Charles Njonjo Should Apologise For Supporting Dictatorship

BLACKLISTED: Charles Njonjo during a past interview at his Nairobi office. Photo/JACK OWUOR
BLACKLISTED: Charles Njonjo during a past interview at his Nairobi office. Photo/JACK OWUOR

I admire Charles Njonjo for some of his non-ethnic positions, but I am sickened by his ages-long support for dictatorship.

Recently, in a Sunday Nation interview, Charles Njonjo spoke longingly of the rule of Kenyatta who he says ruled the country with arungu, followed by Moi who also ruled with a


and the Kanu one-man, one-party dictatorship that he calls “strong nation.”

In complete contrast, earlier Uhuru Kenyatta had apologised for the sins of dictatorship, torture, detention, assassinations and massacres that the regimes of Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki perpetrated against Kenyans since Independence.

In his interview, Njonjo said he longs for the days of personal power, which he claims he could have used but did not for common good. Rather, he used his power not to advance democracy, rule of law or development, but to protect and advance dictatorship, and completely destroy critics of Kenyatta and Moi governments.

That Njonjo exercised absolute power reminds me of an incident in State House when President Moi asked me what people said Njonjo was. I told him that people said Njonjo was the most powerful man in the country. He could have you in jail without committing a crime, and he could have you dead without being ill. On hearing the absoluteness of Njonjo’s power, Moi laughed until he crawled on his knees.

While Njonjo was Attorney General, he authorised police to shoot to kill, and once I overheard him say of me: “This man needs to be castrated.” Njonjo even warned Kenyans that it was treason for any Kenyan to imagine the death of the President – even peacefully in his bed.

While Njonjo says he longs for the days when “we had the proverbial long arm of the law”, what Kenya had was not rule of law but dictatorship which ruled with a long arm that those in government like Njonjo called in Kiswahili “mkono mrefu wa serikali”.

I wanted to let Njonjo’s interview go unchallenged as a personal matter. But Njonjo was a leader when momentous decisions were made by the Kenya government –

which determined the path we took to poverty in the Third World – rather than the alternative path we could have taken to development in the First World. We cannot mourn our terrible circumstances as a nation, and shy from holding accountable the leaders who made the decisions that continue to keep the country in the economic wilderness. If Njonjo has the courage to praise Kenyatta's rule and decisions despite their tragic consequences, those who know better must not shy from placing the blame where it squarely belongs.

As a man who was central to Kenyatta and Moi regimes, I thought Njonjo would have been polite enough to admit that mistakes and poor judgements of Kenyatta and Moi governments made Kenya the poor country that it is today. Having been part of those governments, Njonjo can be brave enough to apologise for his contribution in their making. Had Njonjo and other leaders in government made better decisions for Kenya, the country would today be at the same level of economic development with Singapore, Malaysia, Libya before destruction, South Africa and maybe Spain or Portugal.

When Njonjo served in the Kenyatta and Moi governments before he fell out with Moi, he was the most hawkish Attorney General and minister. I particularly remember Njonjo’s fights in and out of Parliament with leaders like Waruru Kanja, JM Kariuki, Seven Bearded sisters, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and others; with Njonjo supporting dictatorship, detentions, corruption and government cover up of assassinations that remain a mystery to this day. Were he a democrat, Njonjo would have defended the right of fellow leaders to oppose him and the government, but he never raised a voice when leaders like Tom Mboya, Pio Gama Pinto and JM Kariuki were assassinated and others detained. If anything, Njonjo championed the government opposition to the Parliamentary report on the assassination of JM Kariuki.

Ultimately, Njonjo was framed up and politically destroyed as a traitor by the same Moi monster that he had helped to create and feed.

Instead of admitting and apologising for the government sins that he was partly guilty of, Njonjo dares to brag about how well his generation led Kenya to its current doom. Should we not remind Njonjo of his duty as a patriot to tell the truth of what happened when he was in government, and what mistakes were made by his generation, for future generations to learn from them?

When Njonjo speaks as a maker of history, he must be truthful about the horrors of dictatorship unless he still stands by dictatorship as he did before. And while I wholly support Njonjo that no country can be governed and developed without discipline, there is a marked difference between discipline and dictatorship.

Having suffered from Moi dictatorship, Njonjo should condemn dictatorship of both Moi and Kenyatta even though he was a beneficiary of Kenyatta’s tyranny. Dictatorship should be condemned wholesomely not selectively because dictatorships have ended up consuming their own supporters.

Though Uhuru apologised for our past governments, leaders of those governments who are still alive like Njonjo and Moi should come forward to admit, and apologise for their sins – which are not mortal and unforgivable. I believe Kenya has a big heart to forgive its leaders if they come forward and apologise, rather than seek to excuse those dictatorships.