Wilfred Karuga Koinange, who was buried on Tuesday, was the last of the notable Koinanges. A medical doctor and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, he was the scholar in the family.
His death virtually marks the end of a dynasty that has mesmerised the people of Kiambu as well as outsiders for over a century.
His uncle, Mbiyu Koinange, the most famous scion, died 31 years ago. His father, Charles Karuga Koinange, died eight years ago, while his grandfather, Ex-Senior Chief Koinange, the patriarch of the legendary family, died 52 years ago.
The patriarch was instrumental in nurturing Kenya’s independence movement. His mansion in Kiambaa was the venue for many meetings and gun-running operations for the Mau Mau. One of his sons, David Gathiomi, who disappeared in 1950, reputedly shot himself dead while cleaning a pistol and was secretly buried.
Though he was illiterate, he was articulate, well-informed and hugely influential. He was a leader of his clan, as early as 1905, before the colonial government appointed him “headman” on November 1, 1921, on a salary of Sh60 per month, then a princely sum.
He was appointed Senior Chief of Kiambu District in 1938 and in 1942 Senior Chief without location. He became an adviser to the District Commissioner on African affairs. And while the British admired his abilities, they were also wary of him. A District Commissioner once described him as “the evil genius of Kiambu”.
He retired in February 1949 as Senior Chief at the age of about 78. But, according District Commissioner N.F. Kennaway, he was by no means senile and was extraordinarily active for his age. He continued to be the African deputy vice-president of the Kiambu Local Native Council.
Ex-Senior Chief Koinange was royalty and a pure and independent Kikuyu, proud of his heritage, what we call Mugikuyu karing’a. He had six wives and 34 children. Today there are numerous people called Koinange.
But the dynasty has gone under. It started falling apart in 1952 when the patriarch was detained by the colonial government. When he was released on July 1, 1960, after eight years, he was weak and frail and could hardly talk.
He died 19 days later at the age of 94. His detention, and dying without a will, contributed greatly to the family disintegration. Death, attrition and in-fighting over property, have driven the family downhill.
And almost all the achievers in the family have expired or faded out.
These include Mbiyu Koinange who was probably the first Kenyan to get a master’s degree. As minister of State, he became the most powerful figure in the Kenyatta government. He was popularly known as “Kissinger” after Henry Kissinger, the powerful US Secretary of State of the 1970s.
Charles Karuga Koinange was appointed Chief for Kiambaa in 1951. When Kenya achieved independence, he was appointed provincial commissioner and served in Central and Eastern provinces.
And Joseph Karuga Koinange, who now leads a quiet life, is a former dean of students of the University of Nairobi and subsequently became principal of Kenyatta College in 1977-1981.
Other members of the dynasty with some claim to fame include John Mbiyu Koinange, now long gone. He became Senator for Kiambaa in 1963-1966 under the independence Constitution, which provided for a bicameral system.
Latter-day Koinanges, who may also claim recognition include Paul Kihara Kariuki, a Court of Appeal judge. His mother, Lilian Wairimu, is a Koinange daughter.
The other is Jeff Koinange, whose father was Frederick Mbiyu Koinange. Apart from being the K24 TV celebrity interviewer and former CNN reporter, he is the author of Koinange-Wa-Mbiyu: Mau Mau’s Misunderstood Leader, published in September 2000.
The dynasty has gone down in the world. It has also been torn apart by inter-family disputes over inheritance.
The most debilitating dispute, captured in the court case Koinange & 13 others v Koinange, was a full-scale family war over the sharing of some 600 acres of land, movable property and livestock left behind by the patriarch.
The dispute took 25 years to resolve. It left behind a string of broken relationships. Senior Chief Koinange must be turning in his grave.