CHARLES NJONJO TURNS 100: The fall of the "Duke of Kabeteshire" in early 1980s
As Kenya's first AG turns 100 years today, we take a look at the political events that took place in the early 1980s.
After the August 1982 failed coup, powerful Former constitutional affairs minister Charles Njonjo was accused of planning to overthrow President Moi’s government. He was also alleged to have been party to the activities of a man named Andrew Mungai Muthemba, who was tried in independent Kenya’s first treason case. Prosecutors claimed Muthemba, a relative of Njonjo, had tried to acquire weapons illegally through the Kenya Air Force. He was acquitted.
This was followed by a phrase back then, msaliti, by politicians who were said to be close to President Moi. So when Moi himself made the 'msaliti remarks' in Kisii, Bethuel Kiplagat- the then Kenya’s High Commissioner in London-was instructed to look for Njonjo in London and tell him to get on the first available plane back home.
On getting back in the country, Njonjo read mischief in the way the political undertones were shaping up, went straight to his private office and wrote a resignation letter as a cabinet minister and delivered to State House.
But the President, who was also referred to as “Professor of Politics” rejected Njonjo’s resignation, and even assured him that all was well.
The msaliti noise became louder and louder each passing day, with politicians dropping hints of who exactly the traitor was…until when the then Butere MP Martin Shikuku made a public announcement in Parliament, that the said Judas Iscariot was indeed Njonjo.
Then everything came tumbling down on the Duke of Kabeteshire, who was also the Kikuyu MP…Njonjo was fired from Cabinet, a commission of enquiry was formed to probe him, President Moi called for a snap election, and everyone associated with him lost in that election. Even senior civil servants and security officials who were suspected of being close to Njonjo were dismissed from duty.
All manner of allegations were levelled against Njonjo in the enquest which surmounted to treason, which he denied. However, he baffled the commission when he declined to be cross-examined by his lawyers, a critical process in which accused persons can tear evidence tabled against them apart.
Njonjo instead thanked Moi for setting up the commission, saying it was a sign of Kenya’s progress. But he said how very sorry he was that the proceedings became necessary.
The inquiry ended after a year when President Moi announced he had forgiven Njonjo.