Remembering Pinto - The Errors

Volume 13, Issue 1  | 
Published 21/07/2016

I was left utterly distraught by Volume 12, Issue 1 of Awaaz commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pio Gama Pinto’s tragic assassination on 24 February, 1965, especially due to the remarks on the historical realities of Kenya at the time of Pinto’s assassination as presented by Cyprian Fernandes in that issue of Awaaz; the Sunday Nation of 7 January, 2015; and a longer unedited version of the Nation article that was published in his blog about the same time.

My one and only encounter with Pinto was in early 1961 at the home of freedom-fighter Justus Mugo Muratha, my grandfather, who was detained with Pinto at Manda Island, and who rates a mention in Pinto’s letter to Joseph Murumbi (sent about this time) that is reproduced Murumbi’s recently-published memoirs. I was barely in my teens and it was at a farewell gathering for my cousin Ms Tiebo Mugo who was flying to the US for further studies that night. Pinto (in the company of Mwinga Chokwe, another Manda Island detainee) cut an unforgettable image - a tall, immaculately dressed man, savouring the moment, the local KANU youths breaking into a song in praise of his heroic role in the Mau Mau struggle and that of Chokwe and Mugo Muratha. Pinto introduced Mugo Muratha to Professor Carl G Rosberg, and he was to become the main consultant and contact to freedom fighters and nationalists interviewed for the book The Myth of Mau Mau, co-authored by Rosberg and John Nottingham, who did so much to testify in the case over Mau Mau reparations in London between 2009 and 2011.

Independence was some two years away and Jomo Kenyatta was still in detention, but the three ex-Manda detainees were treated every bit as victors.  In our community, just out of Nairobi in the then Kiambu district, Pinto’s death was therefore received with grief and tears, disbelief and anger. Tiebo kept in touch with Emma Pinto when she moved to Canada and we both met her when she revisited Kenya for the first time in 2005.  For any right-thinking person Pinto’s life and contribution to Kenya deserves even more honour than Awaaz and a street named in his honour have done, as do his errors if one is to be objective. But some of what your issue carried, I am afraid, will not help that cause.

In vulgar and condescending terms, Fernandes states that in the early days of Kenyan independence (presumably 1964 to 1968) “most people in Kenya did not give a fart for the differences between African socialism and communism”. Yet writing in the Daily Nation on 26 November, 2007 just before the horrific ethnic violence that was to overtake Kenya, Hilary Ng’weno, producer of a riveting documentary on Pinto, reminded us that even though one could tell the political inclination of most Kenyans on the basis of their ethnic origin today, this was not the case in the first five years of independence: Kenyan politicians then were split ideologically between socialists, influenced by Soviet-bloc nationalization, large state farms and collectivised agriculture (with furtive funding from Soviet-bloc and Chinese sources), and status quo pro-capitalists with faith in a “mixed economy” with cooperatives, some state-owned firms, and the traditional redistributive African values that they called “African Socialism” (with secretive Western support of course). Pinto was the one-main brain-trust behind the first group, but this should never have been a reason to eliminate him. Anyone with the patience to wade through archived issues of the pro-settler Kenya Weekly News, Sunday Post, Daily Nation, the East African Standard, the East African Journal, Transition and the Kenya parliament’s Hansard will testify to that vigorous debate on the two alternatives. The reality that comes out of these archives is not, as Cyprian Fernandes puts it, “that most people believed communism and socialism were one and the same”.

And it gets more complicated. In his memoirs Joseph Murumbi, took the position against both sides.  He distanced himself from the Kenyatta-Mboya ‘Sessional Paper Number 10’ on African Socialism because it fell short of the UK Labour Party welfare-state socialism that he had come to admire in post-war London, and because it seemed to tolerate the unbridled acquisition of private property dominated by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu.  But he was also impatient with the Eastern bloc communism of the time, much as he believed that Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was a caring nationalist if he could be weaned out of Soviet-bloc funding.  Murumbi also predicted that Tanzania’s experimentation with collectivised ‘Ujamaa’ villages and nationalization of industries would be an economic disaster in the end, and history has proved him right. 

In the long span of time since the 1960s, history has settled the 1960s development ideology debate in favour of market capitalism with state planning as the best driver of economic rapid growth with poverty reduction as one can see in the East Asian ‘tigers’ and in contemporary China. But it would be fair to add that in 1965, the long-term results of choices favoured by the two sides (and those in between) were not so obvious.

 For a journalist Fernandes plays fast and loose with such facts. He writes that Oginga Odinga was “a true socialist or a closet capitalist” which is a contradiction in terms.  His articles insinuate that Murumbi, Odinga and Oneko knew that the “Kiambu mafia” were responsible for Pinto’s assassination but each “said nothing” contrary to all records referred to above and elsewhere.  Again, he writes that as of Pinto’s death in 1965, “Tanzania had gone socialist” which in fact did not happen until after the Arusha Declaration in April 1967. 

But he is at his most egregious in describing how Kenyatta and his greedy Kikuyus obtained access to choice land immediately after independence—the “Kikuyu land-grabbing” that he says Pinto opposed. In fact to the extent that the Kenya left as of 1965 was concerned about land policy, it was advocating state farms and collectives on the large-sale farms still mostly in the hands of European settlers and companies. Land settlement of African smallholders on the European-owned ‘mixed-farms’ (i.e., those mostly combining food crops and livestock) under what became the Million-Acre Scheme in 1962 with World Bank and Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) funds had commenced even before Kenyatta was released in 1961, as at Muguga and Lari Jet Schemes.  This easing out of the economically-weaker segment of European mixed-farmers and land re-settlement on that land by African farmers with loans from the two sources of funding cited here was what Garry Wasserman called ‘the independence bargain’ between Britain and the Kenyan nationalists. 

By the time independence came at the end of 1963, the settlement schemes had already taken off  at Nyandarua (Kikuyu), Lugari (Luhya), Kipakaren Ndalat, Lessos and Ainabkoi (Nandi and Elgeyo), Muhoroni (Luo), Sotik (Kipsigis and Kisii), Mua Hills and Lukenya (Kamba). External funding was to end after the recommendations of the Stamp Commission of 1964. But what irked the bitterest critics of settlement schemes on the left like Bildad Kaggia (and later J M Kariuki) was that Africans were being asked to pay for land that was theirs in the first place.  Henceforth, in any case, the remaining white-owned land was to be exchanged via the market on a willing-seller-willing-buyer - some of it done transparently by individuals or cooperatives (like Mbo-i-Kamiti); someone of it was indeed acquired by influential Africans under clear abuse of office as Fernandes implies. 

The buying out of the European settlers and resettlement by Africans on credit was handled by the Settlement Fund Trustees (SFT), under the watch of the World Bank and CDC. It was a ‘white highlands’ fund and as Karuti Kanyinga has shown very little if any of its proceeds were applied to land settlement schemes at the coast. Of the 25 coastal settlement schemes established at the coast since the 1950s, only one (Mpeketoni) involved mainly-Kikuyu farmers who after being allocated a start-up kit were left to their own devices.  

Yet, straight faced, Fernandes writes that “the British government bankrolled the funds (Settler Land Transfer Fund) sic for Kenyatta to brilliantly purchase acres of choice arable land and prime coastal land, some of which he then sold to his Kikuyu cohorts at prices below what the Kenya Government (aka Kenyatta)  had paid for them. Thus it was the Kenyan nation that paid for the creation of 20 or so millionaires and 20million beggars.”         

The fanciful rhetoric writ through Fernandes’ article should provoke the sternest objection. For the idea of Kenyatta bequeathing free “choice arable land” to Kikuyu at the Kenya coast and in the Rift Valley has been the standard refrain of those who sought to evict them in those regions by force, fire, murder, rape, and garrotting since 1991, as they did to many other bona fide land buyers in the Rift Valley and Coast from Kisii, Luhya, Luo and other communities, culminating in the massacres of 2008. That Fernandes can get away with a statement like this in Awaaz is a sign of the intellectually pitiful times we live in.

Professor Michael Chege

University of Nairobi.  March 2016 

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