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Njonjo’s roots at a glance

Before Sir Charles Mugane Njonjo, his father Josiah Njonjo epitomised the urge to be British and wholly adopted the Razzmatazz of British culture.

Paramount Chief Josiah Njonjo of Kabete was a collaborator, wealthy landowner, friend of Colonial Governor, a critic of Kikuyu culture, a buddy to Harry Leakey and father of late Charles Njonjo.

All his life, Josiah Njonjo laboured to project himself as the most anglicized Kenyan, a trait his son took up with greater zeal.

Charles his son, seemed ashamed to be a Kikuyu or African and went to great lengths to look as "British" as possible.

In the 1930s, Charles Njonjo would ride to primary school on a horse accompanied by a servant, while others Kikuyus suffered the full brunt of colonial brutality.

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.

"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 within the communities in the Mount Kenya region.

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

His admiration for the colonialists is unparalleled. "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," stated an age-mate in the 1960s.

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.

During the Mau Mau Uprising, Chief Njonjo and other collaborating chiefs, did the donkey work for the British in suppressing the Mau Mau. Using Gakunia system, they played the role of lead identifiers and interrogators.

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 sons of colonial chiefs filled most senior positions after independence because most had acquired advanced education and had experience in civil service.

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.

His son, "Sir Charles” as he was known, thanks to his penchant for all things British including his ubiquitous pinstriped suits, accented English and more.

In 2012 Charles Njonjo urged Kikuyu youth to speak more English to improve their proficiency in the language.

He said the Agikuyu have a problem pronouncing some letters such as 'l' which they substitute with 'r'. He termed the problem "unbelievable".

More than 2,000 members of Gucokaniria Kihato Traders and Farmers Company, pursuing justice for nearly 40 years, accused the former AG of defrauding them of land allocated to them by founding President Jomo Kenyatta in 1973.

The group consists of Mau Mau freedom fighters who formed a land-buying company in 1967 and raised Sh300,000, which they paid the government to be allocated land in Solio ranch in Laikipia.

Caption: Colonial Paramount Chief Josiah Njonjo and his son Charles Mugane Njonjo.

 


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