Njenga Karume dead at 83

Former Defense Minister and GEMA leader Njenga Karume is dead at 83. Mr. Karume succumbed after a long battle with cancer.

The late Karume, who made most of his money from the beer distribution business, was one of the most influential and richest politicians among the “independence generation.” Njenga Karume was mostly a self-made man (His autobiography is titled “Beyond Expectations – From Charcoal to Gold”). With little formal education (many Kenyans know of his “wananinji” pronouncements), he managed to create a business empire that catapulted him to the boards of many a Kenyan company. Being the leader of the powerful GEMA cultural bloc and a close ally of President Kenyatta certainly also helped.

May he rest in peace.

The passing of Njenga Karume comes just four days after another veteran politician and also close friend to President Kibaki, John Michuki, passed away. It is hard not to think that time is beginning to catch up with the political elites who led Kenya’s independence generation. Indeed this year’s general election will be the first without a leading independence leader in contention for the presidency (Theirs sons and political scions will duke it out).

The natural generational change is certainly a cause for excitement; peaceful elite rotation mostly leads to positive outcomes. But at the same time I have the nagging feeling that the 50 and 60 year old “young turks” who are about to take over may lack the encompassing interest that the “wazees” shared (Notice how nice Kibaki has been to former President Moi). Yes, they were not always good people –  the deaths J. M. Kariuki and Tom Mboya forever remains a blotch on their record – but you have to give it to them for holding it together even when things were falling apart all around the neighborhood.