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First black AG despised African lawyers, pilots

By Njonjo Kihuria | Jan 3rd 2022 | 3 min read
By Njonjo Kihuria | January 3rd 2022

Sir Charles Njonjo loved the Queen’s English, believed in many things white and at one time had disparaged African pilots. [Courtesy]

Sir Charles Njonjo, the Duke of Kabeteshire, was a “British" aristocrat par excellence.

He wore pinstriped three-piece suits (mostly black-white) complete with patterned shirts, chained pocket watches and he was time conscious to a fault. However, he took his meals and breaks seriously.

One day, a relative recalls how he and a colleague went to his house in Muthaiga, but at the gate, they were told ‘Mzee’ had just had his lunch and was taking his afternoon nap. If they chose to, they could wait for two hours. They had learnt their lesson; relatives or not, one had to have an appointment to see the former Attorney General.

He loved the Queen’s English, believed in many things white and at one time had disparaged African pilots and was not comfortable flying with them. Although he was the first African Attorney General, he was accused of not being supportive of African lawyers, especially in the early days, and some lawyers accused him of slowing down Africanisation of Kenya’s Judiciary.

During the 1983 judicial inquiry into his conduct following accusations that he was the traitor who wanted to overthrow the government of Daniel arap Moi, the cameras were so sharply trained on him that the letter CN were clearly identified as forming the stripes of his suits.

Sir Charles was always meticulously dressed with a gold chain watch, a red fresh rose on his lapel, and would not entertain anybody who did not dress ‘properly’, especially on weekdays. He would throw journalists out of his office for dressing ‘improperly’, but luckily only I got away with being casually dressed.

Of Jomo Kenyatta, the man he diligently served and said he derived his power from, Njonjo once commented that Mzee was smart and wanted smart people around him. “Kenyatta could not allow people who worked for him to dress in casual wear or Kaunda suits on weekdays, for if he allowed them to come to the office or meetings in open shirts, in no time they would come dressed only in vests”.

Sir Charles Njonjo was always meticulously dressed, and would not entertain anybody who did not dress ‘properly’. [File, Standard]

He also commended his former boss for not making decisions on gossip. “If you told Mzee something about one of your colleagues, he would only comment, ‘how interesting’ and then confront you with it in the presence of the person you had accused,” he once said.

Njonjo once recalled an incident where a senior Kikuyu politician had accused him to Kenyatta of intentions to overthrow his government. “When Mzee confronted him in my presence, the man could only hide behind alcohol, weakly claiming that he had been tipsy when he made the accusation,” Njonjo laughed heartily in recollection.

As AG, Njonjo did not mix much with commoners, but when he became MP for Kikuyu, he was forced to connect with them and at times even joined traditional dancers who came to entertain him at public functions that he officiated.

He kept a healthy lifestyle and during the days of building gabions that Moi was fond of spending his weekends doing in Ukambani, he ‘introduced’ bottled drinking water to the curiosity of many. Most Kenyans in the 1980s took water from local rivers and the lucky ones directly from their taps. Many had not seen let alone taken bottled water and it was rumoured that the water Njonjo took from the bottle was imported from Britain.

Fare thee well, Sir Charles, you definitely lived a full life.

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