Once ridiculed as ‘Sir Charles of Kabeteshire’ due to his adulation of the British way of life, where his pin-strip suits and shirts were, and still are tailored and dry cleaned, his bosom buddies include “progressives” like Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
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And although Njonjo and his father had bashed Mau Mau in the 1950s, when Kenya got independence in 1963, Njonjo reaped from this development as he rose rapidly to become an insider in Kenyatta government and ultimately rose to become Attorney General.
Following ideological fallout between freedom icons Jomo Kenyatta and his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Njonjo exploited this opportunity to crack down on perceived government opponents.
Using his powers as the AG, Njonjo frustrated any attempts by Odinga to register Kenya People’s Union (KPU) and re-introduced detention without trial to curtail dissenting politicians.
Njonjo was also accused of exploiting the financial woes afflicting populist Nyandarua North MP, JM Kariuki’s after he fell out with Kenyatta. Njonjo knew JM’s sources of money and used his influence to pressure his creditors to recall loans so as to humble JM.
In November 1970, shortly after JM was sacked as an assistant minister, Charles Hornsby writes in his book, Kenya: A history Since Independence Njonjo encouraged oil manufacturer Caltex to take action to recover the costs of two petrol stations Kariuki had acquired.
By 1971, JM blamed Njonjo when he was informally barred from speaking at any public meetings. In March 1971, police turned 130 guests, including MPs and army officers, away from a birthday party at Kariuki’s house, an incident that aroused international attention.
Njonjo’s hawkish behaviour convinced his critics that he had a hand in the deaths of JM and Pio Gama Pinto, and Tom Mboya whose assassinations were linked to their anti-Kenyatta stance.
Earlier in 1969 when forces allied to Odinga were incriminated in a plot to overthrow the Kenyatta Government, Njonjo used his ties with the British to secure support should the situation demand it.
Njonjo believed that he was destined to be Kenya’s Prime Minister. However he was jolted to reality when a British journalist wrote in March 1971 that Kenyatta was toying with the idea of creating the position and bequeathing it to his physician, Dr Njoroge Mungai, since Moi was considered a “mediocrity’.
Hornsby writes that this infuriated Moi and Njonjo, with the latter denouncing any such claims as treasonable. In 1976, when a clique of a Kikuyu MPs sought to change the Constitution so as to block then Vice President Moi from automatically succeeding Kenyatta, Njonjo acted swiftly.
Acting as Moi’s guardian angel, Njonjo warned the likes of Kihika Kimani, then Nakuru North MP that it was treasonable to even imagine the death of a sitting president.
When Keyatta died on August 22, 1978, Njonjo helped install Moi as the president, believing that the Vice President was a pushover whom he would later replace and even described him as a passing cloud.
As a powerful Attornery General, Njonjo set about crippling all the politicians from Kiambu and Central Province who had tried to sabotage Moi from succeeding Kenyatta.
When he ultimately hit 60 in 1980, he morphed into a politician. First, Njonjo convinced then Kabete MP Amos Ng’ang’a to vacate the seat for him after bribing him with Sh160,000.
He believed that once in parliament, Moi would create a post of Prime Minister for him but he was in for a rude shock. Moi appointed him Home and Constitutional Affairs Minister, a position Njonjo used to solidify his political foothold in Central by undermining Mwai Kibaki’s popularity in the region.
To ensure that he was still in charge of Judiciary he appointed his buddy, James Karugu, who was also from Kiambu, as Attorney General.
Njonjo was firmly in charge of the Judiciary, the CID, prisons and Constitution. The ministry was specifically created for him by Moi.
In November 1980, assistant minister Waruru Kanja was sacked after he claimed that Njonjo and G.G. kariuki had armed bodyguards to protect them against crimes they had committed.
Njonjo was alleged to have been involved in the murder of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki.
Njonjo was said to have had a hand in the election of Manasses Kuria to head the Anglican Church, where Njonjo still serves as an elder. He was unhappy with the outspoken cleric, Henry Okullu.
Njonjo’s downfall started in 1981 when his cousin, Andrew Muthemba was linked with a plot to overthrow the Government.
Muthemba had tried to smuggle arms out of Nanyuki Air-Force base in January 1981. Njonjo was accused of being behind the plot to overthrow Moi.
Muthemba was acquitted by Judge Alfred Simpson after declaring that he had been trying to test the effectiveness of Kenya’s security forces.
After the case, Karugu was sacked as AG for betraying his mentor by allowing the case to be prosecuted and subjecting Njonjo to ridicule. He was replaced with another Njonjo protege from Kiambu, James Kamere. Simpson was at the same time rewarded by Njonjo with the post of Chief Justice.
Internationally, Njonjo attracted the ire of pro-democracy forces after he supported South Africa’s apartheid regime when it was a pariah state. During that time he was a political untouchable as he had the support of 60 MPs.
In 1978, Njonjo had claimed that Rift Valley Police boss, James Mungai had formed an assassination squad to murder Moi and seize power.
In June 1982, Njonjo, at Moi’s behest, successfully transformed Kenya into a one-party state and the re-introduction of detention without trial. But unknown to the powerful minister, he was living on borrowed time.
At the height of his political power, Njonjo was determined to wrestle Vice Presidency Mwai Kibaki out of contention for the top seat. At one point, Njonjo is reported to have harassed Kibaki to the point of the latter contemplating resignation.
He was also accused of masterminding the bombing at the Norfolk Hotel on New Year’s eve in 1980, where Kibaki was scheduled to speak.
The bomb killed 15 people and scores were injured. There were suggestions that the bomb was the work of Palestinians who were avenging Kenya’s involvement in the Entebbe raid in which Israeli commandos rescued their compatriots taken hostage in 1972.
Njonjo’s fortunes started dwindling after the 1982 aborted coup when his closeness to Moi came into scrutiny. His guards were withdrawn and his unfettered access to the President blocked.
He joined the ranks of a man he had dedicated most of his time into bashing: Odinga. This was striking because Njonjo had once claimed he would never shake a Luo’s hand because he detested the smell of their fish staple.
On May 8, 1983, during a rally in Kisii, Moi dropped a bombshell, claiming some foreigners were grooming somebody to replace him. On June 29, 1983, Njonjo was named a traitor and suspended from the cabinet and a judicial commission to investigate him appointed.
Njonjo was forced to resign on June 30, 1983, as an MP and was suspended from Kanu. His closest friends, Stanley Oloitiptip, G.G. Kariuki, Robert Matano, Charles Rubia and Joseph Kamotho later lost their seats in Parliament.
The probe led by former Chief Justice Cecil Miller never was inconclusive and on December 12, 1984, Njonjo was found guilty but “pardoned” Moi. By then he had been forced to retire from politics.
This was a major climb-down for a man who, when Kenyatta’s Government was under threat from Odinga in 1965, had formally requested United Kingdom to come to the aid of Kenyatta’s Government.
Life for the man who distrusted African judges hearing election petitions has gone full circle. He does not see eye to eye with President Mwai Kibaki and has on a number of occasions teamed up with Raila Odinga, the son of the man he and Kenyatta persecuted.
Now in his 90s, Njonjo is one of the elites Raila has been counting on to deliver Central Province’s votes to his presidential campaign. This is an onerous task for a man who first went to Parliament more than 30 years ago, and even then he had to buy his opposition.
But then, Njonjo’s deep pockets might prove critical to Raila, whose last realistic chance at the presidency will be tested in only two months.
Source:Kenya Daily post