Friday, 1 June 2018


On October 19, 2017, I wrote a Facebook Update about the old dying and the new being born. The dynasties that had controlled Kenya's fortunes and misfortunes since independence were at an advanced stage of collapse.
Since then, the repeat election has been held, the President has been sworn in, the other President has also sworn himself in, and then there was a mysterious handshake at Harambee House between the two protagonist in this epic drama.
These twists and turns are hard to follow. But I know this for sure, the latest detente between the two dynasties is going nowhere and is taking Kenya nowhere. It is a trick meant to hoodwink and pacify Kenyans who have rejected utterly the idea that our fortunes as a nation will continue to be determined by a handful of rich families while the rest of us barely survive on crumbs thrown down from the master's table.
In the heavenlies, the shift has already occurred and God Almighty has written the following update on his Facebook Wall concerning the Kenyattas, the Mois, the Odingas, the Rutos, the Musalias, the Kalonzos, the Wetangulas, the Sonkos:
Ezekiel 21 (KJV)
"24 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because, I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.
25 And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end,
26 Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.
27 I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him."
The hour is late.
Those who in the past have gained power and riches through witchcraft, oppression, manipulation, violence and bribery will be swept away.
The best they can do now if they hope to survive to see a new Kenya is to resign their office promptly and start living their lives as ordinary citizens. This is their only way out.
If you linger on the seat of oppression, you will be swept away, viciously and immediately; and upon the ashes of these fallen, we shall build a new Kenya, one where justice truly is our shield and defender. This new Kenya will be the spring board to a great revival which will quickly spread to our neighbours, the rest of Africa and to the uttermost parts of the world, until the whole earth is filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
A new dawn is coming
A new age to come
When the children of promise
Shall flow together as one
A truth long neglected
But the time has now come
When the children of promise
Shall stand together as one.
May the LORD find us faithful and worthy at his hour of coming.
End/nm/30 May 2018

Saturday, 26 May 2018


By Njonjo Mue
If these great lawyers had contributed to the dream of a successful career launch for me, the real incubator of the dream was my family.
Together with my twin sister, I had the privilege of being the last born in a large family of eleven, four brothers and seven sisters in all.
Being the babies in such a large family had its own distinct benefits. Most important, by the time we came along, our parents were happy to delegate many aspects of our parenting to our elder siblings, and yet there were certain lines these delegates could not cross when it came to disciplining us. So, we had a fairly relaxed time growing up.
Also, being the babies, we only got assigned the lightest of chores, which left me room to experiment and get into all kinds of mischief. I usually led other estate boys in undertaking all sorts of experiments, some downright dangerous. I remember once we started a fire that almost destroyed the Metal Box factory. As the fire-fighters battled the inferno before it engulfed the factory, we ran away and then returned tentatively to join the crown in wondering aloud how such a big fire could have started and spread so quickly.
Being a last born also meant that I learned a lot by sheer absorption as I listened in on my siblings discuss their homework. And so, long before I even went to school, I knew the names of the key capital cities in the world, which countries were oil exporters, what the transatlantic slave trade was all about and why Abraham Lincoln went to war, the parts of a flower, the process of photosynthesis, the gestation cycle of a butterfly, and so on.
My brother Kamau, who was then in High School, had an intimate relationship with his books and would spend long afternoons in the small park behind our house reading quietly by himself, often forgetting even to come home for lunch. As he was my role model, I too grew to love books, first the Rainbow children’s magazine that came out every Sunday and I sacrificed some of my lunch money to buy, then the Tintin and Asterix comics that I borrowed from my cousins sometimes without their permission, then later graduating to Barbara Kimenye’s Moses series, Big Ben of London, Spear, as well as the American adventure novel series, Hardy Boys.
All through my early childhood, my father remained a pillar of gentle strength for the family who was there to guide, to provide, to encourage and to discipline as the occasion required.
But on this Friday afternoon, it was my mother that I missed the most as I re-read my letter informing me that I would soon be on my way to Oxford. She had died of complications from an operation to remove her appendix when I was only fourteen years old. Ever since, every time I had an important milestone to celebrate, or a difficult decision to make or a heartache to share, I would find myself wishing she were there for me to talk to. She was many things to many people, but to me, she was the epitome of grace under fire.
My mother was kind, intelligent, and gifted in many ways. She especially had a way of making some of the most crucial decisions concerning our household and letting my father take all the credit. The poor man had all these brilliant ideas that had been given to him ever so subtly by his wife, that he genuinely thought that they were his own.
And she was the life of the estate. A mentor to the many young wives of the factory workers who had migrated from the village to our estate to join their husbands; a mother to all the children who would often come to visit our house and refuse to leave, especially if the aroma of chapatis wafted from the kitchen to announce in advance what we would be having for supper; and a counsellor to many young trainees at the factory who drank a bit too much.
She was also generous to a fault, and many were the nights when we found ourselves hosting strangers who had gotten lost on their way or had come from the village to visit someone who had moved on.
My mother was a woman of faith and was an active member of the Mothers Union at the St. Andrews Anglican Church in Thika which was our home church and where attending Sunday School was not optional for her children. She ensured that we had every opportunity to know her God and to love him with the same passion as she did.
Mum worked hard and taught us to respect work no matter what our hands found to do, as well as to respect workers whatever work they happened to be doing. She herself was a cleaner on the factory floor but she would refer to the broom she used for sweeping as her special purple pen and the place where she happened to be cleaning as her office. She was the essence of dignity.
Most of the time, she had a sunny disposition, creatively solving the problems of every day life and adding a spark to what might otherwise have been a humdrum existence.
But then, there were those days.
Those days when dark clouds of despair seemed to conspire to envelope her and take her to a place where we could not reach her. I was too young then to understand what manner of sadness this was and what caused it. How could anyone descend into that depth of sadness, a melancholy that seemed to take the very essence of life entirely away from her and leave only the body to continue with the seemingly tedious business of living?
During those seasons, my mother would sometimes be taken away by ambulance and would be gone for weeks on end. No one would tell us where she had gone or when she would be back. Most conversations by the adults suddenly turned into whispers that seemed intended to discuss everything and anything except our missing mother. And when she was brought back to us, she would only slowly start to emerge out of the dungeon and reconnect with us more out of her love compelling her to reach out to her bewildered children rather than a natural desire to do so of her own accord. She simply did not have the energy.
But eventually, aided by medication which she took religiously, she would be wholly restored to us and life would thankfully return to normal. But to this day, every time I hear the siren of an ambulance in the streets, I freeze momentarily, fearing that it is going to my childhood house to take our mother away from us again.
And then there were the other times, when she became too happy, slept too little, was too active and filled with energy, full of too many ideas, and spoke too fast for our young minds to follow. She was never violent. Indeed she was lucid most of the time with all the things she said during these times of extreme happiness actually making sense when taken one at a time and if only they could be followed through to their logical conclusion.
But they did not come one at a time. They were often jumbled up, one idea seemingly racing to catch up with the one before it to avoid being overtaken by the one following it. It was like those safari rally cars that we would go and see as they passed through Kilimambogo every Easter. Nor could the ideas be followed to their logical conclusion because one idea quickly morphed into another with such unusual ease, at least to her, but leaving the rest of us struggling to keep up.
During those times, I liked staying close to my mother and listening to her animated ideas about how the two of us could change the world, end all the pain, feed the hungry children and pay the workers a fair price for their labour using powers that only the two of us possessed but no one else knew about.
I stayed with her not only because I found her so intriguing to listen to but also because I knew she needed someone to share these ideas with. I also hoped to persuade any adult who took an unwelcome interest that what she was saying was making perfect sense to me, so as to prevent them from coming back with an ambulance to take my mother away. But just sitting with her would often leave me gasping for breath as I chased down all these thoughts in different directions trying to keep up and hold on to my mother.
But, try as I might, oftentimes, I simply could not keep up and I would eventually be left terrified and exhausted, peering deep into the horizon helplessly watching her disappear in a kaleidoscope of colourful thoughts to a place where I could not follow.
And then the ambulance would come.


By Njonjo Mue
I stared at the letter from the Rhodes Trust for a long time, fearing that I was dreaming and I would soon have to wake up to continue my search for scholarships.
When I returned from the kitchen where I had gone to get myself a cup of tea and found the letter still sitting on my desk, I began to will myself into believing that my exceedingly good fortune was actually real. I also allowed myself the luxury of reflecting on the journey that had led me to this memorable day, Friday, December 7th 1990.
As I have stated before, I have always had an uneasy relationship with the law as practiced in Kenya. However, I have always found lawyers to be quite fascinating. And so, as I quietly sipped my cup of tea and savoured my success at being awarded this prestigious scholarship on this Friday afternoon, I could not help recalling some of those lawyers who had, in one way or another, shaped my own career so far.
First there was Githu Muigai. He was my teacher at university. My first encounter with him, when he was a young, suave, lecturer newly returned from Columbia University with a Masters Degree, was not a pleasant one. It was towards the end of my First Year during the moot court when I first met him. Githu was acting as the presiding judge sitting on a panel together with Okech Owiti and Dr. David Gachuki.
I recall that I did not have the money to buy myself a suit by the time of the moot court. I therefore dressed as smartly as I could in the circumstances, in grey trousers, a grey sweater, a white shirt and a red tie.
Judge Githu’s opening remarks were directed at me, “Counsel, you are outrageously dressed!” This elicited guffaws of laughter from my classmates who were required to be part of the audience. But it deeply embarrassed me.
I wondered whether to tell Githu that I did not yet own a suit, or I should just ignore him and proceed with my submissions. Time being limited, I did the latter, but I cost my team comprising Harun Ndubi and Lucy Mugo some marks for being “outrageously dressed.”
Although I felt embarrassed by Githu at the time, his remarks may well have ensured that I was got the Rhodes scholarship three years later. For some time after I was elected scholar, I learned from an associate at Kaplan & Stratton whose father sat on the selection committee that there had been stiff competition between myself and another candidate. Eventually, the committee had chosen me over him.
What was the tiebreaker? The other candidate had come for the interview wearing a sweater instead of a jacket and tie.
Looking back, I am therefore grateful that Githu had pointed out, even if not so subtly, that I was “outrageously dressed,” for it taught me that first impressions last, and it is possible for one’s dress to speak so loudly that one’s audience cannot hear one’s message. To this day, I often remember that incident when I sit on interview panels and observe some young people show up inappropriately dressed for interviews.
My other interaction with Githu came about during our second year when he taught Jurisprudence, which was an optional subject. I attended a few of his lessons before I dropped the subject for being far too complicated for me. But that was not before I heard Githu explaining to us the difference between murder and assassination. I am not sure now what the relevance of this was, but I shall never forget his hilarious illustration:
“If a mad man should burst into this lecture room right now, wielding a machine gun, and shoot us all dead,” he said and paused for effect, the pause also giving me time to think that he'd probably been in America too long.
Then he continued, “Tomorrow’s headlines would read, ‘Students gunned down, as Professor is assassinated.”
He referred to himself as Professor long before he earned that title and even before he got his doctorate. But no one complained because many of his students loved him, admiring his command of the law, his polished English, his wit, and his sense of humour.
And then there was the real Professor, Jacton Boma Ojwang who taught First Year constitutional law. He actually taught the other class in the double-intake that had enabled our A-level class of 1986 to catch up with the class of 1985 when we were admitted together in 1987.
Although he was not my lecturer, I would gate-crash his classes once in a while just to understand how the other half lived. On the whole, he was an excellent teacher and a deep thinker, but I struggled with his theory that the President of an African country had other sources of authority other than the Constitution.
These extra-constitutional sources of power, JB argued, were based on the President’s charisma that he exuded among his people. To me, this was a high-sounding justification for the argument that in Africa, the President was above the law. I could not agree with that. I stopped gate-crashing his classes.
I was to run into another JB during my clinical attachment at the Thika law courts during the long vacation at the end of our second year in 1989. I was seconded to my home town of Thika together with my classmates Ann Mwangi and Muthoni Kariuki. The clinicals were tailored to give students exposure to courtroom proceedings. The presiding senior magistrate, in our case Mr. JB Muturi, the future Speaker of the National Assembly, would have one of us in turns sit with him as he heard cases. This gave us, at least me, a sense of power over the hapless litigants, many of whom started speaking in awe of us referring to us as "The new judges."
The magistrate also gave us the opportunity to draft judgments for cases that were coming to an end. I noticed that when I drafted a judgement for him, JB hardly edited it before delivering it. This made me feel very proud of myself and even start to imagine that I could, after all, contribute to the practice of law from the Bench rather from the Bar. But this feeling did not last long after the clinical programme had ended.
Back at Kaplan & Stratton, two of my favourite partners were Fred Ojiambo and Amos Wako. I had known Fred since my days at Alliance High School when he was a favourite guest preacher in Chapel. I was now delighted to be working with him and learn from him and to notice the consistency of his faith and character despite being one of the most senior partners in one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.
Amos Wako had been one of the three partners that had come to Parklands Campus for interviews to recruit pupils when I was selected. When I reported for pupillage and we were being shown around the firm and introduced to partners and staff by Mr. Wainaina, the partner in charge of pupillage, Mr. Wako had said that he had an open door policy and that we should feel free to pop in at any time. I took him quite literally.
I would therefore go to his office early in the morning before the work day began and pick up any subject that struck my fancy and engage him in robust debate on law and politics. We argued, for instance, about why, as a UN Special Rapporteur, he was always so quick to issue statements condemning human rights violations in far-flung places like South Africa and East Timor while maintaining a loud silence when it came to calling out the brutality of the Moi regime.
From 8.30 a.m. every morning, Wako was my boss. But before that time, we were equals and he encouraged me to challenge him on any topic. I lived for those moments.
My land law lecturer in First Year of university had been one Smoking Wanjala, another one who insisted on being referred to as ‘Professor’ in the absence of a PhD, or simply by faith that it was on its way. His opening sentence on the first day of the first lesson was to explain to us that despite what we had read on the class schedule, ‘Land Law’ was a misnomer. “The subject I am here to teach is called ‘the law of property in land’.” He assured the class that this was not merely a distinction without a difference. I am not sure I understood him.
Wanjala was one of my favourite lecturers. He knew how to work hard but also, being still relatively young, how to play hard. During the week, he would be a serious lecturer who did not take lightly any missed deadlines for submitting assignments or any indication that one had not completed their assigned reading. But over the weekend, we would often bump into him at Boulevard Hotel having drinks with friends. At such times, his generosity always assured us of an extra beer or two, which were much appreciated by a group of often broke students.
Wanjala also supervised my dissertation during my Third Year during which season I developed a close friendship with him. I will always remember that he is the one who, over drinks one Friday evening, introduced us to then newly released Les Wanyika song, ‘Afro’, actually teaching us the lyrics which he thought represented the most sublime poetry. We agreed. 'Afro' has remained an all time favourite of mine ever since.
And then there were my peers including Keriako Tobiko with whom I overlapped briefly as he completed his pupillage at Kaplan & Stratton before heading off to Cambridge for his Masters, and Kioko Kilukumi who was also in the same cohort with Tobiko at Kaplan.
By the early 1990s, all these friends and colleagues had already started making a mark in society through their illustrious careers. Later, at the height (or should I say the depth) of my depression, thinking about them and their diverse successes would only illustrate to me how far I had fallen. It would make me wonder where I had taken a wrong turn so that I was not able to claim my place among the great.
As I started recovering, however, the memory of these successful lawyers and the time I had spent with them became a pillar to lean on as I reminded myself that I had, after all, not cheated my way into their illustrious company during those happier times, but I had earned the right to be there.
Much later, after what I consider now to be my complete recovery, I am able to celebrate each one of them without thinking any less of myself because I finally recognise the fact that in life, there is really no competition.
We are each assigned our own lane, and God shall not judge me based on not performing like any one of them or any of the countless other very successful individuals that I have had the privilege of working with over the years.


By Njonjo Mue
The journey so far…
At the end of SEASON ONE, I had just miraculously gotten a job in November 1992 upon my discharge from hospital. This marked an important milestone as I thought I had finally overcome depression. Indeed, my doctor herself told me during one of the review visits to her clinic that I had made a remarkable recovery.
But what I could not have known at the time was that what I had was not really simple depression, but bipolar disorder, and that my remarkable recovery was just part of the journey out of the valley of despair before ascending the mountains of mania.
SEASON TWO will tell of my life on these mountains. But first, let's fill in this break by going back to a time before Oxford.
Long before I went to Law School, I knew that I did not want to practice law. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those kids whose parents forced them to do a particular subject. I was passionate about studying law. I just did not want to practice it in our courts.
My first exposure to the courts and our criminal justice system was when I was in lower Primary School. My elder brother, Mwaura, together with his best friend Peter, often got themselves into trouble with the law. My parents and elder siblings being too busy with work and school, I was usually the one dispatched to the Thika courthouse to listen in on their case and bring back a report as to how much fine they would have to pay. My brother Kamau would then go and pay the fine to secure my brother’s freedom.
Even at that early stage, I could notice how the system worked against the poor who were being processed like meat on a conveyer belt without due regard to a proper delivery of justice.
And then there was the case of Frank Sandstrom. In 1980 when I was in Standard 7, this American sailor was arrested in Mombasa and charged with killing a Kenyan girl, Monica Njeri who was alleged to have been a sex worker. He was prosecuted in record time by an all white court – White Magistrate, White Prosecutor and white defence lawyer. Within two days, a verdict had been delivered and the sailor handed over to his mother to take him back home to America. The sentence? A fine of KSh. 500. Five hundred shillings for taking a human life!
By this time, I had come to realise that our courts were little more than bastions of injustice and that things needed to change. And despite my passion for the law, I couldn’t contribute to that change by practicing in the same courts.
By the time I was approaching the end of my degree programme at the University of Nairobi early 1990, I had made up my mind that the only way to escape the corridors of injustice and yet make a contribution using the law as a tool for social change was to acquire a graduate degree.
I knew I could not, for the life of me, raise the money to support myself through graduate school, and so acquiring a graduate degree was fully dependent on obtaining a full scholarship. I really wanted to go to America. Therefore, shortly after I graduated from Parklands Campus in early 1990, I visited the offices of American Cultural Centre at the back of the National Bank Building and obtained the addresses of close to 100 universities and colleges in all the 50 states.
I wrote the same letter of inquiry to each of them seeking to know if they had a graduate law programme and also if they offered any form of financial assistance. I got all sorts of responses – we do not have a law programme; we do not have a graduate programme; we do not have financial aid for foreign students; we are a women only college.
In the end, my earnest prayer to enroll for a graduate programme was answered in an unexpected way.
In June 1990, as I was receiving this string of bad news from the US, I chanced upon an advert in the Daily Nation inviting applications for the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. England was really not my first choice for studies, but what harm would it do to try? I knew it was a long shot. There was only one Rhodes Scholarship offered annually. But I also knew that if the servants at the wedding in Cana of Galilee had not filled the jars with water, the Master would have had nothing to turn into wine. And so, I still put in my application.
In mid-November, I received an invitation to interview for the Scholarship on December 6 at the boardroom of Hamilton, Harrison and Matthews Advocates in ICEA Building, where the Secretary of the Selection Panel, JDM Sylvester was Senior Partner. The day after the interview, at the Library of Kaplan & Stratton Advocates where I was doing my pupillage, I received a letter informing me that I had been elected Rhodes Scholar for Kenya for 1991.
I also received that year’s Oxford University prospectus, which contained pristine pictures of the colleges taken during various seasons of the year. Some looked like modern day postcards, others like paintings straight out of Victorian England.
I could hardly believe that soon, I would be calling this place home as I immersed myself in learning with all this history standing in silent witness, cheering me on to a future that could only be destined for greatness.
I could already see myself walking or riding my bicycle along these old beautiful streets amid the famous dreaming spires of Oxford. During warmer weather, I would be punting along the River Isis, with newly acquired friends from diverse countries, and eating strawberries and cream as we watched cricket (which I now determined to learn how to watch), and generally having a grand time, both working hard and playing hard. I could hardly wait for this new season of my life to start. I was elated.
Yes, I knew what that word meant at the time, before the switch responsible for regulating my moods was apparently permanently switched off at the onset my bipolar diagnosis. After this, I had to navigate my way through life, aided by medicines, always second-guessing my moods.
In those days, I was able to experience the whole range of human emotions that normal people do – happiness and sadness, frustration and anger, fear and anxiety. I was able to understand the causes and effects of these emotions and, more importantly, I knew how to handle them.
But that was way back when life was normal.


By Njonjo Mue
My mother died when I was fourteen years old at the end of December holidays when I was just about to start Form Two at Alliance. I had since lived with my aunt in Nairobi, more or less permanently, with regular visits to my dad in Thika. I love my aunt like my second mum since she practically raised me from age 14. However, at the time of my tribulations, I thought that her love for me was also dependent on good behaviour and not as unconditional as I now know it to have always been. And so, when I unceremoniously returned from Oxford in June, I did not dare even think that I would be welcome back to her house. I was such a useless failure, after all.
But shortly after I left hospital and began to reason properly once again, I knew it was time to go back home. And so, towards the end of October 1992, I packed what few second-hand clothes that my sister had bought for me and went back to Riara Road to a warm welcome by my aunt and her household. It was good to be back home. However, the fog of depression had not really lifted. Although, aided by medication, I was now able to sleep through the night, getting out of bed in the morning was an epic struggle, especially as I had nothing to get up for. I felt myself beginning to slip away again.
Then one evening, my aunt informed me that she had run into Catherine Wanjau one of my classmates from Law School in town and had asked her if she could find time to pay me a visit just to encourage me. Catherine had always been a Christian and had been at Alliance Girls and later was a classmate at Parklands Campus, so I knew of her. But I did not really get to know her until we joined the Kenya School of Law where we were both members of the KSL Christian Fellowship as I had recently given my life to Christ. Even then, we really did not have a friendship beyond what we shared at the Fellowship with all the other young aspiring Christian lawyers. And so it had come as a bit of surprise to me that she would want to visit.
The following afternoon, a Wednesday, Catherine came to see me at our house on Riara Road. I cannot really recall all that we spoke about, but I clearly remember how at some point she asked me quite bluntly when was the last time I had prayed. The question sounded like a cruel joke. Prayer was by now no more than a useless old ritual to me and God seemed to be just a fanciful idea that I once had the foolishness of believing in before the centre gave way and things fell apart.
Catherine had brought a new NIV Bible with her. She asked me if she could read a passage from Nehemiah Chapters One and Two. Nehemiah had a great job in the King’s palace in exile. Some visitors came from his native Jerusalem and informed him of the sorry state of his beloved capital city – the walls were broken down, the gates had been destroyed by fire, God’s people were now exposed to all kinds of predators.
This made Nehemiah very sad. He prayed and fasted over the situation. When the king noticed his sadness and asked him what was the matter, Nehemiah explained what had happened to the land of his ancestors. The King asked him what he wanted. From this point in the story, it is better to let Nehemiah speak for himself:
“Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”’ 6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’ It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.”
Nehemiah went on to lead God’s people in rebuilding the gates and the walls around Jerusalem in record time.
The story of Nehemiah is remarkable in every sense, but Catherine wanted to draw my attention to the last part of Chapter 2, verse 6, “It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.”
“What would you like me to pray with you about?” She asked. “Like Nehemiah, you need to be very specific with God, and you need to set a time.”
“I would like to get a job,” I replied flatly.
“By when,” she asked as if she was running her own job placement programme and could give me a job on demand.
“By Friday,” I said. I knew getting a job in a law firm in less than two days would take a miracle. But I guess that is why our conversation had to end in prayer. Catherine prayed a short and simple prayer without the usual pompous language that we Christians sometimes use, seeking to impress God into listening to our supplications.
“Dear Lord, your child Njonjo needs a job and he needs it by Friday. Please give it to him in Jesus name. Amen.” The prayer was over even before I had properly closed my eyes.
And with that she stood up to leave, pointing out that a job would obviously not find me in the house but I had to do my part in looking for one.
The following day, I took my CV, boarded the bus and headed in to town, without a particular plan in mind. My first stop was Lenaola’s office at Maina Wachira & Company Advocates in Agip House where he was cutting his teeth as an astute legal professional at the beginning of a remarkable journey that would lead him all the way to the Supreme Court Bench. He was delighted to see me. After exchanging pleasantries, I told him that I was looking for a job.
“I heard Nancy Kang’ethe saying that there was an opening for an advocate in some firm which I can’t remember,” he said. “You might want to check with her.”
There were no mobile phones at the time, so I walked straight from his office to Nancy’s office at GBM Kariuki & Company Advocates in Kimathi House and was fortunate to find her drafting some pleadings before breaking for an early lunch meeting.
When I inquired about the job, she told me that it was actually Peter Onyango, a partner at Kangwana & Lubulela Advocates who was urgently looking for someone. I crossed Moi Avenue to Peter’s office in Commonwealth House still holding my brown envelop containing my extremely thin CV. I was struggling to ignore the voice that was beginning to whisper in my head that no law firm would bother hiring me once they read the CV and realized how little experience I actually had.
However, as soon as I entered Peter’s office and informed him that I had been sent by Nancy for a possible job, he did not even ask to see my CV. His first question was, “Can you go to court this afternoon?” I pointed out to him that I was not appropriately dressed for court. He then asked me to report to the office the next morning ready for work.
And so, on Friday at 8.30 a.m. I sat in my new, spacious and luxuriously furnished office on the 9th Floor of Commonwealth House as the latest associate to join Kangwana and Lubulela Advocates. Catherine’s prayer had been answered down to the date and time she demanded we include in the request sent up to heaven. I will never forget the role that she, Lenaola, Nancy and Peter played in being God’s voice, his hands and feet in this important step on my journey of recovery.
Before Catherine came to visit on that Wednesday afternoon, I had allowed myself to get stuck in a time warp as is the bane of many who suffer from depression. I kept thinking back on my journey into the abyss to try and identify that one place where I could have taken a different turn and avoided all this heartache. I lived with the constant thought that I had accidentally broken a precious vase and was looking for a way to go back to the place where I broke it so that I could unbreak it. And so my mind constantly dwelt on my days in Oxford, asking myself what I could have done differently.
I did not have the presence of mind to persuade myself that even if I could tell ‘where the rain started beating me’, that place no longer existed and it was not possible to retract my steps to go physically back there and pick up the pieces. I would have to find a way of moving forward. But there was no one to help me see the folly of driving the car of my life with my eyes firmly fixed on the rearview mirror. Until Catherine came along that Wednesday afternoon.
“Forget about what might have been, in Oxford,” she had counseled. “God is now asking you the same question that he asked Moses, “What do you have in your hand?”
“I have my law degree and my bar qualification,” I had responded feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time, but also trying to manage my expectations.
“Then give that to God and he will use it,” Catherine had said simply. “Oxford may or may not be a part of your story, but if you don’t use what you have in your hands right now to start rebuilding your life, you will lose it all. Just trust God and start walking. He shall direct your path.
It took great humility to go to my classmates looking for a job, but once I had decided that pride was a luxury I could not afford, I found that God had already opened a door even before Catherine had obediently taken that step of faith to seek out a long lost friend and speak the words of life into the dead places that had for one year stubbornly occupied the very core of my being.


By Njonjo Mue
I had a deep and dreamless sleep. When I awoke, my father and brother-in-law were gone and I was surrounded by other patients in their beds. It must have been visiting hours because there were many people around each bed talking to their loved ones. Though my father was absent, his last words kept ringing in my ears, “I love you, Njonjo.”
I knew my father loved me. I could remember, from when I first became aware of myself and my surroundings as a child, him playing with me, washing me, taking us out to the toilet at night in turns whenever each of us called as we did not have indoor toilets in Thika.
When I grew older, he would come from work in the evenings and he and I would go out bird-hunting. He was so accurate with his slingshot that several nights, my basic menu of ugali and cabbage found itself suddenly enhanced with some much welcome protein when we brought home a pigeon or two.
He would also discipline me with a stick that he kept for that purpose in one corner of the bedroom. Most of the time, however, we were such good friends that when the stick needed to be replaced, during peace time, he and I would go to the nearby bushes to identify the most suitable stick that would be warming my behind when I next broke the law.
And he was ever the encourager, never missing a moment to let his children know how proud he was of them. He prayed for us often and I remember listening in on his prayers for all members of his family by name as I drifted in and out of sleep early in the morning or late at night, depending on whether he was working the day or night shift.
And he showed us what it was to love by how he loved my mother. They always seemed to have so much to talk about. Other parents were rarely seen together, or if they were, the man would walk so far ahead of his wife that if you did not know them you would not think that they were together at all. But my father always walked side by side with my mother – to church, to the market, to work when they happened to be on the same shift.
But he had never told me before this day that he loved me. Indeed, over time, the one phrase that I came to hear most often from him was “Congratulations, you have done well, as usual,” as he looked at my report card at the end of each term and found what he expected, that I had topped my class once again.
My father was very proud of my performance and, over time, I started to live for the end of term when I would hear these words of approval. I topped my class throughout primary school and secured a place at Alliance High School after scoring the highest marks in my Certificate of Primary Education. I went on to perform well in High School and proceeded to study law at university. Shortly after graduating, I won the Rhodes Scholarship and proceeded to Oxford.
Little did I know that through this extraordinary performance, over time, slowly but surely, I came to think that people loved and valued me for my brilliance and like many who get trapped in the prison of their own perceived greatness, I became a human doing instead of a human being.
It is no wonder that as my life began to unravel during those early days in Oxford, my greatest fear was that if I failed, there would be nothing left for anyone to love. With the benefit of hindsight, I now recognise that this painful journey through depression was also God’s way of stripping me of all that I thought made me acceptable even to him so that I could understand that He loved me, in the words of the old hymn of invitation, ‘Just as I am.’
I spent the first ten days of October recovering at Avenue hospital. Very early during my stay, it started becoming clear to me that I had indeed been very was sick but was beginning to recover. The first sign of this recovery was that when I woke up from my deep sleep on the day I was admitted, I felt hungry for the first time in longer than I could remember and actually enjoyed my lunch. I also enjoyed the visits from my sisters and my nieces, Sippy, Becky and Shiro. I particularly remember enjoying the fruits and the warm milk that they brought for me every day I was in hospital. My life also began to regain some structure since, for the first time, I was able to remain awake during the day and actually fall asleep at night.
I was also surprised to receive visits from former law school classmates Isaac Lenaola and Benjamin Ludeki, as well as Nancy Kang’ethe who came to see me over the weekend accompanied by her niece. I did not exactly know how they found out that I was back from Oxford and in hospital.
Although to them this may have been just another routine hospital visit, I do not think that they shall ever appreciate what it meant to me. I felt I was clearly no longer in their league. I had lost everything while their own careers were beginning to flourish. In my mind, I was not worthy of their taking their precious time to visit. And yet, here they were sitting silently by my bedside as I had not yet really regained my confidence nor my voice to engage them in conversation. But their silent presence during this season of gloom will forever be to me a fragrant offering of love that will remain etched in my memory to the day I take my final breath.
God also sent his angels to cheer me on, even here in hospital. While some like my three law school friends had somehow learned of my predicament and made plans to see me, two other friends were directed by sheer force of circumstance to come and encourage me. One was Njeri Wamae who came with a group of friends to visit their dad who was in the bed next to mine.
During the second day of my stay in hospital, my friend Palmer Thambu was visiting a work colleague also suffering from depression and admitted in the same hospital. When he bumped into me, he must have been shocked at how emaciated and distant I looked. His concern almost turned to anger at seeing me looking like such a pale shadow of myself.
“You will get through this, Njonjo!” his voice boomed with emotion as he restrained his tears. It was a firm promise, and it did not appear to be addressed to me. It seemed instead to be a command that he was daring to make to God to complete whatever work he was doing in me in this season as soon as possible so that I could be restored to health. Again, this brief interaction with an old friend who seemed so much more passionate for my healing that I could summon up the will to be for myself became another pillar to lean on during my journey of recovery.
I stayed in hospital for ten days and was discharged on Moi Day. I went back home to my sister’s house in Umoja feeling much better than when I had been taken to hospital ten days before. Although I did not fully understand this condition at the time, a number of changes in me made me realise that I had indeed been sick and was well on my way to recovery.
I was able to eat and enjoy food, I was able to sleep and get rest at night, I was able to be fully awake and alert during the day, I was able to start connecting and have conversations with people. Although I worried about the future, especially the immediate future with regard to the possibility of going back to Oxford or getting a job, these were reasonable concerns and were not accompanied by thoughts of self-condemnation or the urge to end my life.
The depression was coming to an end, or so I thought. What I did not know at the time was that although I had climbed out of the valley, I would enjoy the fresh air of the plain only for a short while before involuntarily scaling the heights of mania where breathing the light air of extreme happiness would prove to be just as dangerous to my well-being as the gloomy despair that I had survived at the bottom of the valley.


By Njonjo Mue
[In PART ONE of the Memoir, I told of the first time that I came face to face with the demon of mental illness as I descended into the hell of depression while trying to settle down for my studies at Jesus College Oxford in the early 1990's.
In PART TWO, After finally coming to terms with my utter failure as a human being, I return home to the love of family at the start my journey of healing that leads to the discovery that it is only when we hit rock bottom that we find the Rock of Ages waiting to receive us, restore us and re-commission us for the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do.]
The months of July to September passed in a blur. After returning home in late June, I lived with my sister, Rosemary. She was a single mother, having been widowed just before I left for Oxford. She lived a modest life with her baby daughter and a nanny in a one bedroom flat in Umoja. Her monthly earnings were a pittance and barely sufficient to meet her own needs, and yet she took me in and ensured that I was as comfortable as possible. I was even afforded the luxury of getting my bath water heated by gas every morning. I knew this was a luxury she could ill afford and yet many are the times that I skipped the bath and the hot water stayed in the basin until it got cold, which only added to my guilt at causing such waste.
My routine in Nairobi remained as it had been in Oxford and London. I remained trapped in the fog of depression. Never being able to properly fall asleep at night and not being fully awake by day, I was lost in my own twilight zone and was exhausted by the burden of living. I would still wander aimlessly daily, covering unimaginable distances by foot in the Eastlands estates of Umoja, Kayole, Komarock, Donholm, Buruburu, Harambee, Jericho, Uhuru, Jerusalem, Kimathi and as far away as Bahati. This was in the vain attempt to get away from this painful reality of my ugly self and in the futile hope that this meaningless existence that was such a poor excuse for a life could somehow just fizzle away into nothingness.
I have mentioned how, early during my journey to the abyss, before I abandoned my room and my studies at Jesus College, I had made elaborate plans to take my own life. I had bought a packet of painkillers off the counter at the Boots drug store on Cornmarket Street with the intention of taking them all at once. However, my courage had failed me when I got back to my room and sat staring at the glass of water and the medicine in front of me. I just could not bring myself to pop the pills. And so I broke open all the twenty four capsules and emptied their powder into the glass of water and stirred it, thinking that drinking the mixture would be easier than swallowing the pills.
But as I took the first sip, I thought about my family back home – how my dad and my late mum had struggled and sacrificed to raise me and my ten siblings and give us an education in the midst of so much poverty, how, among all my siblings, and being the last born, I had benefited from the fact that there was a little more money available for me than for my older siblings who never quite made it as far as they could have gone in their own education had there been enough resources. I imagined how my suicide would affect my aging father when he got the news.
Eventually, I abandoned the attempt, leaving the concoction in the glass on the table when I later abandoned my room and became a wandering stranger for two and a half months before finally returning to Nairobi. I have often wondered what, if anything, the room cleaners made of that concoction when they eventually accessed my room to clean it and prepare it for the next occupant.
Although I abandoned this first attempt at suicide, the thoughts of taking my life never really left me but were a constant companion even upon my return to Nairobi. But there was a difference between these latter thoughts and the former ones I had while in England. The first attempt was just a cry for someone to notice my pain and come to my help. I suppose I abandoned the plan when I realised that all the people who could have answered that call were thousands of kilometres away in Nairobi. They would have been helpless to come to my aid once I overdosed and all they would receive was my body for burial. Even in my depressed state, I had the strong sense of justice to consider it terribly unfair to condemn my family to this fate while they had no physical ability to intervene.
The thoughts of suicide while in Nairobi were of a different kind. Suicide was no longer a way to draw attention to my pain but it seemed to be the only way to deal with the pain. For by this time, the depression had become so severe that I literally felt like I had become two different people in one, the outer shell going through the motions of living, and a distinct inner ‘thing’ that was the repository of all my anguish, my failures, and my regrets. The ‘thing’ was the source of such unimaginable pain and I hated ‘it’ so much for that, that I wanted to destroy ‘it’, be forever rid of ‘it’ and at last find rest. The only problem was that the ‘it’ was actually me and the only way of destroying ‘it’ would be to destroy me. The two of us came as a package.
This understanding of suicide was by no means as clear to me at the time as it is now, and as I have explained it here. The clarity has only come with time in the process of healing. At the time, the only reality I knew was such numbing pain that the finality of death was so much more preferable to the struggle to live.
In the years after my recovery and in the course of my healing, I have lost at least two friends to suicide. I have often heard ‘normal people’ speak so insensitively, if not out rightly judgmentally, about the victims of suicide. In the first place, it is archaic that our law still regards suicide as a crime and actually prosecutes people for attempted suicide where one is fortunate enough to survive the attempt. Those who succeed, our society classifies them as having ‘committed suicide’ in the same way that it classifies people as having committed a bank robbery or an assault. This is obviously ridiculous. Depression is a deadly illness, and as with all other deadly illnesses, there are those who unfortunately do not survive it. To say that someone committed suicide is akin to saying that someone committed diabetes or that they are guilty of committing a heart attack. This has to change.
Back in Umoja, my meaningless ritual of spending my days as an involuntary tourist of Eastlands only came to an end on the first day of October 1992. It was a Thursday. Early that morning, before I set off for an unknown destination, my father arrived unexpectedly at my sister’s house accompanied by my brother-in-law, Mike.
“We are here to take you to see a doctor,” my dad did not waste time getting to the point after greeting me.
“But I am not unwell,” I protested, hoping that they would just leave me alone. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the idea of accepting that I was seriously ill and in need of medical intervention did not appeal to me. This is not unusual in a society where mental illness is still the subject of so much stigma. However, my dad and brother-in-law seemed to have come on a mission and were not so easily deterred.
“Let the doctor be the judge of that,” said Mike, gently but firmly. “Please get ready so that we can go.” He left no room for negotiation. I took a quick shower, got dressed and soon, we drove off in my brother-in-law’s car towards Aga Khan Hospital. Once we arrived at the Doctors Plaza, we headed for the office of the famous psychiatrist, Dr Frank Njenga on the second floor. He welcomed us into his spacious office and after a quick chat, he referred us to his associate, Dr Anna Nguithi.
Dr Nguithi greeted us and then asked me to step out briefly so that she could speak to my dad and brother-in-law, Mike. After ten minutes, I was called in to re-join them in her office. I sat quietly on a seat next to my dad as she tried to engage me in conversation.
“Njonjo, my name is Dr Nguithi,” she introduced herself in a gentle voice full of genuine concern. “How are you feeling?”
“I am OK,” I forced myself to say, as usual labouring to make my voice heard above a weak whisper. My thoughts of self-condemnation continued to race. I wished she could just leave me alone and send us on our way home where it was easier for me to continue trying to be invisible.
“Your dad tells me that you are a very intelligent young man,” she told me. “Is it true that you recently won a scholarship to Oxford after getting your law degree and becoming an advocate?” she asked. She clearly had received a thorough briefing in the short time I had been waiting outside, but it sounded to me like she was describing someone else whom I vaguely remembered as having been a part of my existence a long, long time ago. I did not have the energy to answer her.
“But the person sitting before me is not the Njonjo everyone knows,” she continued, sounding more like a concerned elder sister than a psychiatrist. “You are very sick, Njonjo, and do you know where sick people go to get better?” she asked gently.
“To the hospital,” I heard myself whisper.
“Yes, to the hospital,” she repeated. “And that is where you are going now.”
I learned later that my father had initially tried to persuade Dr Nguithi to let us go home to prepare for admission and return the following day (no doubt he needed the time to look for money to pay the deposit), but she had said that I was so depressed that it would have been gross professional negligence on her part to allow me to go anywhere else apart from directly to a hospital ward. And so, as soon as we left the Doctors’ Plaza, we drove to Avenue Hospital on First Parklands Avenue where I was admitted under Dr Nguithi’s care.
As soon as I changed into hospital clothes and got into bed, I was given an injection. It must have been a powerful drug, for no sooner had I been injected than I started to pass out. Just as I was falling into a deep sleep, my father’s voice came to me as if in an echo from a distant place, although he was standing by my bedside.
“I love you, Njonjo,” he managed to say.
Now, my dad was one of those old-school fathers who never verbalised their love for their children. We were supposed to figure out that he loved us by what he did for us, especially by providing for the family.
The fact that I was hearing these four words, that other children took for granted, from him for the very first time in my 25 years of life had me alarmed. It finally led me to admit that I must have been very sick, and that my poor dad was desperately trying reach his son through the deafening silence of the desolate midnight of depression that had enveloped me ever since I returned from Oxford at the end of June.