Biography of James Njenga Karume

James Njenga Karume (1929 – February 24, 2012) was a Kenyan politician and businessman. He was born in in Elburgon, Nakuru District.


Karume held a diploma in business management from Jeans School (KIA).[2] 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.[3]

Later he operated the Nararashi Distributors, who distributed the products of the Kenya Breweries Limites (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.


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[5] 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.[6]

Between 1974 and 1979 he served a nominated MP.[2] In 1979 he was elected as the Kiambaa Constituency MP and was re-elected in 1983 and 1988.[7] Since 1979 he held various assistant ministerial positions.[2] He represented KANU, then the only legal political party in Kenya.

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.[8]

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 December 31, 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.

He regained the parliamentary seat at the 1997 elections standing again on DP ticket. 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.

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

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

Personal life

His first wife Maryanne Wariara Karume died in 2003.[13]. On February 21, 2006, he married Grace Njoki

Karume died on February 24, 2012, of prostate cancer at Karen Hospital in Nairobi. His death came only two days after the passing of John Michuki, who was also a prominent Kikuyu politician


Posted on June 13, 2012, in Categorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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