KENYA UNDER BRITISH RULE FROM 1952 TO 1963.
I first entered Kenya via Mombasa Port in a ship in the year 1952 at the young age of 12. And for the first time, I saw the African people, not very different from the image I had created by listening to the elders, who talked much about the Africans during their trips to India.
I knew Africans as poor, innocent and hardworking black people who had no voice in their own country. From an early age, I had burning desires to be in Kenya and to serve the people, and be part and parcel of their Uhuru struggle.
The same British who had ruled India since 1948 were the masters in Kenya. They occupied the most senior posts in government and public sectors; next came the Indians who had started their career as coolies in East African Railways.
Later on, Asians were given second class posts in government and all public sectors. Most of the banks, prominent government offices such as income tax, immigration and the City Council were dominated by Asians. Farming, Industries and larger scale business were dominated by Europeans. Small traders were mostly Asians. Star Hotels were owned by Europeans and vegetarian hotels by Asians.
Arabs also had a strong influence on the Coast in business and government. Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu were dominated by Arabs and Asians of Kenyan residence.
Very few Africans were seen in government and the public sectors. Even in the police and the army, the major posts were held by Europeans and then Asians. The traffic and Police Department were full of white people and Asians. Africans formed the lowest categories of workers such as drivers and labourers. Africans were employed as house servants, farm workers, shamba boys, drivers, turn boys, messengers, guards and mostly laboureres in Industries. Even the work of masons, carpenters, plumbers etc. was done by Asians. Africans were employed as helpers. Stone dressing, drilling and other heavy work were done by Africans. The word ‘Fundi’ was used for Kutchi Patels, and Surti Patels, the Indian working classes from Gujarat, Kutch and Surat.
There was very little scope for education for Africans as there were hardly enough schools in rural areas. Urban schools were mainly Europeans only, the others for Europeans and Asians only. For Africans to survive in the urban society was difficult. There was hardly any place where white, brown and black persons were found together.
Most of the teachers were Europeans and Asians except in rural areas where some educated Africans to standards four to seven were taken as teachers. Rural education was mainly encouraged by Christian missionaries and the teachers were mostly white. Churches played an important role in the education of villagers, especially the children of farm workers.
African children often had to walk several miles to reach the nearest school as they were established in reasonably big centers. There was a lack of transport facilities. However, the need for education was recognized and encouraged by the Churches. Most of the Church leaders had a soft spot for the indigenous people. The whites in the Churches were kind and quite social and different from the rulers who were frequently tyrannical. Several African families were helped by missionaries and the Christian religion gained several members in that way. The needy had no choice. The illiterate did not see any problem. All those who believed in the type of idols were reluctant to adopt Christianity but all those who had no beliefs or religion were drawn towards Christianity for their benefit…
The education of Asians was in their own languages with English taken as a subject. The medium was Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu. Even C.P.E., Standard Seven Examination at Metric, Standard Form IV, papers and the course was in their respective languages. English schools had their own G.C.E. ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level. Kiswahili was nowhere to be seen in urban education centers. It was only in the rural schools only.
Proof of identity was demanded for Africans only. No African could walk in the street without a ‘Kipande’, (identity card). Africans without identity cards were arrested. Curfew was common and thousands of Africans were arrested for breaching it… Their movement in certain public places was not safe and they were not allowed to be seen in the white dominated areas except as servants.
They were tortured in public by whites who did not understand any other language other than their own. Some of them did not understand English. The non English white soldiers were very brutal and merciless, especially the Irish and Scottish.
As the Mau Mau struggle was mainly encouraged by Kikuyus, the white soldiers were particularly after Kikuyus. They tortured Kikuyus and even killed them publicly. Machine guns were used to disperse the crowd. They were compelled to sleep on icebeds until they died. Kikuyus were selected for all types of torture and brutal killings. The whites of the time had no mercy at all. They were far from humanity.
Even the Kikuyu women were similarly tortured. The pregnant women were forcefully aborted. The young girls were made unfertile by using sterilizing injections and at some events their wombs were damaged by acids. No more Kikuyus were supposed to be born, was the mission of the white masters. Most of the Freedom Fighters on the field were Kikuyus. Mau Mau struggle was started and maintained by Kikuyus.
There were cases of brutal rapings of young African girls by the white soldiers. Some of the prison camps with young girls had been the centers of harsh rappings resulting to deaths. Raping and assaulting of young African girls by the white soldiers in public was also seen.
The merciless white soldiers did not dare to rape even the grown up women. Sometimes a group of women was picked up by the white soldiers and an attractive woman was selected and taken to the camp, where she was raped by several soldiers in turns. Such women hardly came back alive from the camp.
Several people were thrown into a pond where they drowned and those that survived were given food like reptiles and they were barred from jumping out by an electric fence or guards. They were teased and tortured even in the pond and the whites enjoyed their sufferings.
The whites had no mercy. They did their best to harass, assault and murder selected Kikuyus, while the other tribes were also tortured just because of the black skin. There was a group of Irish and Scottish police who harassed even brown skinned people as they were told to spare only whites. Many of the Asians were even picked up and pushed in cells by those soldiers.
My father was picked up from his Kahawa stone quarry by such soldiers. He was harassed and then released by a well-known white officer. I learned a lot about harassment in the jails from my father who was held with other Africans for two days.
The name of Jomo Kenyatta, Milkha Singh, General Kimathi and other freedom fighters were highly abused by whites. All those ordinary people who supported the freedom struggle were killed or tortured. There was no law and order for the Africans. The courts made their own ruling and jailed the innocent Africans for several years, without any trials.
Cells, prisons and jails were like scenes of hell for innocent Africans. The freedom struggle was at its worst. There were hardly any advocates for such Africans. Asian advocates strived for such cases. Their efforts are still remembered by the grown up generation. Some of the Asian advocates like Kapila and Zamindar fought for Africans in the court without any fees and they were able to free several.
On 20th October 1952, the late Jomo Kenyatta was arrested for his Uhuru struggle and imprisoned in the cold cells of Kapenguria. And the Freedom Movement got its wings and spread in most of the Provinces of Kenya. All patriotic Kenyans joined the movement and voiced for the release of their leader Jomo Kenyatta. (Now the day is celebrated as ‘Kenyatta Day’ by the Kenyans and observed as a public holiday.]
In the beginning Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was bullied but later on after an appeal of peace-loving nationals, he was better treated. The Father of the Nation had great will-power to face and tolerate all sorts of tortures for the sake of freedom of Kenya.
Poor Africans were being harassed, tortured and brutally killed by the foreigners in their own motherland. There was no freedom of movement or speech for local people. Africans could not say a word against the white masters in their own country. Their freedom of movement was restricted. The whites of the era lived like super human beings. They enjoyed all facilities.
Particular hotels like the New Stanley, and Norfolk in Nairobi and the Molo Hotel in Rift Valley Province were strictly prohibited for Africans and Asians. Certain cinema halls and theatres were mainly for non-Africans. Africans were not allowed to stay with Asians, let alone Europeans. They could be servants only, and lived in ‘boy quarters’.
In star hotels like the new Stanley and Norfolk, even the waiters and servants were whites. No African face was seen even in the surroundings of such hotels. Europeans had license to kill any African suspect who entered their premises, homes or even farms. Thus several innocent Africans were killed for trespassing sometimes by their harsh dogs.
African blood was cheap and no case was brought to the courts for these killings. The European police department did not even dare to open a file for such cases and any relative of the murdered person, if he or she dared to complain to the police, he or she was put into the cells for several days without any trial. Obviously, innocent Africans feared to file their complaints at the police stations.
Africans could not make complaints against whites. All police stations and jails were controlled by whites’ senior chiefs who were white and brown. Only the junior chief’s post could be held by Africans and they harassed the local people greatly to please the colonial rulers. A white farmer was a king in his area. No stranger African except his workers, dared to move around his farm without his permission. He could shoot the trespasser and order his burial without any police report or even the investigation.
Any white person was authorized to have the weapon of his choice, while an African could not even possess a panga, rungu or even a small knife. He would be imprisoned for years if found with such weapons. Law and order was to the advantage of non-blacks only. There was no respect for any African until 1955, when a brave, and educated African leadership was born and were supported by browns mainly Indians and Muslims, who became a prominent part of the real freedom struggle for Kenya.
‘Kenya for Kenyans’ became the common slogan for Asians who had a soft spot towards their African brothers. Asians became the true media between the suffering Africans and the tyrant Europeans. Asians not only encouraged the African struggle for freedom but they encouraged the local talents by offering them employment.
During the emergency or curfew or during the raids where most of the Africans were picked up for scrutinizing their identification later in police stations or cells, Asians would hide their workers or known Africans in their houses, in kitchens, stores, toilets and at some events in the ceilings and roofs. Most of the servants were given shelter in such hiding places.
Hardly any African had his own vehicle or a house in the town area. Property ownership was a dream for Africans. Only few Asians owned cars and houses otherwise the properties belonged to whites and most of the vehicles being around belonged to them.
Some of the Africans who either had a white God father or were born through a white father had some influence because of their family status and owned the farms and properties at some places.
Private doctors were mostly whites and browns. Hospitals were loaded with Europeans and Asians nurses. Only African there, were workers. It was very difficult for an African to be admitted to a fully facilitated hospital. Even in the government hospitals, they were not treated properly. It was only in the hospitals run by the missionaries that Africans were taken care of. The hospital fund was for Indians, Muslims and Arabs only. There were no special facilities for Africans.
Most of the newspapers were in English and Gujerati languages. There was no Swahili paper. Even the K.B.C. (Kenya Broadcasting Service) used English, Hindi and Gujerati. Kiiswahili was hardly used. Urdu was also recognized by the radio service. Most of the organizers were Asians. The English section had its own exclusive program handled by the whites.
Public libraries were not meant for Africans. The Macmillan library, British Library, completely prohibited Africans. It was only in Desai Memorial Hall Library and the Indian High Commission Library that few learned Africans were seen. The Indian High Commission H.E Shree Apa Pant had a sympathy for the Africans and he played a vital role in the independence struggle.
In most of the sport clubs no Africans were allowed. The majority of the games and sports were dominated by Europeans and Asians.
It was rare for an African to be seen in a suit or tie. Africans were not allowed in the white dominated Churches although it was through Churches and other missionaries that whites dared to mix with Africans.
Churches were built at several centres and most of the priests and bishops were whites. The introduction of education among Africans came through such missionaries. There were several white missionaries who symphasized with the Africans and who even complained against British tyranny and worked for the betterment of the African’s daily life. Some of them encouraged the freedom struggle and even participated in the field. They even tabled their complains in British Parliament through their Head Quarters in London and also alerted the Human Rights Organisation over the issue.
In 1955 while a primary school student, I started writing articles in Africa Samachar, Nutan Africa and other vernacular weeklies and daily newspapers against the tyranny of the British- Rule.
In 1958 my artides in English were recognized by freedom fighters and welwishers. The British police picked me from my school Sharda High School in Nairobi when I headed a strike against the European teacher who objected to admitting a group of Africans in the school and who abused and accused Asians and Africans like vulgars. The daily news covered the event nicely and I became the recognized anti- colonial writer. I appeared on the blacklist in a colonial diary.
In 1959, I ventured to enter the new Stanley Hotel with my Asian and African friends and ordered the white stewards to serve us with coffee. This incident attracted a huge crowd and once more I was picked up and tortured in the cell. The ‘Daily Nation’ had a lot to say about this incident.
When I ventured to enter the Molo Highland Hotel in 1957 with some of my Africans friends, I was forced to sleep over the ice-bed for a full night and I could hardly walk. I was admitted to a hospital and treated for an acute pneumonia.
In 1960, I ventured to get admission for a couple of Asians and Africans to the Duke of Gloucester High school for G.C.E. ‘A’ Level. I went with a group of Asian and African students; I was insulted and thrown out of the school compound twice. The Jamhuri School of today was by then the European dominated school. We embarrassed the administration. I was once more put into the cells for a week and tortured mercilessly. But we were at last admitted in the school.
In 1955 during the scout camp in Nakuru, I insisted on having the scout camp in open ground opposite the War Memorial Hospital which was prohibited for non-whites. We, the Indian scouts, with four African scouts ventured to camp in the field and even loitered in Milimani. We were not only bitten but transported to Naivasha prison and thrown to the dirty cells.
Our whereabouts was unknown by our relatives. We suffered in hot sun and cold nights for four days; we were given uncooked and rotten vegetables to eat. Now and then white officers would come, murmur against us and hit us hard on our heads.
During 1958-1959, I got a good opportunity to serve the Kenya Freedom party under Mr. Chanan Singh, Mr. K. P. Shah and Mr. Mehta. My articles in local dailies under a pen name raised the eyebrows of the whites who later on came to find out the original writer and once more I was picked up, tortured, threatened and released later on. My special column in ‘Daily Nation’ had enough materials to provoke the colonial rulers.
My first visit to Maralal Prison Camp where the beloved Father of the Nation the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was detained was published in several issues. By that time, the African community was awake. “Kenya for Africans“and “freedom of political detainess” especially Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Milkha singh and Mr. Kimathi was in forefront.
Times changed, atmosphere improved and the Independence struggle came in forceful action and the whites who once treated the Africans very harsh turned out to be soft at certain extent and withdrew their very rude activities and thought twice to torture the Africans in public. Africans with the able support from Asians came to realize their rights and struggled for Freedom with a torch of non-violence. They came out on the streets with the slogans of Free Kenya but did not harm any public or government property. They protested against the tyrant British Rule but were willingly ready to be arrested.
The British leaders in London decided to grant Independence to Kenya and they worked for it. According to them, the Kenyan people were by then totally ready to rule independent Kenya.
And 1963 was the golden year for Kenyans as the nation was now on the verge of freedom and Kenya for Kenyans- the dream of the bonafide Kenyans came to life.
Among the prominent Freedom Fighters honoured, I was pleased to be one- the youngest Freedom Fighter of Asian origin.