Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Cover of the book 'Yesterday in Paradise' by Cyprian Fernandes. PHOTO| COURTESY
Yesterday in Paradise: 1950-1974 is a part memoir and a part tribute to some admirable politicians, sportsmen and journalists of Kenya’s immediate post-independence history. At the tender age of 12, Cyprian Fernandes was arrested and held prisoner during a random scoop in Eastleigh that targeted the Mau Mau. That was the 1950s, around the time that Cyprian’s memoir begins with tragic poverty in the family. It was the tenacious strength of the mother, Rosa Maria Fernandes, that held the six siblings together. They survived in the poor Asian-Somali mixed neighbourhood of Eastleigh.
The memoir ends around 1974 when the author had to flee his birth land because “there was a bullet to his name”. It’s a hard story of a young Nation reporter chasing the truth in the midst of the politicians’ looting spree and several assassinations of those who spoke against the regime’s misrule. It was the birth of Kenya as we know today — third on the Corruption Index, a clique of millionaires while the majority live in abject poverty.
At 13, Cyprian left school because his integrity was questioned and he refused the punishment for stealing altar wine that he did not. He had the stubbornness and courage to defy Father Hannan, the principal of St Teresa’s Boys. It was that 13-year old boy lying he was 22 who entered adult life. He went on to become one of the best investigative journalists in Kenya. His lived his formative years during the one party democracy, when writers, artists, journalists and intellectuals were detained or had to flee into exile. It was a time of fear and silence as Ngugi wa Thiong’o puts it.
DISCUSSED IN PARLIAMENT
At one point Cyprian was even discussed in Parliament and was nearly deported as was the rule then when Asian Africans disagreed with politicians. But Cyprian would not be corrupted by any of the big fish. At times he was called ‘an imperialist stooge’ to his face. This was ironic for the politicians were, in fact, the real stooges of the western imperialism. His interrogation by the minister for Information, Zachary Onyoka, is revealing (Chapter 10, Interrogation). “I can have you killed in five minutes! ... you pundas, don’t you know that I have the power to cancel Fernandes’ citizenship and deport him to Britain?”
There are some illuminating details about Pio Gama Pinto’s life in the book. How he worked underground supplying arms to the Mau Mau, perhaps in cohort with the Indian High Commissioner Apa Pant, whose residence in Muthaiga was raided by the colonial police in spite of diplomatic immunity. One critical question that the author asks that has been left unsolved is: Where were the Mau Mau getting financial and material help from? He suspected some Indians in Kenya and the Indian government but he could not verify this.
The book fills in some details about Pio Gama Pinto and Joe Rodrigues, the controversial editor of The Nation, that even their spouses did not know. He shows admiration for the two patriots not because they were Goans like he is, but because as journalists, they had their hearts on their profession, and for the country.
The author accolades Joseph Murumbi, the one time vice-president of Kenya with ‘socialist leanings’ and Njioroge Mungai, the powerful Minister of Defence and a close ally of Kenyatta and his notorious Kiambu group. History, however, remembers the two parliamentarians who did not stand up against the assassinations, the massive land grabbing, corruption and greed of the Kenyatta family, and the brutality of the police state in the making.
There are insights that Cyprian gives about The Nation in 1960s and early 1970s. It was the newspaper that was formative in guiding the mind of the nation as it came to hold it’s own reins. It was the time when the newspaper wrenched the tightly held power of journalism from the hands of the Europeans and put it into the hands of Kenyans. In the process, as one reads between lines in Cyprian’s book, The Nation developed the Kenyan brand of journalism while learning to negotiate with the state’s meddling and getting through what needs to be said to the wananchi. In the youthful and vivacious media house, there were also small but telling incidents of racism, corruption and harassment of junior staff.
WITNESSED IDI AMIN'S MASSACRES
Cyprian Fernandes was probably the first journalist to witness Idi Amin’s massacres. He was frog-marched to Idi Amin and made to sit before him and listen to ‘his lies’ for two and a half hours! The dictator wanted his story as the saviour of Uganda to be reported by The Nation. Cyprian, having narrowly escaped, filed the breaking news report. Unfortunately, his boss Boaz Omori, tore the negatives, destroying the evidence that he had collected risking his life — a clear indication of Kenya’s hand in the controlling the media and planting Idi Amin in Uganda with the aid of the British and US.
He pays tribute to Goan Olympians, and briefly mentions the Goan civil society working for the welfare of the poor, the church and education. It’s contribution has been enormous but little known perhaps because the institutions that they created or helped to strengthen bear the names of saints and come under the Church. There is also a suggestion of the community feeling itself superior to other Asians as the English speaking Christians and the Empire’s pet children.
Had Rufina Fernandes, Cyprian’s wife to whom the book is dedicated, not pleaded with him to leave the country when it was intimated to her that he had ‘a bullet to his name’, I doubt Skippy would have left Kenya. He earnestly felt it was his professional duty to stay and tell the truth. His powerful politician friends did not come to save him. Perhaps, they no longer found use for the reporter to prop their own schemes.
What Cyprian’s mother, the lady with ‘dynamite eyes’ and ‘vice-like grip’ said about her son to Father Hannan, who wanted to strip and beat him, as was his habit, was what he was. Speaking in Swahili mixed with broken English, she said “You won’t stop him, Father. If he has made up his mind to leave (school), he will leave. If he says he did not steal your wine, he did not steal your wine. You must believe him.”
I was Cyprian’s classmate. We were in the first term Form I, elated to be in the Secondary stream and fresh from our success in the Kenya Asian Preliminary Examination (KAPE). The year was 1957.
1954-1974 Yesterday in Paradise is material for an intriguing movie based on the life of an investigative Kenyan journalist. It’s the story of a 16-year-old boy that John Bierman, the fearless founding editor of The Nation, called “the biggest conman I have ever seen” and gave him the job.
Sultan Somjee was the Head of Ethnography, National Museums of Kenya (1994-2000) and is the Founder Community Peace Museums of Kenya
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Yesterday in Paradise:
Goa'n to Kenya: stories of another era
Goan migrants to Bombay might be the most numerous, those to the Gulf probably saw the biggest changes happen in their lifestyles, while recent migrants to Britain have undeniably taken their Konkani culture to places like Swindon in rather unique ways.
Yet, for some reason, the Goan expatriate in Africa has been often discussed, written about and focussed on. Among the Goan 'Africander' in ex-British East Africa, those from Kenya seem to retain the highest profile.
Along comes a new book by former journalist Cyprian Fernandes, on the Goan experience in Nairobi and other aspects of life in that country. It's called 'Yesterday in Paradise: 1950-1974' and promises "a memoir filled with prejudice, murder, conflict and more". So, does Sydney-based Fernandes achieve his goal?
If you dive in to Chapter 14, you encounter "Idi Amin, Milton Obote". Which Africander Goan would not have their lives touched by these names? This chapter starts off with Obote calling Fernandes a "colonial stooge", apparently for asking inconvenient questions while both were in Singapore. Soon, a drunk South African seaman tells Fernandes sneeringly that "another black gorilla has come to power in Africa". In no time, Milton Obote (who has just lost power) and Cyprian Fernandes are back, on the same plane mind you, headed for Africa.
Without visas, Fernandes says, he crosses the Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania borders. He is apparently having one hell of an adventurous time when four armed soldiers rush in, and tell him: "You must come with us."
For a while, Fernandes lets us think that he is about to meet his maker. But, of course, he didn't, otherwise we wouldn't have got this far with his story. What comes out next is an amazing mix of bravado, bluster and .... I won't say bull, because to verify his story all one needs to do is to somehow access the newspapers of those times in some dusty library, and you'll get to know.
In Cyprian's life, incidents are invariably king sized. Here's another description of his encounter with that Ugandan military dictator who would soon hound off an estimated 50,000 South Asians from his country: "I sat there for nearly two and half hours and listened to a pack of lies.... I liked the guy. He was simple but sincere, and he appeared genuine about cleaning up Uganda."
In case you were wondering about his own link with journalism, Fernandes gives the background. The oldest frontline newspaper in Kenya, the East African Standard, was an out and out White British settler newspaper. Once the Aga Khan launched the Daily and Sunday newspapers, some space opened up. The Daily Nation gave Kenyans "a taste of what real press freedom was about" (p.107) he writes.
This is the kind of book that you can read at a stretch, or just dive in, whichever part catches your fancy. On nights when my 13-year-old was in a rebellious mood and keen to avoid his reading quota, I'd pluck out a chapter from here, and chances are he'd be quickly drawn in to the story from another continent, another culture and another century.
In 22 short chapters, Fernandes tells the story of the situations he encountered. In the media world, the Goans of Kenya, and amidst dramatic times overall. The first few chapters have titles such as Goan Migration, Nairobi -- the Early Days, Eastleigh -- Unforgettable, and St Teresa's.
Never a dull moment here. On Page 8, we come across a poltergeist wrecking violent havoc on the home of Fernandes' young schoolmate. As if that's not enough, this is the home of someone "with blue eyes, honey blonde locks and long sexy legs; she was, to me, the most beautiful girl in the world".
Fernandes, like any good journalist, quotes writers whose words then give a background into people, places and situations. He gives a hint to what happened to some of the peaceful Goan preserves of the yesteryears. ("Today, in 2016, Eastleigh and its surroundings are called Little Mogadishu where it is rumoured Somali Al-Shabaab terrorists come for R&R...")
Fernandes takes up the story, warts and all. He is critical of some aspects of the Goan society -- mostly glossed over otherwise. He talks about the struggle of deprived families (like his) to make it, and the geographical (yes, Bardez versus Salcete) bias carried over to the Africa of those times. Contrary to Goan public opinion of the era, he attempts to understand what the Kikuyu were really fighting for, and de-mythify the rebels' oathing ceremonies. Fernandes' encounter with British colonialism is one you don't normally hear of. His own story of his humble mother struggling to make it (p.12) is amazing.
Fernandes -- Skip to his friends, after an American film character -- comes across as a young lad who lived an adventurous life. He apparently kept on in that trajectory, if you buy his narration, and lived to tell the story! His friends come from diverse backgrounds, and his involvement with the African world does appear untypical compared to the Goan experiences of the times.
His stories are one more incredible than the other -- how he got thrown out (in some way) of home and school, how he talked himself into a bank job at 13 (and lost it), how he fibbed his way to his first newspaper jobs... and lot more. It's hard to make up your mind on whether Fernandes is terribly unlucky, or just the opposite, managing to bounce back from almost any tough situation. There are lessons to be learnt from his chance entry into journalism; likewise from the fact that he was a 'bookaholic'.
Expect to hear some insider's stories into the life and times of The Nation newspaper, and the men (only men) who made it. In 1972, Fernandes was in Munich, where else, when Palestinian militants struck the Olympics contestants there. His encounters with politicians are unbelievable, and so is his story of why he left Africa.
His profiles of some prominent persons are touching and lively. Among these are Joe Rodrigues "the finest South Asian journalist in Kenya" and brother of Gen. Sunith Rodrigues; the part-Goan Vice President Joe Zuzarte Murumbi; the Black Liberation supporter and Kenyan nationalist Pio Gama Pinto; and even an allegedly paedophile priest. His writing style tends to create characters we feel we somehow know.
Chatting about this book via cyberspace, my co-villager Tony, also ex-Kenya but now based in London, called it "unputdownable". Fernandes himself claims his first boss in journalism give him a sports copy to rewrite saying: "Make it bright and interesting, use a little fiction if you need to, just this once." Before recommending this book, let's hear what the others who know the Kenyan reality well say.... Just this once.
Yesterday in Paradise: 1950-1974
Balboa Press, 2016
Friday, November 25, 2016
Next January, it will be 46 years since one of the more horrific events and its aftermath in Africa: The coup by Idi Amin.
A long read, but for history's sake and the "unforgotten".
A long read, but for history's sake and the "unforgotten".
By Pat Hutton and Jonathan Bloch
That Idi Amin was a brutal dictator of extraordinary cruelty is well known and becomes more so as the tally of his victims, according to conventional accounts, topped over 100,000 between 1971-75. What is less known is the role of the British government and its allies not only in maintaining Amin's machinery of repression but in actually establishing him in power. Although Amin later became alienated from his Western friends, we can show here that the break between him and Britain became complete only when his fall (on April 10, 1979) was imminent, and that regarding him as the least evil option from the point of view of British interests, London actively helped keep him in power.
The tale of how the Western powers took measures to reverse the decline of their fortunes in Africa during the 1960s is complex in detail but simple in principle. In Uganda, once dubbed the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, huge British financial, industrial and agricultural interests were under threat from the Obote government.
Unease about Obote's intentions was combined with attempts by outside interests to ingratiate themselves. Obote accepted aid from the Israel government, which was desperately trying to avoid total diplomatic isolation while being used as a proxy by the United States in countries where its own reputation was tarnished.
The Americans and Israelis worked in very close co-operation in Uganda, particularly through their respective intelligence agencies, the CIA and Mossad. Washington provided some development aid while Israeli troops trained the Ugandan army and airforce. The British economic and political presence was always predominant and this was one of the situations that Obote hoped to change.
Throughout the late 1960s, Obote was consolidating his personal power and introducing legislation that was to shake the colonial interests. Although Obote was no Fidel Castro or Julius Nyerere [president ofTanzania], his Common Man's Charter and the nationalisation of 80 British companies were not welcome in London.
As one prominent commentator put it: The Obote government was on the point of changing not only the constitution but the whole political system when [Amin's] coup occurred.
A vital source of raw materials, Uganda was not about to be permitted to determine its own political development at the expense of the entrenched interests. Soon, plans were being laid by Britain in combination with Israel and America to remedy this situation.
The grand plan
The first task was to choose Obote's possible successor, and Idi Amin proved an obvious choice. Known by the British as a little short on the grey matter though intensely loyal to Britain, his qualifications were superb. He had started his career as a non-commissioned officer in the British colonial regiment, the King's African Rifles, and later served in the British suppression of Kenyan nationalists in the late 1950s (mistakenly known as the Mau Mau rebellion).
In Uganda itself, Amin had helped form the General Service Units (the political police) and had even chosen the presidential bodyguard. Some have said Amin was being groomed for power as early as 1966 (four years after Ugandan independence on October 9, 1962), but the plotting by the British and others began in earnest in 1969 when Obote started his nationalisation program.
The plotting was based in southern Sudan, in the midst of a tribe that counted Amin among its members. Here, the Israel government had been supporting a secessionist movement called the Anya-Nya against the Arab-leaning Sudanese government, in an effort to divert Arab military forces from Israel's western front with Egypt during the no peace, no war period of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
One of those helping the Anya-Nya was Rolf Steiner, a German mercenary veteran of several wars, who told of his time there in a book published in 1978, The Last Adventurer. Steiner said that he had been introduced to representatives of the giant Roman Catholic charity, Caritas International, and referred by them to two British men who would help him provide assistance to the Anya-Nya. They also suggested that Steiner keep in touch with a British mercenary called Alexander Gay.
Steiner had made Gay's acquaintance when they were both serving as mercenaries on the Biafran side during the Nigerian civil war. A former bank clerk, Gay had fought in the Congo from 1965 to 1968 and then in Nigeria, where he met the famous novelist Frederic Forsyth, then a war correspondent.
Forsyth had stood bail and given character references for Gay in November 1973 when Gay was tried for making a false statement to obtain a passport and for possession of a pistol, ammunition and gelignite (a type of dynamite).
On conviction, Gay was sentenced only to a fine and a suspended sentence. One of the factors leading to this leniency may have been that the British Special Branch had praised him in court and testified that he had provided information which was great and considerable help to Western powers.
However, back in East Africa, Gay, Steiner and their British mercenary friends established themselves in southern Sudan with a radio link to their other base in the Apollo Hotel in Kampala, Uganda. But Steiner said he did not know of the real intentions of his British colleagues until he heard Gay had been casting aspersions on him to the Anya-Nya leadership.
In a confrontation over this, Steiner forced Gay to tell him what his real task was—to overthrow or assassinate Obote. The British government had no interest in supporting a southern Sudanese secession and was only using the Anya-Nya as cover for its plans for the future of Uganda.
Steiner said that he wanted to know more, so he made Gay come with him to Kampala to search the room of one of their British colleagues at the Apollo Hotel, Blunden (a pseudonym Steiner uses for this former British diplomat now turned mercenary). They came away with a mass of coded documents detailing the British plot that had been transmitted to London by the British embassy.
Steiner says in his book that Gay explained to him why Obote's successor had been chosen, saying: Blunden told me that the British knew Idi Amin well and he was their first choice because he was the stupidest and the easiest to manipulate. As Steiner remarks: Events were later to prove who was the most stupid.
Little more is known about this episode except that Steiner claims that Blunden was operating an airline called Southern Air Motive, and had planned the December 18, 1969, assassination attempt on Obote. It has since been independently confirmed that Gay and Blunden were working for British intelligence, and also that Steiner found British intelligence code books at the Apollo Hotel.
The Israeli connection
That it was the Israelis who were providing so much help to the Anya-Nya while the Britons plotted against Obote lends support to the allegations of a former CIA official in March 1978 that Amin's coup was planned by British intelligence in cooperation with Israeli intelligence. Amin was known to have visited southern Sudan at least twice in 1970, once in disguise, and was in constant touch with the Anya-Nya rebels.
One of Amin's Israeli friends has spoken of his role in the coup and how he helped Amin. The friend who was a colonel in the Israel army, said that Amin approached him, saying he feared that people loyal to Obote would be able to arrest and kill him before he could secure Kampala. The friend said he told Amin that troops from Amin's own tribe in southern Sudan should be on hand, as well as paratroopers, tanks and jeeps.
Bolstered by the Israeli assistance and the greater power of the Ugandan tank corps, Amin was able to overwhelm the majority of the armed forces loyal to Obote on January 24-25,1971. The Anya-Nya troops were a core of the forces in the Amin coup, and thousands of them later joined the Ugandan army and carried out many of Amin's early bloody purges which saw more than 100,000 Ugandans killed between 1971-75.
The Israelis had clearly been cultivating Amin for some time through their military presence in a manner consistent with their role as US proxies. These times were the heyday of the CIA's worldwide efforts to subvert radical regimes and in Africa to assert the predominance of the US as far as possible. Active in Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria, the United States was also seeking to gain influence in Uganda, especially by means of intelligence officers of the navy and airforce based in Kampala, together with the CIA agents working under the cover of USAID.
One of the features of Amin's coup was its similarity to the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in February 1966. Like Obote, Nkrumah had been putting forward nationalisation measures and, when on a visit abroad (like Obote), was toppled by a coup which had the hands of the CIA all over it. Former CIA officers have since written books crediting the agency with the Ghana coup. Interestingly, Obote was a staunch supporter of Nkrumah who, during his exile in Guinea after his overthrow, recorded in his letters the financial support he had received from Obote's government for his upkeep in Guinea.
The Amin coup
Just a few days before the coup, 700 British troops arrived in neighbouring Kenya. Although they were apparently scheduled to arrive long before, The Sunday Express speculated that they would be used to put down anti-British riots following the decision of the British Conservative government to sell weapons to apartheid South Africa, remarking that the presence of the troops, seemingly co-incidental—could prove providential. The paper added that the British troops would be used if trouble for Britons and British interests starts.
The report was followed two days later, still before the coup, by strenuous denials.
When the coup took place, Obote was attending the Commonwealth conference in Singapore. He was aware that the internal situation in Uganda was not to his advantage and went to the conference only because President Nyerere of Tanzania had impressed on him the importance of being there to help present effective opposition to the British government's arms sales to apartheid South Africa.
The African members of the Commonwealth were piling the pressure on the British government. At a meeting with Zambia's Presidents Kaunda, Nyerere and Obote, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was threatened with the withdrawal of those countries from the Commonwealth should the South African arms decision go through. During this tempestuous meeting, Heath is reported to say: I wonder how many of you will be allowed to return to your own countries from this conference.
When Amin finally struck, the British press claimed that a Ugandan sergeant-major operating a telephone exchange had overheard a conversation concerning plans by Obote supporters in the army to move against Amin. Upon hearing the news, Amin moved into action, quickly seizing all strategic points in Uganda. Apart from the fact that the army would not have attempted to remove Amin in the absence of Obote, this version ignores the British and Israeli plans.
On Amin's accession to power, all was sweetness and light between him and the British establishment. Britain very quickly recognised Amin's regime, exactly one week after the coup. And he was hailed as a conquering hero in the British press. But even the US government considered the British recognition of Amin as showing unseemly haste.
In London, The Times commented: The replacement of Dr Obote by General Amin was received with ill-concealed relief in Whitehall. Other British press comments included, Good luck to General Amin (the Daily Telegraph); Military men are trained to act. Not for them the posturing of the Obotes and Kaundas who prefer the glory of the international platform rather than the dull but necessary tasks of running a smooth administration (the Daily Express); and more in the same vein.
Not surprisingly, Amin supported Edward Heath's stand on selling arms to apartheid South Africa, breaking the unified opposition of the states at the Singapore Commonwealth conference.
Amin also denationalised several of the British companies taken over under Obote, and in July 1971 came to London where he had lunch with the queen and meetings with Heath's cabinet. But the seeds of discord between Britain and Amin were being sown as he began to fail to live up to their expectations of servility.
After the coup, Uganda was granted 10 million pounds in economic aid (to be administered by Britain), in addition to 15 Ferret and 36 Saladin armoured cars, other military equipment and a training team for the Ugandan army.
However, Amin resented the fact that Britain would not give him fighter aircraft and other sophisticated equipment to help his expansionist ambitions. In particular, Amin had plans for an invasion of Tanzania, so that he could have a port on the east coast of his own.
For help in this project, which was becoming an obsession, Amin then turned to Israel. He asked for Phantom jet fighters and other sophisticated weapons, permission for which would have been required from the US government.
Saying that the request went beyond the requirements of legitimate self-defence, Israel refused Amin, which probably was a factor in the expulsion of the Israelis from Uganda in April 1972.
Although short of the hardware necessary, Amin was well supplied with strategic advice. This came from another collaborator with British intelligence, a British major who lived on the Kagera River, on the border with Tanzania, where Amin used to come to visit him frequently by helicopter.
This former officer in the Seaforth Highlanders had been a member of the International Commission of Observers sent to the Nigeria civil war to investigate charges of genocide, but he was sacked amid allegations that he had offered his services to the Nigerian federal government as a mercenary.
But at a National Insurance Tribunal in England, where he was protesting his dismissal and claiming compensation, the major explained that his real role in Nigeria was to collect intelligence for the British government and offer strategic military advice to the Nigerian federal forces. In spite of strenuous denials from the Foreign Office, the tribunal accepted the major's story and described him as a frank and honest witness.
It is not known whether the major's activities on behalf of Amin were officially sanctioned by the British government, or parts of it, but his role seems to have been similar to the part he played in Nigeria. At any rate, the major took Amin's invasion plan of Tanzania seriously, undertaking spying missions to Tanzania to reconnoitre the defences and terrain in secret.
He supplied Amin with a strategic and logistical plan to the best of his abilities, and although lack of hardware was an obstacle, evidence that Amin never gave up the idea came in the fact that the invasion of Uganda by Tanzanian and exiled Ugandan anti-Amin forces in late 1978 which eventually brought his rule to an end on April 10, 1979, was immediately preceded by an abortive invasion of Tanzania by Amin's army.
In the manner which characterised the major's behaviour after the Nigerian episode, he did not maintain discretion when back in England. He wanted to publish his story of cooperation with Amin in the Daily Express, but this was scotched by an interesting move by the British government -- a D-Notice banning the story on grounds of national security.
Beginning with his purges of the army, later extending them to those who had carried out the purges, the ferocity and cruelty of Amin's rule increased steadily—most of it performed by the dreaded Public Safety Unit, the State Research Centre and various other bodies. These received training assistance and supplies from Britain and the US.
In July 1978, the US columnist Jack Anderson revealed that 10 of Amin's henchmen from the Public Safety Unit were trained at the International Police Academy in the exclusive Washington suburb of Georgetown. The CIA-run academy was responsible for training police officers from all over the world until its closure in 1975.
Three of the Ugandans continued their studies at a graduate school, also run by the CIA, called the International Police Services Inc. Shortly after the Amin coup, the CIA had one full-time police instructor stationed in Uganda. Controversy raged in the United States in the use of equipment sold to Uganda. Twelve of these were police helicopter pilots for American Bell helicopters that had been delivered in 1973.
Security equipment of various types also found its way to Uganda from Britain, and most came as a result of the groundwork done by another collaborator of British intelligence, Bruce Mackenzie, an ex-RAF pilot and long-serving adviser to President Kenyatta of Kenya.
Mackenzie also doubled as the East African agent for a giant British electronics firm, based in London, dealing in telecommunications. Trade in radio transmitters and other devices continued right up to Amin's fall from power. Though Mackenzie had died when a bomb planted by Amin's police exploded in his private plane, the trade with the electronics firm continued nonetheless.
Several times a week, Ugandan Airlines' planes would touch down at Stansted Airport in Essex, England, to unload quantities of tea and coffee and take on board all the necessary supplies for Amin's survival.
In spite of all the revelations of the nature of Amin's dictatorship and his dependency on the Stansted shuttle, it continued right up to February 1979, when the British government ended it in an extraordinary piece of opportunism. The chief advantage of the shuttle to Amin was that it obviated the need for foreign exchange, for which Uganda had virtually none.
In June 1977, the Sunday Times revealed that the Ugandan planes to Stansted were picking up Land Rovers (28 were delivered), one of them specially converted and bristling with sophisticated electronic equipment for monitoring broadcasts, jamming and other capabilities.
The cargo spotlighted by the Sunday Times also included a mobile radio studio, which is almost certainly where Amin was continuing to assert over the airwaves that he was in control long after he had been ousted from Kampala.
At the same time, an extensive relationship between Uganda and the Crown Agents, the trading agency with strong links in Britain's former colonies, was exposed. Crown Agents had arranged a deal for Amin to buy 120 three-ton trucks made in Luton. The trucks were thought to have been converted for military purposes before being shipped out. The British firm that supplied the electronic equipment and another firm in the same field had also supplied Amin's State Research Centre with telephone-tapping equipment, night-vision devices, burglar alarms and anti-bomb blankets.
When the Liberal MP David Steel questioned Labour Party Prime Minister Jim Callaghan about this, all that the prime minister had to say was that the devices were intended to track down television licence dodgers. To add to this, it was said that after the Entebbe raid by Israeli troops, the radar damaged there was sent to England for repair.
The principal value of the Stansted shuttle was to maintain Amin's system of privileges, vital for retaining the allegiance of the Ugandan army. His power elite, consisting of army officers not subject to the stringent rationing imposed on the rest of the population, depended on the goods brought in on the Stansted shuttle.
During times of the frequent and widespread shortages of basic commodities linked to inflation of around 150%, the officers could use the British goods to make their fortunes on the black market.
A further aspect of the Stansted shuttle involved British, US and Israeli intelligence: this was in the provision of the planes. According to the Washington Post's Bernard Nossiter, Pan Am was instructed by the CIA to sell several Boeing 707s to a New York-based Israeli company with former US defence department connections. The company was owned by an Israeli multimillionaire with a vast commercial empire.
The company sold one of the Boeings to a small firm based in Switzerland, which passed the plane on to Amin in May 1976. The function of the Swiss-based company was to act as a laundry for the financing of projects backed by Israeli intelligence.
In 1977, the Israeli company which had originally bought the plane from Pan Am, wanted to sell another Boeing to Uganda Airlines, but with the notoriety of Amin's regime getting worse, the company feared losing the US State Department approval it had won for the first deal.
The plane was thus sold to another company housed in the same building in New York as the Israeli company, which then leased the plane to Uganda Airlines. The two companies had close ties, and the purpose of this extraordinary generosity was to spy on the Libyan military airfield in Benghazi, where the planes always refuelled before going on to Stansted.
Both Israeli and US intelligence provided navigators for the planes to spy on the airfield and make reports which were shared out among Israeli, US and British intelligence agencies. The information was probably of very little use, since the Libyans almost certainly knew of the presence of the navigators on the planes. But Amin was getting a very cheap service for the coffee and tea bound for London and the other goods that returned. Washington also provided pilots for the planes. A California-based company supplied the pilots acting as a subcontractor.
Britain, a friend to the last
In general, the British government's attitude to Amin's regime was neatly summed up by The Times when Amin had just expelled Uganda's Asians on August 9, 1972: The irony is that if President Amin were to disappear, worse might ensue, The Times said. In a similar comment, exemplifying the relationship with Amin as being the devil you know, The Economist stated: The last government to want to be rid of Amin is the British one.
This attitude persisted even beyond the break in Ugandan-British diplomatic relations in July 1976, as shown by the fact that the Stansted shuttle continued. Important political commentators in the British press believed that London would not impose sanctions on Uganda under Amin, since this might set a precedent for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Britain plainly considered the bad image consequent on maintaining links with Amin not as serious as the consequences of breaking links with South Africa.
Nonetheless, as the body count of Amin's victims—former friends, members of the clergy, soldiers and mostly ordinary people—mounted daily, stock should have been taken of those who helped Amin stay where he was and turned a blind eye to the amply documented brutality of his regime.
Thirty years on, no such stock has been taken and Amin continues to be cast as the demented dictator who had no friends.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
1950 – 1974 Yesterday in Paradise
By Cyprian Fernandes
Balboa Press 2016. (Available at Amazon.com.)
Pages 219 with 18 pages of photographs
Price $ 17.99
Cyprian Fernandes’ 1950 – 1974 Yesterday in Paradise (Balboa Press 2016) is his story set among essays on immediate post-independence (1963) political, sports and media personalities. Reading the book, I found myself deeply involved. Perhaps, it maybe because I lived the era. Perhaps, because I felt the connection with his story. He was in class with me at St Teresa’s Boys School in Nairobi.
I started to write a review and it turned out to be a conversation with a friend. I wanted to talk to Skippy, as I knew him in school, and say: “Hey, Skippy! I didn’t know you were arrested and held prisoner during one of those random scoops in Eastleigh that targeted the Mau Mau.” That was the 1950s when there was an armed rebellion against the British in Kenya. That’s around the time when Cyprian’s memoir begins with tragic poverty in the family. The six siblings were without food and with no shelter over their heads. The mother grabbed whatever mean and manual jobs that came by her in the poor Asian and Somali mixed neighbourhood of Eastleigh. The tenacious strength of the mother, Rosa Maria Fernandes, held the family together and they survived.
1950 – 1974 Yesterday in Paradise, is a memoir in part and in part it pays tribute to some admirable politicians, sportsmen and journalists of Kenya’s immediate post-independence history. It ends around 1974 when the author had to flee his birth land because his life was in danger. The front cover can be deceptive because it has the iconic pictures of Kenya’s wildlife. Perhaps, it’s that nostalgia of the paradise lost that was yesterday that the pictures reflect for the book has nothing idyllic in it. It’s a hard story of an investigative journalist to reach the truth in the newly independent African state ruled by a corrupt despot and his cronies. In the early 1960s young Cyprian would chase the truth behind the rumours and hints that come to him about missing public funds. He would attempt to expose them and would have some miraculous escapes. All this in midst of several assassinations of politicians who opposed Kenyatta’s misrule and the huge amassing of illegible wealth and land grab by the political elite, their families and their close circle of clansmen and friends. That was what The Truth and Reconciliation Commission would find out fifty year later and The Nation would report in 2013. That was the birth Kenya today – third on the Corruption Index, a clique of millionaires and the majority living in abject poverty.
At thirteen Cyprian left school because his integrity was questioned and he refused the punishment for stealing altar wine that he did not. We were in the same class and I had presumed or most likely heard that Cyprian was expelled because of disobedience. A cardinal sin in the mission school at the time. Only Skippy had that stubbornness, courage and a mindset that defied Father Hannan, the principal of St Teresa’s Boys, who we thought was formidable and feared the very sight of him. It was that will power of the stubborn thirteen year old who entered adult life lying he was twenty two. He never gave up and led on to be one of the most admirable investigative journalists that The Nation (1963-1974) has ever produced and one of the most principled one in the profession that Kenya has ever seen.
Reading on, I would exclaim, “Wow! What audacity!” Cyprian had the nerve to report on the hypocrisy and corruption of the politicians at the time of the rise of African nationalism when the politicians were so full of hot headed arrogance. The President and his cabinet bloated with newly acquired power pampered by US and European praise, and lavished with favours to keep the communists at bay from their corporate investments and army bases. At the time of ‘one party democracy’ there was a clamp down on the freedom of expression that the young nation was just beginning to voice. Later, within a short time we saw how the writers, artists, journalists and generally the intellectuals were detained or had to flee into exile. It was the time when a culture of fear and silence developed as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o put it. At one point Cyprian was even discussed in the parliament and was nearly deported as was the rule then when Asian Africans disagreed with the politicians. He writes that it was Njoroge Mungai, one of the core GEMA stalwarts in its making, who defended him. Every politician had Cyprian Fernandes’ name on his lips, perhaps with a hidden hope of using the young Asian reporter at Kenya’s most read newspaper against his opponent. But Cyprian would not be corrupted by any of the big fish. At times he was called ‘an imperialist stooge’ on his face by the high the ranking politicians. This was ironic for they were, in fact, the real stooges of the western imperialism. His interrogation by the Minister of Information, Zachary Onyoka, is revealing (Chapter 10 Interrogation). One day, he was called to the MP’s office together with Jim Glencross, The Sunday Nation editor, and threatened with: “I can have you killed in five minutes! ... you pundas, don’t you know that I have the power to cancel Fernandes’ citizenship and deport him to Britain?” This episode epitomizes not only the behaviour of ministers working for a dictatorship but also the threat that the Asian Africans constantly lived under and curtailing of the freedom of the media.
There are some illuminating details about Pio Gama Pinto’s life in the book. How he worked underground supplying arms to the Mau Mau, perhaps in cohort with the Indian High Commissioner Apa Pant whose residence in Muthaiga was raided by the British police and investigators in spite of the diplomatic immunity of the ambassadors. Pio had a brilliant mind of a strategist and he helped to lay plans for the movement. One critical question that the author asks that has been left unsolved and no doubt he was pursuing as a journalist: Who was supporting the Mau Mau? Where were they getting financial and material help from? He suspected some Indians in Kenya and the Indian government but he could not verify this. I read in a recent article by Sharad Rao, Chairman of the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board, how Ghandian pacifist Ambu Bhai Patel and his wife Lila Ben sent medical supplies to the Mau Mau. Once Ambu Bhai told me how he and his wife hid the urban guerrillas in the water tanks at their home in Eastleigh. Were they coming to get the funds and supplies? He would not tell me. These stories can only be verified now by children of the Indian businessmen and others, especially in the Central Province so we can learn about the intricate network of supply lines from Nairobi to Mt Kenya and the Aberdares. This remains a mystery till today.
1950 – 1974 Yesterday in Paradise brilliantly re-creates the tense atmosphere of the post-independence years in terms of both the vibrancy of nationalism and the looting spree, both of which led to the making of an instant Kenyan bourgeoisie. If one lived through it one would feel it throbbing in Cyprian’s words. However, what we used to hear on the evening news on the just arrived TV in our living rooms that often centred on anti-Asian, anti-Somali or Shifta, and anti-communist harangues was different from what was discussed at The Nation offices on Victoria Street. At least by a handful of calibre journalists. The book fills in personal details about the life of Pio Gama Pinto and Joe Rodrigues, the controversial editor of The Nation that even their spouses, and I would say the major half of the staff at The Nation, did not know or care about. As colleagues do on Friday evenings, Cyprian chatted over beer with the two at Lobster Pot on Victoria Street that was ten minutes’ walk away from The Nation. Cyprian’s writing draws empathy and friendship close to admiration for the two patriots of Kenya not because they were Goans like he is, but because as journalists they sought the truth and had their hearts on their professions and for the country. That meant they found themselves working against the growing misrule, corruption and injustice not to mention the attempted control of the media by Kenyatta’s government. The writer obviously carried the same values and professionalism.
The author pays compliments to Joseph Murumbi the onetime Vice President of Kenya with ‘socialist leanings’. He does the same to Njioroge Mungai, the powerful Minister of Defence and a close ally of Kenyatta and his Kiambu group. They were so close to him that he could walk into their offices. He regrets Joseph Murumbi and Noroje Mungai stepping down from politics as loss to Kenya, and for Kenyans not appreciating what they stood for, what they had achieved and what more they could have achieved had they continued to serve the nation. The two parliamentarians were obviously aware of the assassinations, the massive land grabbing, corruption and greed of the Kenyatta family, his cronies and the brutality of the police state in the making. However, they did not stand up against it or join the opposition as other brave KANU politician did on principle.
There are insights that Cyprian gives about The Nation in 1960s and early 1970s. It was the newspaper that began around the independence time with the birth of the country itself. It was the newspaper that was formative in guiding the mind of the nation as it came to hold its own reins. In the youthful and vivacious media house, there were small but telling incidents of racism, corruption and harassment of junior staff – once Cyprian had to write a report 25 times, ‘a punishment’ that he has not forgotten. In the end his original first draft was published. The criticisms of some personalities are politely rendered that goes with the tone of the book and then quickly passed over to positive aspects of the same personalities. For example, he writes that Gerard Loughran in Birth of a Nation: The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya forgot to mention ‘all the small people who made The Nation what it was.’ Then, in the next paragraph he compliments ‘Gerry’s brilliance as a journalist in writing the book’.
Cyprian Fernandes was probably the first one to see the Tanzanian soldiers digging trenches at the Uganda border in preparation for an invasion of Uganda. He was the first journalist to witness the massacres that had just begun in Uganda and photograph bodies floating in the rivers that came to represent Idi Amin’s regime. He took risks all single handed while the international media journalist would not step there without a backing of a battery of support. He was leap frogged to Idi Amin’s presence and made to sit before him. He listened to ‘his lies’ for two and a half hours! The dictator wanted his story as the saviour of Uganda to be reported in The Nation. When Cyprian, having narrowly escaped, filed the breaking news report that he had already arranged to be on the front page, his boss Boaz Omori, unfortunately tore the negatives destroying the evidence that he had collected risking his life. There is a clear indication of Kenya’s hand in the overthrow of Milton Obote and planting of Idi Amin with the aid of the British and US. It also speaks about the government’s interference with the media. It’s such firsthand witness accounts of an investigative journalist that makes 1954-1974 Yesterday in Paradise a valuable read and record of history.
1954-1974 Yesterday in Paradise is material for an intriguing movie based on the life of an investigative Kenyan journalist at The Nation, the newspaper that wrenched the tightly held power of journalism from the hands of the Europeans and put it into the hands of Asians and Africans. In fact, in the process, The Nation developed the Kenyan brand of journalism while learning to manipulate and negotiate with the state’s meddling of the news and getting through what needs to be said to the wanainchi sooner or later. It’s that story of a sixteen year boy who lied to get the job at The Nation saying he was twenty two. The boy that John Bierman, ‘the fearless founding editor of The Nation called, “the biggest conman I have ever seen” and gave him the job. Perhaps, the editor-in-chief knew that the conman had the mettle to make the journalist Kenya needed at that crucial period of the birth of the nation and The Nation newspapers would be ‘no one’s mouthpiece’.
Cyprian touches on a whole lot of photographers and journalists at the Nation – Phillip Ochieng he admired for his intellect and speed in finishing The Times and Daily Mail crosswords; Michael Perry the proof reader ‘who changed my life’; Hilary Ng’weno who was ‘the best journalist at the time without doubt’, and many others with whom he had beers or simply chatted in the corridors.
He pays tribute to Goan Olympians, and briefly mentions the Goan civil society working for the welfare of the poor, the church and education. It’s contributions have been enormous but little known. Perhaps, that may be because the institutions that they created or helped to strengthen and expand bear the names of saints and come under the Church. Thus there are no visible signs or memories of this important part of the East African Goan history. An exception to this is perhaps, the Dr Ribeiro Goan School in Nairobi that bears both the founder’s and community’s name. The loss of their community’s name attached to these organizations means the loss of the names of individuals who contributed and maintained the institutions that today serve the poor especially the students like at St Teresa’s. In all, it’s loss of ethnic Goan citizen role models and what they had achieved over almost two hundred years in the segregated, racialized and caste ridden Asian society of East Africa working in general as office wage earners. The status they were proud of, and what Cyprian hints at, the Empire’s pet children and Christians looking down over other Asians.
Had Rufina Fernandes, Cyprian’s wife to whom the book is dedicated, not pleaded with him to leave the country when it was intimated to her that he had ‘a bullet to his name’, I doubt Skippy would have left Kenya. He was on hot pursuit of stories and truth about the growing corruption, killings and political misdeeds of the government that he felt his professional duty to tell. His good and powerful politician friends did not come to help him. Perhaps, they no longer found use for the reporter to fund their own popularity in the eyes of the public or use him in their inter-ethnic power games.
To the end, Cyprian had that stubbornness, courage and mindset of the thirteen year boy with integrity that remained undeterred through his career. That the principal of his high school could not break. He remained with it to the last day of his departure into self-exile from his birth land that he dearly loved. He lives in Australia now after a brief stay in Britain. What his mother, Rosa Maria Fernandes, the lady with ‘dynamite eyes’ and ‘vice-like grip’ said about her son to Father Hannan who wanted to strip and beat him, as was his habit, was what he was. Speaking in Swahili mixed with broken English, she said “You won’t stop him, Father, if he has made up his mind to leave (school), he will leave. If he says he did not steal your wine, he did not steal your wine. You must believe him.” We were in the first term Form I, elated to be in the Secondary stream and fresh from our success in the Kenya Asian Preliminary Examination (KAPE). The year was 1957.
Sultan Somjee was the Head of Ethnography, National Museums of Kenya 1994-2000 and is the Founder Community Peace Museums of Kenya. Author of the very successful and brilliant Bead Bai.
This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...
ASIANS V EUROPEANS IN KENYA 1951-52 1953-54 195...
The Shiftars, a rocking great band By Cecilia Mascarenhas Early last year Cyprian Fernandes (Skip) was in contact as he was do...
The gentleman of life Reggie Monteiro My favourite memory of Reggie and Ivy, their engagement with all the sports people in attendance. In ...