When former Attorney General Charles Mugane Njonjo died in January last year, aged 101, he must have felt vindicated. Kenya, had grudgingly heeded a warning he had given 42 years earlier.
Alarmed by what he perceived reckless behaviour, Njonjo told Kenyans on October 15, 1980, to stop breeding like rabbits. When he uttered his remarks on the floor of Parliament, most colleagues were scandalised by his outburst.
How a man of British pretensions who had married at 52 could dare lecture them about family life was beyond parliamentarians, some of whom had multiple wives and dozens of children.
At the time, Njonjo had been married for eight years.
During President Jomo Kenyatta’s tenure, Njonjo was the butt of his jokes as he liked teasing him. Apparently the president knew Kenya’s matron-in-chief, Margaret Wanjiru Koinange, had a soft spot for his Attorney General and loved teasing him about it.
However, when he took to the floor of Parliament in 1980, Njonjo who had spurned the matron but married Margaret Bryson, cautioned that Kenya was faced with a frightening problem of birth rate ”which we are told is the highest in the world.”
“I appeal to our people to produce the children they can afford to look after, not produce children like rabbits.” Undeterred by screams of No, No, Njonjo said he was waiting for a day when Parliament would introduce legislation that would impose a heavy tax on people bearing too many children.
Njonjo argued that such taxation was the best as it had worked in other regions like the Far East and Scandinavia countries, observing that most children at Dr Barnados Home in Nairobi had been collected at the Post Office when they were only one day old.
At the time, although Kenya’s population was about 15.3 million going by the census conducted the previous year, the country’s average fertility rate that alarmed Njonjo was 7.4 per woman.
Njonjo silenced those jeering him saying although they were shouting like birds, they lacked the avian foresight as it feathered its nest before laying eggs. He blasted them saying they were doing the opposite and signed off with a stinger... “It is not a compliment to be told that Kenya has the highest birthrate in the world.”
But the Minister of State in the Office of the President, GG Kariuki, dismissed Njonjo’s counsel. ”I do not expect someone to tell me how to manage my family,” adding that he totally disagreed with Njonjo and his British way of family planning.
But Mombasa South MP Mwidau Abdallah was more pragmatic as he described family planning as a two-way traffic where men too needed to attend seminars to learn how to programme themselves.
At the time of his death, Njonjo had three children. The country’s average fertility rate had dropped to 3.2 per woman.
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