Little-known Details of Charles Njonjo's Father

  • Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo (left) and his late father Josiah Njonjo
    Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo (left) and his late father Josiah Njonjo
    Kenya National Archives
  • Charles Njonjo who was popularly referred to as "The Duke of Kabeteshire" became a defining figure in Kenya's history serving as the country's first African Attorney General.

    Njonjo acquired the best education while growing up, provided by his father Josiah Njonjo who was a senior chief.

    Josiah Njonjo was a colonial paramount chief and one of the foremost collaborators of British rule in Kenya.

    In an interview with scholars, Anne Thurston and Esmond Bradley Martin, the former chief opened up on his life and his eventual rise to a respected elder in the community.

    Chief Josiah Njonjo of Kabete
    Chief Josiah Njonjo of Kabete.

    "Actually, I can't tell you the exact date, but I think I was born around 1890 because I have read about when Mr. Andrew Dick (a Scottish trader) was killed by a group of Maasai at Kedong on the edge of Kikuyu country in 1895," he was quoted by the researchers.

    He recounted how the white settlers established themselves withing the communities in the Mount Kenya region.

    Njonjo was friends with Loius Leakey who went on to become a renowned archeologist.

    "We used to call him "Wathiomo" - which means friend. When he grew older, he was given the Kikuyu name "Wakaruigi", which means clever, like an eagle," he stated.

    From 1904 until 1912, he was among the few boys who went to school which he attributed to his love for football.

    At school, they learned to read and used to read the Bible and some church history in Swahili. 

    When he left school, he went to work at The Leader of British East Africa newspaper office where he met with Gideon Kubai, Thomas Marimbe, Timothy Mwaura and Harry Thuku.

    "I was there until 1914 when I went to work at the District Commissioner's office at Ngong. I was a clerk, really, a Goanese was the District Clerk, and I was his assistant. I also helped the District Officer collect taxes from the Maasai," he explained.

    Around that time, World War 1 happened and together with the district officers, they went to buy cattle for the army. 

    When he returned home, he used money he had earned during the war to purchase land just North of Nairobi where he lived till his death.  

    Njonjo was later made chief and later paid five goats to become an elder. He stated that although he had become a leader, he did not hide efforts to get freedom and land back.

    "I myself tried not to take advantage of my people and refused to do many things that the district commissioners expected me to do," he noted.

    In 1929, Njonjo was appointed the divisional chief by the District Commissioner where he had eight chiefs and a hundred headmen under him.

    During the Second World War, he was chosen to go to the Middle East to encourage the soldiers together with other chiefs from Uganda and Tanzania.

    The late senior chief Josiah Njonjo (left) died in 1985.
    The late senior chief Josiah Njonjo (left) died in 1985.

    Njonjo was a chief for forty-six years, from 1920 until 1966 when he retired on his piece of land on a farm North of Nairobi.

    "I enjoyed being a chief, but it was a very hard job; it was not easy. However, I tried not to take advantage of my people and even now they come to consult me. I am happy wherever I go," he explained.

    The retired senior chief died on November 1, 1985. According to court documents, Njonjo had in October 1983 drawn a will where he named Kenya Commercial Bank Limited as the first executor and his son Charles Njonjo as the second executor.