THE PAIN BEFORE TRIUMPH OF PINTO BOOK FOR EDITOR
By Cyprian Fernandes
THE PIO Gama Pinto book to be launched in Nairobi on October 16 is a personal triumph for its editor Shiraz Durrani and the many, many academics and professionals who have either encouraged Durrani, provided him with support when he needed it or the dedicated team at Vita (pronounced V-ta, Swahili for fight, war etc) Books who provide a backbone for continually seeking out historical treasure and sharing it with an alumni starved of the written past.
I say personal triumph because Durrani had to flee Kenya after the Special Branch interrogated him at length on the historical stories he was bringing to a much starved young Kenyan readership. The situation was so untenable that Durrani had to flee into exile in Britain in 1984.
The much awaited Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya’s Unsung Martyr, 1927-1965 has its genesis Nairobi's halls of learning where Durrani [who worked at the University of Nairobi]was approached by a large number of activists, including many from Mau Mau days, started sending messages of support.[ this followed publication of his articles on Pinto in Nairobi in September 1984] Their main message was that they wished to continue and consolidate the process of recording the true history of Kenya and to apply the lessons of history to current struggle. He explains below his personal journey in editing the book.
BREAKING THE CULTURE OF SILENCE
This is the background to the publishing project from which came a number of books: Never Be Silent and Kenya’s War of Independence. Also the two books edited by me, Mahan Singh and now Pio Gama Pinto.
Never Be Silent was born when a group of progressive librarians at the University of Nairobi were searching for relevance in the information field in Kenya by organising a workshop at the Kabete Campus of the University of Nairobi in 1979. I decided to look at the history of mass communication and publishing to see what lessons could be learnt from those experiences.
I presented a short version of my paper at the workshop. The fuller version was too big for inclusion in the proceedings of the Workshop which carried another paper I had written. But the subject matter of the paper on publishing became an obsession with each new angle explored began to reflect the totality of anti-imperialist struggles in Kenya. I needed to devote more time to the research into publishing.
I planned to take sabbatical leave in 1985 to research at the Kenya Archives as well as the Colonial Office files. But the research seemed to take a life of its own and in a curious turn of events became “political” and led to my exile to Britain in 1984.
In the early 1980s, the underground opposition to the KANU-Moi regime penetrated every field of activity. It was led by December Twelve Movement which published its own underground newspaper - Pambana - and which circulated widely throughout the country. The students at the University of Nairobi joined hands with the underground resistance. They lost no opportunity to attack the regime in every possible way. One of the ways was to publish progressive material on the history of resistance and the progressive anti-imperialist stand of the Kenyan people of all nationalities.
A new generation was growing up, they argued, without the awareness of the real history of struggle that created the current society. They approached me in early 1994 for help in some aspects of their publication, The University Platform. They also wanted me to write articles on the history of Kenya from a working class point of view. I provided three articles, two from my research on the history of publishing: one on Pio Gama Pinto and the other on Kimaathi.5
The third was an article I had written as part of the publicity of the progressive play Kinjikitile – Maji Maji which was directed by Naila Durrani and staged to full houses at the Education Theatre by the Takhto Arts of Nairobi in conjunction with the University Library’s Sehemu ya Utungaji (“creative wing”) which I had set up with a group of progressive library workers. All three articles proved popular and I decided to give them wider circulation.
1984 was in many ways a crucial year: following the 1982 coup, the KANU regime savagely attacked the forces of democracy. The subsequent killing, arrests and exile of thousands of people, whose only “crime” was opposition to the Moi dictatorship, meant that 1984 saw the nation recovering from the ravages of much government-led savagery. The publication of the articles in the national press, I decided, would give a message to those active in the struggle that, in spite of the jailing and exiling of many activists, progressive forces were still active in Kenya. It was necessary for the dispersed groups to come together once again and continue their struggle.
The underground opposition forces were regrouping and finding their feet once again and different groups were using different methods to re-establish connections with each other. It was in this national context that my article on Pio Gama Pinto was published in Nairobi of September 17-18th, 1984. The following week, the paper was scheduled to publish a three-part follow-up article by me on Kimaathi, to be followed in future by a series of articles on Makhan Singh. But it was at the publication of the first set of articles on Pinto that the regime struck and unleashed a series of events that forced me to seek political asylum in Britain.
However, in the brief space of time between the publication of the articles and the Special Branch starting to take “special interest” in me, a large number of activists, including many from Mau Mau days, started sending messages of support. Their main message was that they wished to continue and consolidate the process of recording the true history of Kenya to apply the lessons of history to current struggle. The questions that the Special Branch fired at me during interviews at the Nyayo House give an indication of how hurt the regime was at my research into the history of publishing and the anti-imperialist struggle in Kenya.
It is a matter of utmost satisfaction to me that in the years that I have been in exile in Britain, I have continued work on the struggles in the information field in the context of the national struggle for liberation. This has included a number of articles published in various journals on the politics of information. Among other publications is Kimaathi, Mau Mau’s First Prime Minister of Kenya. It also gives me personal satisfaction that the very reason for my exile from Kenya has enabled me to complete the documentation of an important aspect of Kenya’s history - something that the KANU-Moi regime found so unpalatable.
It is also a matter of pride to me that I completed the project while still remaining a “mere librarian”. The work of the underground movement contributed in no small measure to the events that led to the overthrow of KANU-Moi in December 2002. The new social climate in early 2003 has enabled a new debate about the whole colonial and post-colonial history of anti-imperialism not only in Kenya, but in Britain as well. This book, I hope, will throw light on some aspects of the history which had been suppressed by successive KANU regimes.
Shiraz Durrani is Senior Lecturer, Information Management, Department of Applied Social Sciences, London Metropolitan University.10 April, 2005 ix