SIR CHARLES NJONJO THE MSALITI
By KIPKOECH Komugor
NOOTY 'Sir' Charles Mugane Njonjo, he of the Kabeteshire fame, sure has a selective nose. We have heard tales of how he so loved to hitch a ride in the official presidential limousine in the early eighties when he was what you’d today call kusema (the decider-in-chief) in the then President Daniel arap Moi’s Government.
Now, the tale goes, a clever chap who knew a few things about Njonjo’s sensitive sense of smell devised a trick that would keep Njonjo out of the President’s main ride for good. The trick was to squeeze one hefty Cabinet colleague of Njonjo’s, a minister known as Stanley Oloitiptip, into Moi’s posh limo.
Tale has it that when Njonjo that day opened the window of the presidential car to snuggle up at his favourite corner, his aristocratic nose was assaulted by an insufferable whiff: The smell of roasted goat hooves or something. Fable ends that was the last day 'Sir' Njonjo was ever seen near the First Ride.
Fable or fact, we can’t tell. What is certain is that in his heyday, the smell of a goat was not the only thing that Njonjo didn’t like. Apparently, he didn’t quite appreciate the smell of something called the East African Community (EAC) so much so that, it is claimed, he downed a whole bottle of prime champagne in celebration when the Community came crushing down like a house of cards in 1977.
Njonjo’s nostrils were at peace for 29 years from that particular putrescence until recently when some people with obviously primitive sense of smell decided to bring it back. When he recently got a whiff at his Muthaiga castle that the Community was on its way back, he was obviously not amused. “Forget it” was his sagacious advice.
It is the of sort of snorty, senior citizen counsel we have been receiving from Njonjo lately. Having stayed away from the scene for many years, probably because he found Kenyan politics stinking, Njonjo is now back with lots of grandfatherly advice to go round. He even has some for his beloved Church of England... er... Anglican Church Of Kenya (ACK).
According to the grand old man, abortion and homosexuality are not a big deal and the Church has got better things to do than demonise these acts. Progressive, one would say. Way too progressive for a man known for political conservatism. As Attorney General, Njonjo presided over a period when Kenya’s democratic development was severely stunted by Constitutional amendments aimed at entrenching the conservative views of the ruling class of which Njonjo was a member.
Ironically, it was the monster that Njonjo created that eventually did him in. When Njonjo made it a law that it was a mortal sin called treason to even fantasise the death of the President, he had no idea that in a few short years he would himself be appearing in a kangaroo court answering charges of committing such a sin.
Yet, Njonjo has no qualms talking about the failed attempt at patching up the mess he made of the Constitution. Immediately after the proposed Constitution was rejected, Njonjo was at Uhuru Park sharing a platform with his former enemies-gloating. Well, he may have presented it as a genuine concern for a country gone to the dogs. But then it is not easy believing him. Not after the orgy of Constitutional mutilation that Njonjo and the power brokers of his time presided over.
Then Njonjo had something else to say at the Uhuru Park gloating ceremony. That he was ashamed of being Kikuyu. Perhaps he was confessing it for the first time in public, but Njonjo has never been proud of his community. Not only is Njonjo ashamed of his ethnic background. He is embarrassed of being black and Kenyan, too. How else would one explain his affected mannerisms and tastes that contributed to his being nicknamed 'Sir Charles of Kabeteshire.'
Njonjo is not the only Anglophile in town. Most of the politicians and civil servants of the 50s and 60s imported everything from water to wives from Britain but this: Governance. They loved the structures and symbols alright. A Parliament straight out of Westminster. A court system that came complete with the ugly wigs. Plus other empty political and cultural shells that had the British trademark, but devoid of substance.
It was basically this kind of borrowing that is responsible for the cultural and political confusion that we find ourselves today. The leaders of the 60s borrowed the foreign ways that wowed the masses to cover the thieving and bad governance. Then they had to steal on a large scale to finance their acquired tastes.
If we have a bad constitution and an economy that suffers from fits and starts, if corruption and incompetence are the bane of our public service, if self aggrandisement is the main ambition of every politician, if our youth ape everything from accessories to accents from the West, it is because the founding fathers got it wrong at the very start. And Njonjo is the perfect representation of that first failure.
When Njonjo recently criticised the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) as another of the many policy mistakes that he keeps seeing in the governments of these days, one felt like telling the octogenarian to just shut up and go write his memoirs, where he can put all the records straight. There are those hair-raising ones we don’t wish to get into right now, but some are soft enough for the digestive system and they should be the soup of what will obviously be a six-coarser of an autobiography.
For instance, why is this country currently in a rut it has been struggling to get out of in vain? An honest first hand account from a man of Njonjo’s standing would really set the record straight for once and for all. There must have been a meeting or telephone call or letter he might have read or written that must have set this country on the path of failure.
Sometimes things just happen but in most cases they have a genesis. A conspiracy, a sin of commission or omission. Which one Mr Njonjo did sow the seed that germinated and grew into the tree that has been bringing forth bitter fruits this country all these years?
The growth of the autocratic presidency that is being felt even in these relatively democratic times where a man of acclaimed gentlemanly mien is the holder of the post must have had a beginning. It was not merely something to do with the Founding Father of the Nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s forceful, and his successor Moi’s overbearing personalities.
The genetic make up of the leaders may have had a hand, but the Constitutional make up allowed them to exercise the freedom to be themselves without a care in the world. Njonjo was the Attorney-General and later Minister for Constitutional Affairs during those formative years when the Constitution was being manipulated to suit the whims and temperaments of the leaders. What does Njonjo have to say for himself?
Every one, as we love to say, is entitled to their opinion. It is a free country and we all have the freedom to say whatever we want. But as long Njonjo and his ilk fail to provide convincing answers that today’s young people are asking every time they read another “No vacancy” sign on yet another door, they forfeit their right to free expression. They don’t deserve the right to comment when things go wrong. True, CDF may be a cash cow for the MPs, but look who is talking!
BOYCOTT FOR DAILY NATION and STANDARD ON
SIR CHARLES NJONJO THE MSALITI