Argwings Kodhek – Mau Mau lawyer

Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda autographs a picture of his at Parliament Buildings on June 6, 1968. Also pictured are Githunguri MP Waira Kamau (right), the Minister of State for Foreign Afairs, Mr Argwings Kodhek and Housing Minister Paul Ngei (centre)

In 1963, Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta appointed C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek an Assistant Minister for Defence. In 1966, he was promoted to head the Ministry of Natural Resources and eventually in 1967 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a true hero of the independence movement whose personal sacrifice, determined resistance and unfailing courage are good examples for the youth.

Argwings-Kodhek was the first Member of Parliament for Gem in Siaya, serving from independence in 1963 to 1969. He was a human rights’ lawyer based in Nairobi, where the bug of politics bit him shortly after returning to Kenya from London, where he had graduated with a law degree.

The colonial authorities branded him “a hot head” for his activism and human rights campaigns for his defence of Mau Mau freedom fighters, like Waruru Kanja (who later became Nyeri Town MP and Cabinet Minister), among other nationalists. While working in Nairobi, CMG launched his own party, the Nairobi Congress Party, to fight it out with Mboya’s Nairobi People’s Convention Party. The initials CMG stood for Chiedo Moa Gem, given to him by his parents in remembrance of one of their forefathers.

Kodhek used the initials as a political nickname in his Dholuo language. Chiedo Moa Gem literally means “fried (or cooked up) in Gem”.  But his critics mistakenly accused him of being brainwashed by the British during his student days.

Born in 1923 in Malanga, Gem location, Argwings-Kodhek went to St Mary’s Yala and later King’s College Budo, Uganda. CMG was from the Kagola Ojuodhi clan, the same lineage of his successors, Isaac Omolo Okero (MP and Cabinet Minister, 1969-79) and Prof B. A. Ogot, husband of Grace Ogot, who was Gem MP between 1985 and 1992. After Budo, CMG taught at Kapsabet Boys High School, where he met Moi.

Argwings-Kodhek then won a scholarship to study teaching in England, but his interest was law, which the colonial government did not approve of. After a year, his scholarship was terminated and his father sold many cows to pay for his tuition.

He qualified as a barrister and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. This was an outstanding achievement and he had an opportunity to stay in England and be a well-paid barrister. But he astounded his colleagues when he informed them that he would leave for Kenya. Argwings-Kodhek was among the first indigenous Kenyans to become lawyers on the eve of independence. He was in the same league with Njonjo, Jean Marie Seroney (Tinderet MP between 1963 and 1975 and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly).

He then returned home and the colonial government offered him a job as a legal assistant in the Registrar-General’s office, where his colleagues were Njonjo, Seroney and Mareka Gecaga. Gecaga later quit to join British American Tobacco Kenya Ltd as chairman. But CMG quit the job and became a legal defender of the Mau Mau, often for little or no pay. For this, he earned the wrath of the colonial government, who saw him as a Mau Mau lawyer. But to Africans, he was proof — if any were needed — of the European lie that black people were only fit for menial positions. The fact that Argwings-Kodhek had a European wife added to the colonial hatred of him.

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