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Njiiri Wa Karanja: The Richest Man In Central Kenya, His 30 Wives, And Founding Njiiri High School

When one reads about the history of central Kenya during the colonial period, one eventually comes across the name of Chief Njiiri wa Karanja.

Like his counterparts, Chief Waiyaki Wa Hinga, Senior Chief Warukiu Wa Kung’u, and Senior Chief Njenga Wa Gioko, Njiru collaborated with the British government during the colonial era. 

It was said he was the richest individual in central Kenya in his time. 

This is his journey as told by WoK

Unparalleled Status

Njiiri was the only man within a 1000 km radius who owned a transistor radio. 

He was also one of the very few Africans who owned a horse. A horse! 

While his fellow Africans were fighting for independence, Njiiri was busy building his empire by amassing massive tracts of land. 

According to Standard, he owned almost a whole location in Kinyona, Murang’a county. 

His wealth included 5,000 goats, 4,000 sheep, and a herd of 2,000 cattle. 

He was also the wealthiest African money changer – of hard cash – at a time when the currency of many Africans was composed of shells and beads.  

That was in the 1950s. 

At the time, only head teachers and extension officers owned bicycles. However, Chief Njiiru had his grandchildren driven to school in a British Land Rover. 

This was a man who, at a time when 90% of the country was wallowing in illiteracy, sent his son to America for further studies. 

His son, Kariuki Njiiri, later became an MP for Kigumo and became the first Kenyan to own a clothing supermarket. 

Chief Njiiri always had someone who carried his folding chair.

His vast compound had no fence, but woe betide anyone who entered the compound from any other direction apart from the gate, which was always guarded by a rapt guard. 

Naturally, he was always at heated loggerheads with the Mau Mau, whom he allegedly hated with a passion. 

The Mau Mau targeted chiefs like him for a variety of reasons, including their role in collecting taxes and enforcing colonial policies.

Nevertheless, the chief flew the red, white, and blue 60-foot British flag to express his defiance. 

The colonial government, aware of his plight, assigned for his protection a permanent police squad from the Kinyona police station. 

A police chopper always dropped a copy of the East African Standard at his home every day. Never mind that he was illiterate and the guard read it for him. 

According to The History of the Loyalists, which was published in 1958, Njiiri had 42 wives. 

His fights with the Maumau even caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth, who paid him a courtesy call in 1957. 

Such was his legacy that Njiiri High School – one of the best-performing schools in Murang’a – was named after him. 

He was later awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE). 

He married his 30th wife in 1964 and died 10 years later aged over 100. 

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