Njenga Karume

Dr. Hon. James Njenga Karume
In office
President Mwai Kibaki
Minister for Special Programs in the Office of the President
In office
June 2004  December 2006
Minister for State Defence
In office
14 December 2006  December 2007
President Mwai Kibaki
Member of Parliament
for Kiambaa
In office
Preceded by Mbiyu Koinange
Succeeded by Stanley Munga Githunguri
Personal details
Born 1929
Lake Elementaita, Nakuru District, Kenya
Died 24 February 2012
Karen Hospital, Nairobi, Kenya
Citizenship Kenyan
Nationality Kenyan
Political party Kenya African National Union (1976–1991) Democratic Party(DP)(1991–2002)Kenya African National Union (2002–2007) Party of National Unity
Spouse(s) Maryanne Wariara Njenga (m.1950– 14 March 2003 )
Margret Njeri Njenga (m.1960 – February 4, 1990)
Grace Njoki Njenga (m.21 February 2006– February 24, 2012)
Children Dr. Wanjiku Kahiu
The Late Joseph Karume Njenga
Teresia Njeri Karume
Lucy Wanjiru Karume
Jane Mukuhi Matu Nee Karume
Henry Waireri Karume
The Late Kennedy Njoroge Karume
Albert Kigera Karume
Samuel Wanjema Karume
Emmanuel Karume Karume

Teresia Njeri Karogo

Joseph Karogo
Residence Kiambu, Kenya
Education Business Management Diploma, Kenya Institute of Management formerly Jeans School, Kenya
Occupation Founder, Chairman & CEO, Karume Trust Fund and Politician (MP for Kiambaa constituency)
Religion Roman Catholic

James Njenga Karume (1929 – 24 February 2012) was a Kenyan businessman and politician. He was born in Elementaita, Nakuru District. He was considered a major political player in Kenya.

Early life

Njenga Karume was born in 1929 on Lord Delamare's Soysambu ranch in Elementaita. He was the eldest of 8 children to Joseph Karume later changed to Karogo and Teresia Njeri Karogo who were indentured servants working for colonial white settlers for a pittance. Njenga's amiable personality was always curious and deep. He had a very strong relationship with his grandfather whom he spent most of his childhood days with. This relationship earned him a memorable gift with his grandfather, a goat called "mbarathi" horse because of its extraordinary size. The gift came with a special blessing (gutwiro mata). Njenga's grandfather conferred upon him a blessing, that his goats would multiply endlessly in the fullness of time . He prayed that Njenga's would be so many that they would have to be called with a (coro) horn. The late Njenga's uncle witnessed the blessing first hand and saw it manifest.


Unfortunately, there were no schools for Africans in Elementaita. Because of that Njenga had to seek in Ndeiya, Limuru at a school called as Kahuho-Karing'a Primary school, at the beginning of 1942. Keen on pursuing further education, Njenga proceeded to Riara in Kiambu after 3 years at Kahuho, but not before being baptised in the Christian tradition. Even as Njenga pursed education back in Central Kenya, his parents moved to Elburgon and settled in Marioson Forest in 1944. He later joined them there.

As expected in the Kikuyu culture Njenga had reached the age at which he was expected to undergo traditional initiation or circumcision .He was then admitted to the (njata) STAR age group in 1947. Now considered a full grown man, equipped with some formal education and eager to fend for himself,Njenga decided to start his life moved back to Rift Valley closer to his parents.


Karume's first exposure to business was while he was in school. He began buying and selling books, pencils and other school stationary from a wholesale shop outside the school and would then resell the stationary to his fellow students in school. In his book he says that he put the school tac shop out of business.

Njenga was considered a visionary. He could discern hidden substance beyond what the naked eye could see. He was known to have a very strong business acumen.

After his education Karume managed to get employment doing clerical work on a farm. He was a few days to beginning work when he attended a rally between the white farm owners and the workers. In the heat of a debate Njenga managed to ask the wrong question which saw him loose his opportunity. It is from then on he decided not to be employed.

He then started trading in charcoal. he had asked a friend the late John Njenga to join him but he flatly refused claiming that it is dirty work and he is too educated to do that business. He continued on his own. He then began saving what he earned in the charcoal business to finance his timber business.

Karume held a diploma in business management from Jeans School (KIA).[1] While Kenya was still under colonial rule, he formed a wholesale shop on Grogan Road (now Kirinyaga Road) in Nairobi. It was one of the few shops in Kenya operated by indigenous people.[2]

Later he operated the Nararashi Distributors, who distributed the products of the Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL). Later the Castle Brewing Kenya Limited, a Kenyan subsidiary of South African Breweries (SAB) was formed, with Karume appointed its director. Karume himself sought to distribute the products of both companies, but KBL was afraid of the competition and cancelled the distribution contract with Karume to harm his business. Karume took the case to the court stating the cancellation of the contract was unfounded. The High Court first ordered KBL to KSh 231 million in damages (about US$2.9 million), but upon appeal the decision was overturned and Karume was told to pay KBL for the suit. As a result, Karume suffered severe financial hurt. He continued to distribute Castle Beer for a while until SAB left Kenya, finally ending his transport business.How Karume built a multi-billion shilling empire that included beer distribution]Before his death his empire was valued at close to $200 million and includes the Jacaranda Group of Hotels under Jacaranda Holdings Limited, Karume Holdings Limited and Cianda Holdings Limited. His empire is diversified into three main areas Hospitality, Real Estate and Agriculture.


Karume joined the world of politics in 1974 as a nominated Member of Parliament and in the three subsequent elections held in 1979, 1983 and 1988 Karume vied for and won the Kiambaa constituency seat. Between 1979 and 1988 he served as an assistant minister.

Karume was an active figure in the G.e.m.a. association. While Jomo Kenyatta was still the Kenyan president, in 1976, Karume joined number of other politicians including Kihika Kimani and Paul Ngei forming the "Change the Constitution Movement" attempting to change the Constitution of Kenya[3] such that then Vice-president Daniel arap Moi would not inherit the presidency upon Kenyatta's death. This was to prevent a non-Kikuyu president. The movement did not last long. Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, himself also with presidential ambitions, charged Karume and other leader of the movement with treason, as "they had imagined the death of the sitting president", which was forbidden by the Penal Code. President Kenyatta dropped the charges, but at the same time silenced the movement.[4]

At the National Delegates Conference in Kasarani in mid-1991 Karume moved a motion to repeal Section 2A of the Kenyan Constitution – that is, restoration of the multi-party system. President Moi had no options but to accept the motion.[5]

Karume was reluctant to join the leading opposition force Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), foreseeing its split. Instead, he formed the Democratic Party (DP) with Mwai Kibaki and John Keen on 31 December 1991. At the 1992 elections Karume stood for DP ticket, but lost his seat to Kamau Icharia of FORD–Asili, whose presidential candidate Kenneth Matiba enjoyed higher popularity in his constituency.[5]

He regained the parliamentary seat at the 1997 elections standing again on DP ticket.[6] For the 2002 Election he won the seat again, but now on KANU ticket, supporting their presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, despite the long-standing friendship with Karume and presidential candidate Kibaki.[7]

He won the seat also at the 2002 elections . In December 2006, when he was appointed the Minister of Defence.[1] At the 2007 election he represented the PNU coalition led by President Kibaki, but lost the seat to Stanley Munga Githunguri of KANU.[8]

In 2009 he released an autobiography titled ‘Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold’.[9][10]

Personal life

He met his first wife Maryanne Wariara Njenga née Waireri in 1951 a year before the emergency . In 1952 they got married and had ten children Dr. Wanjiku Kahiu, The late Joseph Karume Njenga, Teresia Njeri Karume, Lucy Wanjiru Karume, Jane Mukuhi Matu Nee Karume, Henry Waireri Karume,The late Kennedy Njoroge Karume, Albert Kigera Karume, Samuel Wanjema Karume and there grandchildren Included Dr. Michelle Wariara Karume,Wanuri Kahiu, Maurice Wagacire Karume,Kenneth Karume, Josiah Kahiu,Sammuel Mburu,simon muigai,Wariara Karume, Jesse Njenga Karume, Amy Wariara Waireri, Peter Matu Kihato, James Njenga Kihato, Michelle Wariara Karume II, Cherie Hannah Kihato, Nicole Wamaitha Waireri, James Njenga Wanjema,Curtis James Njenga Kigera, Wariara Wanjema,Kennedy Njenga Kigera,Njuguna Kigera,Gikera Wanjema and Wariara Kigera.

Maryanne Wariara Njenga died on 14 March 2003 after a long battle with cancer. At her funeral she brought together the nation's dignitaries including Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

He also married a second wife Margret Njeri Njenga in 1960 upon advice from his father in law that having two wives would help look after his empire.

On 21 February 2006, he married Grace Njoki and had Emmanuel Karume Njenga.

Karume was also a personal friend and key political adviser to Kenyan presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta

Karume is described by his children as an incredibly hardworking, consistent, ambitious and tenacious man. His grandchildren described him as a mentor, father figure and source of strength and stability in the family. He was a family man who enjoyed until his last days spending time with them and eating roasted meat.

In 2009 he released an autobiography titled ‘Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold’.

Death and legacy

Karume had been having medical problems from late November 2011 he had been taken for chemotherapy treatment in India and returned on 1 January 2012 and was undergoing chemotherapy at the Aga Khan Hospital. He was preparing to go to Israel for further treatment but a few days before leaving he developed an infection . He was admitted to the Karen Hospital on 17 February 2012 in poor health and as the week went on his condition deteriorated. In the early hours of the morning on 24 February 2012, Njenga Karume was pronounced dead due to a cardiac arrest. He died days after his close friend and political ally John Michuki.

Before he died he had formed the Njenga Karume Trust which was designed to manage his inheritance. A board of trustees was chosen to manage these interests and it was led by George Ngugi Waireri as the chairman who is is brother in law and managing director or Standsand (Africa) Limited a successful tea exporting business.Margaret Ndete his sister and who owns a successful chain of supermarkets, named Kamindi Selfridges, James Raymond Njenga who is his cousin and a retired businessman, his oldest living son Henry Waireri Karume who is a successful entrepreneur in the construction and supplies business, Kungu Gatabaki a long time friend and is currently a director for Grainbulk Handlers he also appointed his Wife grace Njoki Njenga as an overseer over his trust.

Inheritance Battle

Following his death in February 2012, it was revealed to the family that the vast empire would not be distributed as some of the family members expected but would go into a trust fund. Following this revelation was a series of wrangles within the family that saw those who inherited the least in property namely his daughter Lucy Karume, due to her past troubles in mis managing the hotel Indian ocean beach club by running into debt of over 30 million shillings, turn the more fortunate members against the established trust and the legal firm Iseme,Maema and Kamau the internal squabbles where at first contained by the unwillingness of various family member to participate in the dis-agreements and was then fueled by the fact that most that the directorship positions left for family members to participate in the running of the business favored the men of his home. This triggered a series of failed mediation by Former President Kibaki and Moi to help resolve the matter out of court, the failure was due to the fact the aggrieved daughters of Mzee Karume would not listen citing stealing and mis-management that was overseen by their own brothers. in late 2014 4 children and a handful of grandchildren went to court to begin proceedings to remove the members of the trust, The case is still in court and has seen various senior lawyers become involved.


Investment News Kenya, 14 December 2009: For Kenyan Business Tycoon, Njenga Karume, Honesty Starts Right on the Cover of his Biography

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