Charles Njonjo turns 100, thanks family

Thursday January 23 2020

Attorney-General Charles Njonjo is awarded a certificate after tracking gorillas at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. PHOTO | COURTESY


Kenya’s first Attorney General Charles Mugane Njonjo is today celebrating his 100th birthday.

The only surviving member of the country’s first independence Cabinet was born on January 23, 1920 in Kiambu.

The “Duke of Kabeteshire” says his family is what he considers as his greatest blessing and treasure.

 “On this occasion I am humbled by what I consider to be my greatest blessings: my loving family, which, as expected, has grown over the years,” he says.


While confirming receiving numerous messages of congratulation and best wishes for his milestone birthday, Mr Njonjo upholds his family as the source of his energy and love for life.


 “First of all my wonderful wife and life companion, Margaret, followed by our children. I have also had great joy and privilege of grandchildren, to date six of them, all of whom have had the most uplifting effect on my energy and love for life. I am truly grateful to God,” he notes.

 As he turns a century old, the father of three and two son-in-laws says among the things he treasures is his long service to the country, church, people and civil service.

He also treasures his service to the people of Kikuyu – now Kabete Constituency – whom he represented in Parliament, his service in the private sector through various boards he was involved with, as well as the All Saints Cathedral.


 “I have also dedicated many hours to numerous charities, social enterprises and educational institutions such as the Alliance High School, the Kenya High School and Starehe Boys Centre,” he states.

He schooled at Alliance, which was the only high school open to Africans in those days.

 In all those endeavours, Mr Njonjo says, he is honoured and proud to have interacted and worked alongside many talented and gifted people.

“All have enriched my professional and public life,” emphasises the former Cabinet Minister of Constitutional Affairs and a powerful figure in the Mzee Kenyatta government.

Over the week, he has been on the news after engaging in an adventure of tracking the endangered mountain gorillas at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda- one of the leading tourism sites in Uganda since it harbours rare primates.


The park is situated in southwestern Uganda on the border with Congo and Rwanda.

“I was very lucky to see the gorillas - two babies and two big bulls,” said Mr Njonjo.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) presented him with a gorilla tracking certificate and wished him the best ahead of his 100th birthday.

He is fond of Uganda because of the experience he had at Kings College Buddo, a secondary school in the western parts of Kampala.

After secondary school, Mr Njonjo was enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa before flying to Great Britain at the University of Exerter where he studied public administration in 1946.

From 1947 to 1950 he enrolled at the London School of Economics and later studied law for four years.

After his studies in law, he was admitted to the bar at Gray’s Inn London –a professional associations for lawyers and judges in London.


Mr Njonjo married at 52- following pressure from Mzee Kenyatta. It is reported that the then president could not stand being advised by an Attorney General who was still a bachelor.

Mr Njonjo was serving as Kenyatta’s legal and personal adviser.

He spent a large part of his life in the United Kingdom, where he studied law before returning to Kenya and serving as the country’s first AG for 17 years (1963 to 1980).

He retired to contest a parliamentary by-election for Kikuyu Constituency.

After his election, he was appointed Minister for Constitutional and Home Affairs, but the designation was changed later to Ministry of Constitutional Affairs.

Despite his advanced age, he can read and write. Having acquired his education in Britain, Mr Njonjo has great love for everything British including English accent and stripped suits.

He is credited with almost single-handedly making Daniel arap Moi the President after Kenyatta’s death on August 22, 1978. Moi was then vice president.

As Attorney General, Mr Njonjo is reported to have halted push by a group referred as the ‘Mt Kenya Mafia’ from changing the country’s Constitution so as to bar Moi from automatically ascending to the power, following Mzee Kenyatta’s death. Mr Njonjo would then become very powerful.


During the 1979 elections, he is believed to have ensured that all those who had opposed Mr Moi were sidelined in the Kanu Party leadership.  

Upon assuming power, President Moi adopted the word Nyayo as his signature rallying call to assuage the feelings of Kenyatta-era.

Mr Njonjo is reported to have warned traders that they risked being prosecuted for abusing the name Nyayo.

He told industrialists and businessmen dealing in fabrics printed with the word Nyayo to exhaust their stocks and to stop making or selling such fabrics.

But Mr Njonjo and Mr Moi fell out following the August 1, 1982 attempted coup by a section of Kenya Air Force soldiers.

The son of a colonial chief denied the allegations and Mr Moi suspended him from the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs.

 He was also compelled to resign from all his political responsibilities following the establishment of a commission of public inquiry that lasted ten months (from October 1983 to August 1984).

In October 1984, the commission chaired by Justice Cecil Miller in its report, found Mr Njonjo guilty, but President Moi pardoned him.  


Mr Njonjo appeared in person before the commission, and was being represented by his two advocates Mr William Shirley Deverell (who died in 2018) and Mr Paul Muite.

He was accused of conducting himself in a manner prejudicial to the security of the Sate and prejudicial to the position and Head of State and image of the President as well as to the constitutionally established government.

The commission noted that during the inquiry, Mr Njonjo did not appear concerned about the proceedings of the inquiry.

 “Instead, he purported to address His Excellency the President directly. By doing so, he left all the allegations made against him and the mass of the evidence adduced before us untouched, thereby leaving it open for adverse inferences to be drawn against him,” the commission noted.

After the pardon, Mr Njonjo retreated to private life but resurfaced in 1998 when Moi’s government appointed him as chairman of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and later as chairman of a commission of inquiry into Land Law systems in 1999.

The commission focused on coming up with principles of a National Land Policy framework, the constitutional position of land and formulation of a new institutional framework for land administration.

He is considered one of the richest people in the country with investments in banking, real estate, insurance, hospitality, ranching, aviation and stock exchange.