The son of the Senior Chief Josiah Njonjo, Charles Mugane Njonjo was born at Kabete, Kiambu, on January 23, 1920, in a family of four brothers and four sisters. Three of the sisters are alive.
While his detractors have always spoken of Njonjo as the man with the colonial hangover and hates everything African, the former Attorney-General dismisses such views.
He recounts: “My cousins and I loved spending evenings at our grandmother’s hut to listen to her folk stories. At times, I even spent nights at her smoky hut with the strong smell of goats. She pampered us, gave us what we thought was the greatest food. In her place, we enjoyed the freedom that only a grandmother can allow. I occupied a special place in her heart. Being my father’s eldest son, I was named after her husband (my maternal grandfather) and she often addressed me as such.”
Partly because he was the son of a colonial-era chief, Njonjo did not have many playmates among the village boys. But his many cousins adequately filled that gap. Njonjo started school at Gwa Giteru (the big bearded man’s place) in Lower Kabete. It was so-called because it was associated with the bearded Canon Leakey, the pastor in charge of the nearby Protestant church, now the ACK Mother Church, Kabete.
In those days, Njonjo explains, it was unusual to see men with thick beards, especially white men of the church, and hence the nickname for Canon Leakey, Richard Leakey’s grandfather. At Alliance High School, Njonjo was in the same class with later Cabinet colleague Jeremiah Nyagah. For a boy used to the comforts of a colonial chief’s home, Alliance, though an eye opener, was quite tough. “Students did not wear shoes and we showered with cold water. This is where I ate ugali for the first time,” he remembers.
For the son of a chief, eating meat only twice a week was not good enough. He dreaded the June-July cold season when the boys would go to the parade ground and stand on the wet grass bare feet every morning. “I do not know how we survived with only khaki shirts and shorts, but I guess those with jiggers on their feet suffered even more,” he says. And Njonjo was a true royalty. He rode to school and back on a horse. He explains: “My father had a horse and on weekends, when we were given off days, he would send a servant to bring it to Alliance early in the morning. I would ride it home and back to school in the evening. The servant would then take it back home.”
Njonjo went home during the weekend to spend some time with his parents, eat “kuku (chicken) and chapati” to his fill and carry some back to school. On occasion, he would take a group of boys to his Kibichiku home to sample his mother’s kitchen delight.
In 1939, he joined King’s College, Budo, Uganda, for a two-year pre-university course. He was in the same class with Frederick Mutesa, who later became the Kabaka (King) of the Baganda. After Budo, his father wanted him to go to the UK for further studies. But this was not possible. Instead, he went to Fort Hare University in South Africa.
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