Charles Njonjo

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Sir Charles Njonjo
Charles Njonjo when Kenyan Attorney General, c. 1970
Attorney General of Kenya
In office
Succeeded byJames B. Karugu
Minister of Justice
In office
Preceded byTom Mboya
Succeeded byKiraitu Murungi
Personal details
Born (1920-01-23) 23 January 1920 (age 99)
EducationAlliance High School
Alma materUniversity of Fort Hare

Charles Mugane Njonjo (born 23 January 1920) is a former Attorney General of Kenya (1963 – 1979), and Minister of Constitutional Affairs (1980 – 1983). Charles Njonjo is also popularly referred to as "The Duke of Kabeteshire".[1][2]

Early life and career[edit]

Njonjo was the son of Josiah Njonjo, a colonial paramount chief and one of the foremost collaborators of British rule in Kenya.[3] 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.[4] As the son of a collaborator, Njonjo led a pampered lifestyle, later remarking how he would ride to school on a horse delivered by a servant, at a time when Africans were under a sustained assault on their way of life by the colonial government.[5] 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 in order to defeat the attempts of Mau Mau freedom fighters to gain independence. Njonjo diligently served the government as it went about performing horrendous atrocities, gaining a reputation as a diligent lawyer, and therefore being considered for Attorney General in the Independent Kenya.[6] With Njonjo at the helm of the judiciary and other legal apparatus in Kenya, the government policy on dispossession of Africans by White colonialists surprisingly continued unabated. In view of the illegal actions of the British in quelling the Mau Mau uprising, and other liberation movements, Njonjo and the government he served in did not institute any measures to address the injustice, instead taking an active role of thwarting any such attempts.[7] it was only 50 years later that the Kenyan government finally outlawed Mau Mau and joined their quest for compensation by the British government. He was also a proponent for continued ties with regimes such as White-ruled Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique, at a time when other African countries stood shoulder to shoulder with their oppressed comrades in their quest for independence and an end to racially-inspired rule. These actions have defined the frosty South Africa-Kenyan relations since then.[8] On Kenyan politics, while he had registered the Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru Association (GEMA) in 1971, he would soon become an opponent of the group. To destroy GEMA, in 1976, he charged some of its members including Kihika Kimani and Njenga Karume with treason. The order was soon overturned, however, by the president, Jomo Kenyatta.[9]

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. In return, Israel promised to destroy the Ugandan airforce fleet stationed at Entebbe and to attempt to assassinate Ugandan president Idi Amin in case they encountered him at the airport. Njonjo first confirmed this secret deal in an interview with British historian Saul David in the preparation for the latter’s 2015 book on Operation Entebbe.[10]

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[11]. He had considered politics for over a decade but hesitated due to 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[12].

Miller Inquiry[edit]

After the attempted coup of 1982, Moi decided to purge his party and cabinet of figures he had established wanted him out of power. Chief among them would be Njonjo, and powerful internal Security minister, G.G. Kariuki. He was dragged through a judicial inquiry, which concluded that he had abused office, and had tried to take over power from Moi. he was forced to resign, effectively destroying his political career. Daniel arap Moi. In the early 1980s he was the chairman of the East African Wildlife Society.[13][14]

Return to Public Life[edit]

In 1998 he returned to public life, and was appointed chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service.[15] In October 2006 there were indications that Njonjo was attempting a comeback in Kenyan politics, including his show of support for Raila Odinga.[16] Today, Njonjo remains one of the richest people in the country. He has extensive landholding across the country. He also owns interests in high-profile financial institutions, including banks and insurance companies.


  1. ^ Alan Rake (1993). Who's Who in Africa: Leaders for the 1990s. Scarecrow Press. p. 153. ISBN 0810825570.
  2. ^ The Standard, July 11,2014
  3. ^ Bach, Daniel; Gazibo, Mamoudou (2012). Neopatrimonialism in Africa and beyond. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-68793-5.
  4. ^ chief, F. Abiola Irele, Biodun Jeyifo, editors in (2010). The Oxford encyclopedia of African thought. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533473-9.
  5. ^ "Charles Mugane Njonjo – Kenyatta's powerful Attorney-General – Kenya Yearbook".
  6. ^ "Sir Charles Njonjo Biography, Family, Wife Children and Wealth". 28 November 2015.
  7. ^ Okungu, Jerry (30 May 2008). "Africa: South Africa And Kenya Share a Common Fate". New Vision (Kampala).
  8. ^ correspondent, Owen Bowcott Legal affairs (22 May 2016). "Mau Mau lawsuit due to begin at high court". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Daily Nation, December 4, 2009: The mid-air plot to block Moi succession — and the day Mzee had the last laugh
  10. ^ Amy Dolman (7 August 2015). "Historian and detective: 'There's always more to discover.' Saul David on exploring the History of the Entebbe Hostage Crisis". H for History. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  11. ^ David Throup; Charles Hornsby (1998). Multi-party Politics in Kenya: The Kenyatta & Moi States & the Triumph of the System in the 1992 Election. James Currey Publishers. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-85255-804-1.
  12. ^ Hornsby, Charles (2012). Kenya : a history since independence. London New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-78076-501-3.
  13. ^ Swara Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 5, 1983
  14. ^ Kenya Cabinet Official Faces An Inquiry on 'Irregularities', The New York Times, June 30, 1983
  15. ^ Veteran Kenyan politician rehabilitated, BBC, July 10, 1998
  16. ^ The return of Charles Njonjo[permanent dead link], Kenya Times, October 27, 2006