Charles Njonjo, the last surviving member of Kenya’s first Independence Cabinet, has died at the age of 100 (just 21 days short of his 101st birthday) at his home in Muthaiga.
Often described as the great ‘power broker’ in post-independence Kenya history, Charles Njonjo served as Attorney General from 1963 to 1979 and Minister of Constitutional Affairs from 1980 to 1983. He was also briefly MP for the Kikuyu Constituency between 1980 and 1983.
Charles Njonjo The ‘Power Broker’
But it was Njonjo’s role as a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker, and a key advisor to President’s Kenyatta and Moi, that he will perhaps be most remembered for.
A formidable lawyer himself, Njonjo mixed professional skill with a sometimes ruthless modus operandi.
Njonjo And Moi’s Succession
It was said that Njonjo was almost personally responsible for the appointment of ministers under President Kenyatta, and that he played a key role in the appointment of Daniel arap Moi as Kenya’s third Vice-President in 1966 following the resignation of Joseph Murumbi.
In 1976, when President Kenyatta was clearly in ill-health, five politicians, Njoroge Mungai, Njenga Karume, Kihika Kimani and Paul Ngei, led a move to alter the constitution to stop Moi automatically succeeding Kenyatta at his death. It was largely Njonjo who ensured that the existing constitutional arrangement was maintained.
Charles Njonjo also played a key role in Moi’s subsequent elevation to the presidency, defending his position until some years later when the relationship between the two broke down.
Raid On Entebbe
It was Njonjo who was reportedly the key negotiator with Israel in July 1976 to allow Israeli commandos the use of a Kenyan airbase to mount the famous ‘Raid on Entebbe’, when Israeli hostages were sprung from captivity having been taken hostage by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Military Coup 1982
After the attempted military coup in August 1982 however, Charles Njonjo was named by a judicial commission of inquiry under Justice Cecil Miller for abuse of office and his official front line involvement in Kenyan politics came to an end.
Loved And Loathed
Charles Njonjo was probably loved and loathed in equal measure. He did not suffer fools gladly and had a seeming contempt for the common man. His friends in politics were few, chiefly Moi, G. G. Kariuki, Tom Mboya and Bruce Mckenzie.
With others, Njonjo’s anglophile personae (he became known as the ‘Duke of Kabeteshire’) rankled. He wore expensive pin stripe suits, spoke BBC English and enjoyed both tea and a nap in the afternoon. At the age of 52 he married Margaret Bryson, a white English woman.