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Former Kanu strongman James Njiru takes final bow after struggle with cancer

By By Francis Ngige and Munene Kamau | Published Fri, June 28th 2013 at 00:00, Updated June 28th 2013 at 12:35 GMT +3

By Francis Ngige and Munene Kamau

The death of former minister in the Kanu regime James Njiru ends the illustrious life of a controversial politician.

Although he was inactive in politics at the time of his death, Njiru of the “Kanu Moto” fame will go down history books as one of the controversial figures of the former President Moi’s government.

The Kanu supremo crossed swords with many politicians and was involved in comical and daredevil scenarios that went ahead to claim his political life.

The old man who died yesterday at the Nairobi Hospital following a battle with cancer was a force to reckon with in the 1980s. Yesterday, his son Dr Stephen Njiru said the old man had been in and out of hospital.

During his life, however, he was loved and loathed by his fellow politicians in equal measure.

For a man who was powerful during a period when political dissent was not tolerated and Kanu had a powerful disciplinary committee, stepping on people’s toes was inevitable.

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A story is told how the former powerful minister for National Guidance and Political Affairs once rode in Moi’s limousine to illustrate his “power”.

Sometime in the 1990s, Moi had toured Meru and drove to Nyeri through Nanyuki where he boarded a helicopter to Nairobi. And perhaps to show people in his home district of Kirinyaga and the country how powerful he was and his closeness to Moi, Njiru even waved at people from the limousine’s sunroof.

He bragged that he was the only minister housed at Kenyatta International Conference Centre then the tallest building in Nairobi, to oversee the political activities and tame errant politicians. “From the top floor of this magnificent building, I can see those who are not loyal to President Moi and Kanu so that we can deal with them,” Njiru once boasted.

The man, whose word appeared to be law those days, had an aide de camp a Mr Kimbo, who despite being a civilian was decorated with insignia and Kanu uniform and was always behind him.

But his flamboyance and love for power was later to become the rope that hanged him politically. His wayward acts were even a subject of parliamentary debate where MPs accused him of behaving like a mini-president.

A protest chorus from inside and outside the House forced Moi to demote him to less glamorous ministry of Culture and Social Services.

Among those whom he crossed swords with due to his combative brand of politics were the State House operative Matere Keriri and the former Head of Civil Service the late Geoffrey Kareithi.

The politician came into politics in 1969 when he became the second Ndia MP after trouncing the then MP the late Njagi Kibuga. It was during his second term he was elevated to an assistant minister for Health.

Even before this, Njiru who had become Moi’s confidant had been able to convince Kanu leadership to resort to the queue voting method in all its subsequent elections.

Upon being re-elected in 1988, Njiru was appointed to the most powerful docket then, National Guidance and Political Affairs, which the Kanu regime had allegedly created at the time to tame perceived dissidents.

Following his demise, Kirinyaga Council of Elders has sent their condolences to their fallen kinsman who they described as a true politician. “I have known Njiru for many years, as a political colleague having been in Parliament together, a mentor and a true comrade,” said chairman of the Council Mzee Bernard Kathanga.

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