Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo during a past interview at his Nairobi office.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo during a past interview at his Nairobi office.
Image: FILE:

By Reporter

Scripture says, “Our days may come to 70 years, or 80 — if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

But one man from affluent Kabete has defied those biblical predictions and on Thursday is turning 100.

Charles Njonjo, the ‘Duke of Kabeteshire’ and Kenya’s first attorney general, will be celebrating in Nairobi.


Njonjo is a formidable, powerful figure in Kenyan history and especially the Independence era when he wielded enormous influence.

He is famous for his eloquence, English mannerisms and fondness for English culture, so fond that he earned the informal, and not entirely complimentary title ‘Sir’ Charles.

The former AG is famous for his striped suits that he states he buys only in London, worn with his signature red rosebud in his lapel.

Njonjo had the ear of founding President Jomo Kenyatta and rode in his limousine.

This was ostensibly because he wanted to ensure the government provided quality services to its citizens, which he said Mzee wanted.

Njonjo was instrumental in elevating Daniel Moi to vice president after Josphat Murumbi resigned in 1967. He and Moi fell out in 1983, when  Moi accused him of plotting to overthrow the government.

A son of Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo in 1920 in a family of eight, Njonjo’s life was and still is characterised by affluence and power.

The Kenyan government still takes services to his doorstep, most recently the Huduma Namba.

Njonjo Quotes
Njonjo Quotes

The no-nonsense former AG praised the initiative of consolidating personal details “as people will not be carrying many documents with them”. 

So privileged was the former AG and so charmed his early ears that Njonjo ate ugali for the first time after joining Alliance High School.

In those days Njonjo rode a horse to school — at that time horses were the equine preserve of royalty — after weekend breaks.

At Alliance, he and other boys stood barefoot in assembly as they raised the Union Jack. They wore only khaki shirts and shorts at Alliance.

He dreaded the standard cold showers and the deprivation of meat every day that he enjoyed at home. It was served only twice a week at Alliance.

If life at Alliance was hard, Njonjo would later endure long trips on a congested train coach to get to Fort Hare University, South Africa.

This was at the height of apartheid and natives (blacks) were restricted to one uncomfortable coach, some filled with the stench of sweat and chicken poop.

The man who later became Kenya’s AG endured the extremes of apartheid, carrying with him memories of how he would be barred from dining halls.

On streets, in train stations and at train stops, blacks could not cross a white man or woman’s path.

Njonjo went to Kings College-Budo in Uganda in 1939 for a two-year pre-university course before he proceeded to the  South African university.

He spent three years at Fort Hare and later moved to the UK for further studies, attending Exeter University and later the London School of Economics until 1950.

On his return to Kenya in 1954, Njonjo began his carer in the justice system when the colonial government hired him as a High Court registrar.

He was promoted to Registrar General and later moved to the AG’s office as Senior Crown Counsel.

In 1962, Njonjo was promoted to Deputy Public Prosecutor — a step away from the Attorney General’s post, which he occupied after Jomo Kenyatta took over.

This would propel him to become an ex-officio Member of Parliament as Kabete MP and earned him a seat in the Cabine.

He says he took his work so seriously that he married late, at age 52 he married a British woman.

His downfall was engineered by President Moi who saw him as a threat. Previously he supplied suitcases full of Savile Row suits to Moi.

Njonjo does not comment on national politics these days, saying he doesn’t follow the goings-on in the political scene — but he has expressed concern that the quality of civil service has declined.

Recently, Njonjo featured in a video by the  Ugandan Wildlife Authority while tracking gorillas at the Mgahinga National Park