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Charles Njonjo did not formally get the title ‘Sir’

By Brian Okoth | January 4th 2022

Charles Njonjo died aged 101 on January 2, 2022. [File, Standard]

The late former Attorney-General Charles Njonjo was not formally given the title ‘Sir’, though he was known in Kenyan circles as Sir Charles Njonjo.

The title Sir has its origin in the United Kingdom, and one has to be knighted to acquire it.

A Knighthood or a Damehood is one of the highest honours an individual in the United Kingdom can achieve.

Sealandgov.org describes the word Sir as a variation of Sire, an honorific term used throughout Europe, which was used to refer to a feudal lord.

The term Sir was first used in England in 1297, being used as the title for a Knight.

The title Dame as the female equivalent to a Knight wasn’t introduced until 1917, although there were female Knights before then.

The big question is, how does one get knighted, and what makes one to be knighted?

UK’s Awards Intelligence Service says “a knighthood, and the female equivalent, a damehood, is an award given by the queen to an individual for a major, long-term, contribution in any activity, usually at a national or international level”.

Men who are knighted become Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) and shall be called Sir, while women become Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) and get the title Dame.

While there is no set time of year that someone can be nominated for the knighthood, the queen usually bestows the honour as part of the New Year’s honours list.

People can be nominated for knighthood, although the government reportedly helps the queen decide who the best choice is to be knighted, depending on the level of knighthood.

Some of the prominent people who have been knighted, and therefore received the title Sir, include American billionaire techpreneur Bill Gates, his compatriot, actress Angelina Jolie, British racing driver Lewis Hamilton and English football star Marcus Rashford.

The queen has never knighted former Kenyan Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, though he received the title informally within the Kenyan circles because of his strong liking for the English mannerisms, including the dress code, language, punctuality, style of governance, food and education.

Njonjo was also christened the “Duke of Kabeteshire”. He was born in Kabete, Kiambu County on January 23, 1920.

In the UK, a Duke is the member of nobility that ranks just below the monarch. The title refers to the ruler of a “duchy” (county, territory or domain).

It's also tradition for men of the royal family to get a new title when they marry – often taking on Duke status.

Having been born and raised in Kabete, and because he wielded so much power between 1963 and 1983, and most importantly, because he subscribed to the ideals of the Victorian aristocracy, Charles Njonjo was nicknamed the “Duke of Kabeteshire”.

The 101-year-old died of pneumonia at his Muthaiga home in Nairobi on Sunday, January 2, 2022.

He was cremated, as per his wishes, at the Kariokor Hindu Crematorium the same day.

He served as Kenya’s first indigenous Attorney-General between 1963 and 1979, succeeding Englishman Eric Newton Griffith-Jones, who had served between 1955 and 1963.

Njonjo, thereafter, served as Kikuyu Constituency Member of Parliament between 1980 and 1983.

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