ivory – “for a fee” with a Githeri Media that only commented on illegal trading affecting “those in menial positions.” (Ian Parker Collection of East African Wildlife Conservation: The Ivory Trade – University of Florida p38). Parker goes on to write that the illegal ivory trade i.e. “disregard for the law” that Charles Njonjo was willing to countenance, “for a fee” would have been “a minor if it concerned ivory alone…..it did not. Corruption extends to all walks of national life, in business, land purchases, acquisition of citizenship to specify but a few instances.”
In fact, Kipchumba Some’s piece “Gems from History as former AG Charles Njonjo turns 98” (Daily Nation Jan 23, 2018) offers the plausible proposition that one can draw a direct line linking the imperial president that has been the bane of Kenya since independence to Njonjo’s self-serving tweaks of Kenya’s Constitution back in the late 70s – to ingratiate himself with the fast-becoming senile Jomo Kenyatta and his kitchen cabinet, the shadowy “Kiambu Mafia”.
Underscoring the diabolical nature of the man with penchant for bespoken Savile Row tailored pinstripes and Northampton’s handmade wingtips is the revelation that Njonjo was actually one of Tom Mboya’s groomsmen. While this speaks to the premium Charles Njonjo placed on “personal relationships”, said attribute did not stop his boss Jomo Kenyatta from ordering or countenancing the assassination of Njonjo’s “friend” Tom Mboya! What does the centenarian say about the murder of his “friend”?
Keith Somerville adds that JM Kariuki, before he was disappeared and murdered “had seen (Ian Parker’s report on poaching implicating the Kenyatta family) and intended to use it in parliament to embarrass the government” (p113). We all know how the investigations into the death of the former MP for Nyandarua North was handled by Njonjo’s crack team of investigators who in the words of de Souza, “kow-towed to him” and “followed his (prosecutorial) preferences.” (p234)
Wow! Will Charles Njonjo let such conjecture go unchallenged?
The foregoing itemizes a series of charges/accusations against Charles Mugane Njonjo that make it difficult for me to hold true to the (African) tradition of cherishing, revering and eschewing speaking ill of the elderly.
On the other hand, given the hypocrisy between the man’s many public pronouncements and the realities of his behind-the-scene machinations as documented by many writers, historians and journalists, wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity for the man the former US Ambassador to Kenya called “the second most powerful man in the land” (after Moi) to “set the records straight” in a “tell-all” book – “in his own words”?
I know that I would buy a copy and gift 2 or 3 copies to family and friends!