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Charles Njonjo: This Kenyan never cheated on wife… in 50 years!

President Kenyatta was uncomfortable being advised by the late Attorney General, then a bachelor who was still clueless about women

The Duke: The late Charles Njonjo grew next to the Leakey family in Kabete where his father worked as their houseboy before being elevated into a colonial chief. While Chief Koinange’s family were also neighbours, he felt nothing for his daughters, preferring instead, odiero lasses. Dr Richard Leakey remained his only trusted buddy until Njonjo’s death at 101 years.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

@Undercover KE

The late Charles Njonjo, Kenya’s most famous Attorney General, died at 101 years from Pneumonia that collapsed his lungs.

Unlike most men with misguided hormones, Njonjo apparently never cheated on his wife since they began dating over 50 years ago.

The lucky woman was Margaret Bryson, the teacher of French whom he often spotted as part of the choir when he attended church most Sundays at the All Saint’s Cathedral in Nairobi.

That was in the early 1970s. Njonjo had finally moved houses from his father’s farm in Kabete to one along State House Road. Despite having imported furniture and a telephone set, Njonjo lived alone.

He was still a bachelor alongside Dr Njoroge Mungai, President Jomo Kenyatta’s personal physician, Cabinet Minister and a renowned playboy more comfortable in casinos and steam rooms of five star hotels.  

Njonjo, as Attorney General was the chief legal advisor to the government. President Kenyatta was uncomfortable being advised by a bachelor who was still clueless about how to deal with women let alone the vagaries of raising children.

Having promised himself that he would not marry a black African, Njonjo found his catch in Margaret who taught French at Kenya High-where Njonjo would also bumped into her as he attended meetings as a member of the Board.

The Brysons had come to Kenya as missionaries and it was her father who gave the future President Moi his first bible!

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 It was curious really, that Njonjo studied abroad in South Africa and England, but unlike Kenyans who went to what they called ‘overseas’ hardly returned with a foreign wife.  Never mind it took Njonjo nine years to earn his law degree, providing enough time at courtship.

While powerful men of Njonjo’s privileged parentage, upbringing and social standing married several women, he was not even dating

It runs in the family: The late Charles Njonjo’s daughter, Nimo, married Volker Bassen at the All Saint’s Cathedral in Nairobi in 2004. It was also at the same Cathedral that Njonjo met and married her mother in November 1972.

But Njonjo returned to Kenya in 1955 aged 35. He was still single even when he became Kenya’s first black Attorney General at independence in 1963.

As Attorney General, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta consulted him a lot and their close proximity explained his immense powers besides the CID then being under his control. Njonjo could order arrests, revoke company licenses, deport expatriates, sign detention orders.

While powerful men of Njonjo’s privileged parentage, upbringing and social standing married several women, Njonjo was not even dating. When asked in 2015 whether he was a romantic man, Njonjo shot back “I’m not, I’m a factual man. I don’t imagine romance. I’m not going to engage in fantasies and things like that, nothing.”

But there were women who had hots for Njonjo but he cold shouldered them. One was Margaret Wanjiru Koinange, the sister of the Minister of State in government, Mbiyu Koinange.

Margaret Koinange had access to Njonjo since she was Kenya’s Matron-in-Chief when the late Njonjo was AG

Down memory lane: The late Charles Njonjo chose to celebrate his 100th birthday last year tracking gorillas in Uganda where he studied with children of royalty. From left to right were his wife, Margaret Bryson, daughter Nimo and her hubby, Volken Bassen…

The Koinanges were neighbours of the Njonjo’s in Kabete and Margaret must have spotted the boy in the hood who was smartly dressed, was driven to Alliance High and when he returned from England drove from Kabete to the State Law Office when matatus were still a rumour.

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Njonjo was also the only surviving son of chief Josiah Njonjo, a wealthy man whose over 100 acre farm resembled any in Yorkshire England. What with mechanized farming and milking machines when Kenyans could not harvest rain water from their thatched roofs.  

Margaret Koinange had access to Njonjo since she was Kenya’s Matron-in-Chief when Njonjo was AG.

Duncan Ndegwa in his 2009 memoirs, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles notes that her relentless hunting for Njonjo was a thorough cause of amusing President Kenyatta to death.

Njonjo loved sipping wine over lunchtime while walking in his socks at State House Nairobi. And when they were alone together, Kenyatta playing games on Njonjo by pretending Margaret was on the line asking about Njonjo much to his discomfiture!

When asked why he remained a senior bachelor, he said he took long finding a woman to marry. In reality, he did not find African woman ideal wives for his Patrician tastes. When he eventually found her in the name of Margaret Bryson, he

married her at the All Saints Cathedral on November 1972. He was 52.

The late Bishop Henry Okullu presided over the ceremony devoid of press and pictures. The late Jeremiah Kiereini, PS for Defense and Bruce McKenzie, one-time Cabinet Minister, were the Best Men. 

Njonjo never cheated on Margaret in almost 50 years of dating and marriage and three children later: a lawyer, a scientist and a veterinary doctor. 

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