Brief Reflections on 1973

One night in early 1973, a few persons, about twenty, met at the NCCK, the National Christian Council of Kenya, under the shadow of the Uganda Expulsions. Our host was the Reverend Andrew Hake of the Council. We were meeting to consider the Uganda events and its popularity there, and their impact upon Kenya.  As we resumed following a short break in the discussions, Hake ushered in the Kenyan Cabinet Minister, Dr Njoroge Mungai.

‘Do something’, he urged in an even voice with great concern. ‘We are under enormous pressure to do what Uganda has done. We would have a lot of popular support if we did.’ This was his main message. It was the first time the independent Kenyan Government was consulting a group of Asians in any national matter.

The Kenya Government had already chosen the alternative method to rectify the same problem as Uganda had had: the correction of dominance of a key sector of the economy by non-citizens.  Kenya moved through regulatory laws on retail trade and the existing laws pertaining to non-citizen residence and immigration. These were the new Trade Licensing Act and Regulations of 1968, and the consolidated Immigration Act of 1968. 

This had resulted first in the exodus of non-citizens in 1968-1969. But these steps were a slow method. The effect was that even five years later, in 1973, the political task of the transfer of retail trade largely into African hands and the social task of altering popular colonial attitudes against the Asian owners in that sector of the economy, was not complete.  Hence Dr Njoroge Mungai’s words.

Combined with the racially motivated action of the United Kingdom in promulgating its Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1968, all this also left a large number of Asians, nominally British, effectively disowned by the UK Government, practically stateless in Kenya. This also brought about a substantial number of non-citizen Asians in the capital city with neither legal residence nor means of income, nor quick entry into their country of citizenship (UK), a constant presence in the newspapers, in the streets, with misplaced grievances against the Kenya Government.  Together with the unfinished, even though ongoing, transfer of ownership under the above laws and regulations, all this was fodder to politicians seeking populist support and publicity in the media, adversely exacerbating already fragile race relations. Hence the huge pressures on the Kenyan Cabinet. We were fully cognizant of them. 

Amin’s method brought no such pressures on him.  It removed Asian ownership from the retail sector, indeed all sectors. And the overtly racist and inhumane process only brought him larger support.

These contrasting methods still remain options in other jurisdictions. South Africa being the most obvious, facing the same pressures, and with similar constant populist political voices. But it is worth looking more closely at the Kenyan steps in the long-continuing political and social crisis, carrying with it a constant danger of much damage to the state, if mismanaged.

The Kenya Government had not rested with the two principal new sets of laws. Reinforcing these, several support systems had been put into place. Other laws and institutions were established that actively aided the replacing ownership. Loans for capital, and long credit lines were made available through the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC), the Industrial Bank (IDC); additional pressure was put on reluctant private banks to grant more loans to small businesses and small-scale growers; land registration and the issuance of individual titles was accelerated, enabling their use as securities for loans; co-operatives were formed and ongoing support through the Co-operative College of Kenya was ensured; foreclosure on defaults was mediated; training of the management and accounts of small businesses was made routine; national parastatals for the varied small-holder crops were established, and served a critical layer of incoming producers who were not within the purview of the big co-operatives of the colonial period.

The slow Rule of Law as best as human imperfections allow? It eventually resulted with its own distortions, in social injustice. Or, the quicker, but abrupt and illegal expulsion?  It eventually resulted in no justice for any class at all. But was it all a reminder that serious political action requires an understanding of the boundaries which reality imposes around us, as the Italian thinker pointed out a while ago.

After the Minister spoke, he moved among us hearing different views, and then left. The meeting did not continue for long after that. I cannot remember if we arrived at any solutions, recommendations or a course of action as a follow up. Memory has faded. And then we left.


Rummaging memory, as we turned the corners,
Following turns of roads imperfectly recalled,
We wondered how it would be now.
We were searching not only for a house,
But whether it could be home again;
Whether, in restoring the remembered maroon
To the roof of corrugated sheets we see rusted through,
Or adding to the picture,
The outside staircase we had known, now missing,
We could put back too the belonging,
The wanting,
As we searched in the rubble of history
For love and loveliness again.

                                                   –   PHEROZE NOWROJEE


From the lakeside shore
The undulations continue.
Waves of green rise inland,
Merging into mists that resolve into hills.

On these hills, kingdoms lay,
Carpeting the earth with the rich down
Of trimmed thatch,
The heights made higher with crowns
And the households of queens
Petrified with camp followers into towns.
Then as invading arms
Broke palaces and dynasties,
These darkened into tombs,
And the royal court into a death watch.

Over them the heat lies.
Yoked to its weight
The blood slows,
Effort stays.
The countryside
And the awaited return of history
Simmer in the afternoons.

Over them the warm nights arch.
Dark skies and, in them,
Bright stars, sparkling close,
While the broad-leafed shadows pendulate
And the sleeping plantains stir.

But higher still, over heaven itself,
Over the distancing space,
Across alien seas,
Over absence,
Over time itself,
The awe of kings.

                                                   –   PHEROZE NOWROJEE


  • A Senior Counsel, is a human rights lawyer and author of Pio Gama Pinto: Patriot for Social Justice (Nairobi, Longhorn/Sasa Sema Books, 2007).

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