With kind permission of the Communist Review
Forward to Independence: My Memoirs
By Fitz de Souza [Independently published, 2019, available on amazon.co.uk: pbk, 338 pp, ISBN 978- 1-0931-46882, £9.80; Kindle edition, 436 pp, ASIN B07R6FNYF1, £2.30.]
Review by Cyprian Fernandes
THE LONG, long-awaited memoirs of veteran Kenyan politician Fitz de Souza are finally out and the book is quite brilliant. Born into a family of Goan migrants, this former lawyer and deputy speaker of the Kenya Parliament – a rather quiet man in the sometimes loud circus of politics – was Jomo Kenyatta’s right-hand man from the first days of the negotiations for freedom with the British Government, until Kenya’s independence on 12 December 1963, and for the rest of Kenyatta’s life. The President of Kenya paid great heed to the legal, political, social and societal deliberation provided by Fitz de Souza. Not only Kenyatta, but politicians of every ilk sought out his wisdom.
Like his mentor Pio Gama Pinto, Fitz worked better behind the scenes but he was not afraid to speak his mind at international conferences or at local political rallies. His accounts of his ancestors, his own path taken in schooling and finding his calling to law are all filled with charm, laughter and very special resolve. However, it is Fitz’s fly-on-the-wall, eyewitness revelations that serve history best. The colonial propaganda machine had been frighteningly successful in demonising Kenyatta and the Mau Mau2 .
In his memoir, Fitz once and for all smashes this character assassination. He writes: “Kenyatta would tell me many times, ‘Fitz, I am not the leader of Mau Mau, I do not believe in violence. I believe you can achieve your goals without violence. But in any political party there are always some who believe you have to go further, you have to fight, and I know who they are – they are my friends, they are in this party, they are with us all the time. But I am not going to do the job for the British Government and expose them and fight against them.”
When asked by the British to condemn those who practised violence, Kenyatta would do so, but only in general terms, never naming names: “‘The British would like us [Africans] to fight with each other and make this into a semi-civil war; they killing our supporters and we killing their supporters, and I am not going to allow that at all. I know what I want and they know what they want, our objectives are the same ….’” It seemed then that the only disagreement between Kenyatta and those who supported the Mau Mau was the means to those objectives: “‘They think I am too mild, and I think they are picking on something that is not necessary and creating too much pain and suffering.’”
Fitz reveals for the first time how the land settler fund was established by the British Government to buy out white farmers who were leaving Kenya after independence: “As the discussions at 1962 Lancaster House Constitutional Conference wore on, it was clear that a major remaining stumbling block was the European settler community. The British Government told us plainly: the only way they could give us independence was if we could promise the farmers that we would pay them for their land, buy them out in other words. They had calculated the value of £36 million. That sounds like nothing today but was a fortune in 1962. I said, but we don’t have the money. No, they said, we’ll give you the money. Good God, I said, we could never afford to pay it back. They said, who’s asking for it back? We don’t want it back, we want to give it to you, and every year we’ll write a bit off until the whole lot is written off. We don’t want the British here to say we called you Mau Mau, and now we’re giving you money! You must buy the land from the European farmers on a ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ basis. So when they are willing to sell, you buy.”
Thus would come into being the Land Settlement Board, under Chairman Norman Feather of the Standard Bank, with the British Consular General and Moi 3 , appointed to the post by Kenyatta, as committee members.
Fitz deftly tries to explain why Kenyatta was so adamant that the Kikuyu should be among the first to share in the spoils of Uhuru: “Kenyatta had recognised the very strong loyalties that lay beneath the surface of Kenyan politics a long time ago, and in his view, the country had to be ruled by a coalition of tribes, under whatever collective party name. He felt that through this process the Kikuyu would dominate, and would say as much in political meetings, his rhetoric along the lines that if you have fought for the independence of Kenya, you have planted a tree and watered it with your blood, so who should receive the fruits of that tree? As expected, the answer would come: ‘He who fought for them.’ And if you slaughtered a cow for a feast, which person should have the best parts? ‘He who slaughtered the cow.’ Very many people agreed. Having worked so hard for freedom, been imprisoned for nine years and given decades of his life to his nation’s struggle, Kenyatta felt it was his right to have the best. Few could question his industry and commitment, and without him, it was unlikely the national movement would have taken off. So many Africans had emerged from detention with nothing, having lost businesses, property, social position and support. It was only to be expected that they would endorse Kenyatta and seek something for themselves now.”
Fitz often found himself, sometimes unwittingly, slap-bang in the middle of various conspiracies, both good and bad. Kenyans may not know this, but once upon a time, Charles Njonjo 4 touted Tom Mboya5 for President. Here is Fitz’s eye-witness account. “What Tom saw in Charles Njonjo was an opportunity … he realised that Charles’s bearing, outward intelligence and ability to express himself could be used for political gain. He also assumed that Charles had no ambitions. When Charles called me to have tea with him one day at the Queen’s Hotel (in Nairobi), I arrived to find Tom there also. ‘Fitz, I have something very serious to say to you,’ announced Charles. ‘Tell your friend not to back that old man as President of Kenya.’ By ‘my friend’ I knew he meant Pio, and the ‘old man’ was Kenyatta. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because,’ replied Charles in his lordly tone, ‘he is totally incompetent, he’s senile.’ ‘But who could you put in his place?’ ‘He’s sitting right here, Tom is the man.’
Exactly who had first latched onto whom was hard to say, but both men had now shown their hand, to me at least. Charles clearly saw Tom as likely to be the next leader of the country, and perhaps a place for himself in a future Government. Charles’s use of the word ‘President’ was not accidental. Kenyatta had spoken to me about how he saw leadership. He believed strongly that just as you could not have two chiefs in one household, a country could not have two leaders.
On the 1st of June 1964 he amended the constitution, and on the 12th of December, one year after independence, Kenya was declared a republic, with the office of Prime Minister replaced by that of President, a position Kenyatta automatically assumed, making him Head of State, Head of the Government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. [Oginga] Odinga was appointed Vice-President. One of the senior figures in the rival KADU party, Moi, whose fellow Kalenjins occupied much of the prime Rift Valley land, was promoted to Minister for Home Affairs. At the same time, KADU was dissolved and merged with KANU. There was now no clear official opposition.”
Thanks to Fitz’s memoirs, we can now read exactly what happened on that fateful day in February 1965 when Pio Gama Pinto clashed with Kenyatta in the corridors of Parliament House, Nairobi. Fitz writes: “It was on an afternoon in February, as I was taking a break for tea outside the Parliament building, that I heard someone calling my name. ‘Mr de Souza, come quickly please!’ Turning around I saw that a few tables away an altercation had broken out between Pio and Kenyatta. Both men were gesticulating and swearing, and as their voices rose, everyone on the veranda could hear. Tom was standing nearby, now joined by several onlookers. Pio, his face contorted with anger was shouting, ‘I’ll fix you!’ Kenyatta, equally incensed, was shouting back at him. I knew immediately what they were arguing about: the English farms, which Pio claimed Kenyatta was grabbing. Running up behind Pio, I put both my arms around him, trying to restrain him and calm him down. When Kenyatta had gone, we sat down. I warned him not to shout at Kenyatta again, as Kikuyus rarely forgive someone who becomes their enemy. ‘In the eyes of most Africans,’ I said, ‘you are just a Muhindi, you are perfectly dispensable, but he is not.’ I reminded him how at almost every meeting Kenyatta would ask the same rhetorical question: if a man plants a tree, who has the right to claim the fruit of that tree when it has grown? Ask any African, I told him, and they will say that Kenyatta has been very little compensated for the sacrifices and hardship he has endured in the struggle for independence. ‘If it comes to the push,’ I said, ‘there’ll be two shots fired at you and no one will remember you in a year’s time.’ Pio shook his head, ‘No, no, there would be a bloodbath.’ I said, ‘Pio, you are overestimating your position; maybe if you were a Kikuyu or a Luo, then yes, there would be a backlash, but you’ve nobody to support you; like me, you’ve no support in the Indian community and none outside it.’”
Fitz knew Pio’s life was in danger because Tom Mboya told him so. He writes: “One night, Tom took me aside and mentioned again the concern on his side, and how Pio was increasingly seen as trouble, a left-wing firebrand out to oust Kenyatta. ‘Once certain people realise that the possibility of Odinga succeeding Kenyatta is due to this one man,’ he said, ‘and that when the time comes, he can provide the necessary organisation to pull it off, then those same people will want to get rid of him. Take Pinto out, and the whole thing collapses like a pack of cards.’ I wondered what exactly he meant by ‘take out.’ I said, ‘Tom, Pinto is a good organiser yes, but it really wouldn’t be as easy as that.’ I asked, ‘If it came to it, would you take any part in getting rid of him, whatever that means?’ Tom said no, but there were people who would. He then told me earnestly to speak to Pio and to warn him that his life was in danger.”
According to Fitz it was the Luo leader Oginga Odinga who picked up Pio and drove him to Mombasa. A few days later Joe Murumbi turned up at the house where Pio was staying. Joe was very, very confident that no harm would come to Pio because he would speak to Jomo Kenyatta. Fitz writes: “Pio took Joe’s advice and returned to Nairobi on the train. Pio arrived back home in Nairobi in the morning. That evening, JD Kali’s driver, a Kikuyu called Ndegwa, stopped by the house. Ndegwa was also with the Special Branch and drove Kenyatta too. He asked if Pio had returned. Someone told him, yes, and he drove off. Also. in the house at the time was a very close friend of Pio, an African called Cheche, who had been with him in detention. Cheche acted as Pio’s bodyguard, and it was said he would die for him. When Pio was told about the caller, he said he knew who Ndegwa was and that he was trying to organise to kill him.
Perhaps the visit was a warning. If so, it did not deter Pio and he was soon busily compiling a list of farms and land which in his view had been stolen from the African people by the Government. … The expectation was for there to be an explosive result: a vote of no confidence against Kenyatta. I reminded Pio of Kenyatta’s strength, of the sacrifices and struggles he had made and his firm belief that the fruits of independence should be his. I said, ‘Pio, I think you have a lot of good things to say, but however much you say them, Kenyatta is not going to give up power or go away. He is a very courageous man and would fight to the death to stay leader if he had to. So don’t try to attack him morally and not expect to get on his bad side, you are just wasting your time, it is not possible to remove him.’” Pio was actually preparing the ground for the enactment by Parliament of a type of African socialism, the removal of Kenyatta and the coronation of his sworn enemy Oginga Odinga. It was never going to happen because Pio would be killed by the assassin’s bullet: “On the 25th of February , I was in court in the middle of a case when one of my articled clerks came in looking for me. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘Mr de Souza,’ he whispered, ‘I am very sorry to tell you that your friend is dead.’ I knew immediately that he meant Pio. The English judge, a good friend, looked across the courtroom at me. I stood up and cleared my throat: ‘I am very sorry, but due to an unfortunate occurrence, I have to leave. The judge said, ‘I can see you are shocked. Is this about your friend Pio Pinto?’ I nodded. He said, ‘This court is adjourned.’ I went straight to Pio’s house. Two police officers were there, the gate was closed and the car was in the driveway. Pio was inside, his body leaning to one side as if asleep at the wheel. Looking at him I suddenly thought, he’s all right after all, and reaching in, touched his shoulder, saying, ‘Pio, Pio.’ Then I saw the bullet hole. It was true; Pio was dead. That night I cried and cried. I felt really shattered. Pio had been just 38 years old, but had done so much for the country, spent seven years on Manda Island, not even allowed to see his dying father. All he had ever wanted was justice and fairness for all. He did not deserve this fate. Pio’s bodyguard Cheche came to see me later, crying, ‘Our friend is dead, our friend is dead.’ Through my day-to-day legal work, I had got to know one of the Nairobi CID officers, an Englishman. It wasn’t long before he and I had a lead. A taxi driver described some men with guns being taken recently in specially hired Fiat cars to South C where it was said, they were to ‘fix’ some trade union people. Could they also have been sent to fix Pio? The taxi driver took the CID officer and I around the streets and within a short time had identified a young African man in a red shirt. After being placed under arrest, the 22-year-old, Kisilu Mutua, admitted to shooting Pio. My mind was full of questions.
On the day Pio was killed, the end of Lower Kabete Road had been blocked off and the traffic stopped. And why, when he was found in the car, obviously preparing to leave as usual that morning, was the gate to his driveway closed? Pio was a good runner, faster than the Maasai even, at one time predicted to run for Kenya in the Olympics. If he had got out of the car, no one would have caught him. The roadblock and the closed gate had been no coincidence. I began asking around and challenging people to find the person or persons responsible. My father was worried. ‘Fitz you must be careful,’ he urged me, ‘they might want to shoot you too.’ I said, ‘Look I’ve known Kenyatta for years, been his lawyer and helped him.’ My father replied, ‘People can forget things.’ I could not, in any case, believe that Kenyatta would have wanted Pio dead.
About two weeks had gone by when, walking on the street past the Standard Bank in Nairobi one day, I heard someone behind me. I looked around and saw Bruce McKenzie6 hurrying to catch up with me. His manner was friendly, chatting about general things, but I sensed something more, something he wanted to say. Bruce was a big man, with a strong handshake that overpowered you, and I felt that strength in him now. ‘Fitz,’ he said, ‘I like you very much, you’re a good friend.’ I said, ‘Bruce, have you been sent to talk to me about Pio.’ He nodded. I said, ‘To warn me, that if I carry on asking questions, the same is going happen to me?’ Bruce said yes, this was the message he had been asked to give me. Then Mungai 7 came to see me. He was a mysterious figure, some hinted he had been a Mau Mau leader, others a Government spy. Telling me that I was now on a ‘wanted list’, he reached in his pocket and took out a pistol, complete with licence, advising me to keep it for protection. I had been under threat before when Pio had been arrested and I had driven across the border to Uganda. The concern then was possible imprisonment. This was different. Pio was gone, and Bruce had come to tell me, on whose authority I did not know, that I could be next. Mungai had confirmed it. I had seen Pio’s limp body carried from his car, the small hole in his body where the bullet had entered, witnessed [his wife] Emma’s shock and grief. As the reality of the danger I was in hit me, I became very nervous. I took some valium, and not knowing what else to do booked into the Hilton Hotel. Nowhere in Nairobi was completely safe, but here at least there were people around, I could stay behind a locked door. How long for though?
I would have to come out sometime. I thought carefully. I was getting married in a few months. Now there were not just my parents, my brother and sister and myself to think of, but also my future wife Romola – our future lives together and in time, probably a family of our own.
After a few days, I let it be known that I was no longer pursuing my inquiries, checked out of the hotel and went home. I hid Mungai’s pistol in a strongbox behind a loose brick in the wall and kept the key in my pocket. Still anxious and in shock, I decided to go to England and from there, seeking a complete change of scene, take a trip to Scandinavia. At that time permission was needed to take money out of the country, so I rang Kenyatta to ask if it could be arranged. Yes, yes, he said, and gave me the name of someone who could help. Talking to Kenyatta, he was clearly very distressed and crying over the phone. When I broached the question of who might be responsible he said, ‘Do you think I could possibly have murdered my own friend?’ and said he had been equally shocked by what had happened.
A couple of weeks later I returned for Pio’s funeral. The mourners were mostly Africans and church people. Kenyatta, who was not expected to attend, sent an ivory carving in tribute. Joe Murumbi was full of remorse, blaming himself for persuading Pio to leave the beach house at Mombasa and come back to Nairobi that day. While Pio’s alleged killer languished behind bars, sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, there were whispered rumours that the ‘powers that be’ had organised the assassination, or the Kiambu Mafia, 8 CIA or foreign governments, and the riddle remained unanswered.”
Before now, not many people knew of Fitz’s attempts to save Pio Gama Pinto or that even Fitz’s life was threatened. All this and more, Fitz kept to himself. The deaths first of Pio and then later of Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki 9 destroyed Fitz as a politician and he quietly resigned from politics and focused on his law firm, business and other interests.
Notes and References
1 See review by C Fernandes of Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya’s Unsung Martyr 1927- 1965, in CR90, Winter 2018/2019, pp 23-26.
2 See S Durrani, Mau Mau, The Revolutionary Force from from Kenya: Part 1 in CR67, Spring 2013, pp 2-8; Part 2 in CR68, Summer 2013, pp 10-15; Part 3 in CR69, Autumn 2013, pp 8-13.
3 Daniel Arap Moi (b 1924) was Kenyan president from the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978 until 2002. An important theme of his government was anti-communism. The Kenya African National Union was made the only legally permitted party, and many of those campaigning for democracy were subjected to repression, including torture. For further background, see S Durrani, Kenya Resists: Artists Challenge the Hawk in the Sky, in CR91, Spring 2019, pp 15-19.
4 Charles Njonjo (b 1920) was the son of a paramount chief who was one of the foremost collaborators with British rule in India. With this background, Charles’s upbringing was very pampered. He trained as a lawyer and then worked diligently for the colonial government as it went about atrocities in opposing the Mau Mau freedom fighters. He became Attorney General in independent Kenya and actively thwarted attempts by former freedom fighters for justice. He was a proponent of ties with white Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique. He became Minister of Justice from 1978 but was forced to resign in the wake of the unsuccessful 1982 coup against then president Daniel Arap Moi.
5 Tom Mboya (1930-1969) was a trade unionist, educationalist, Pan-Africanist and independence activist, and held several key ministerial posts in independent Kenya. That he was seen as a possible contender for the presidency may have been the cause of his assassination.
6 Bruce McKenzie (1919-1978) was a South African-born Kenyan politician. He was Minister of Agriculture under Kenyatta, and is alleged to have been a British, South African or Israeli intelligence agent. He was involved in the kidnapping from Uganda of 5 alleged terrorists wanted by Israel, and in return was assassinated by Ugandan agents.
7 Njoroge Mungai (1926-2014) was a doctor, businessman and first cousin to Jomo Kenyatta. He held the offices of Minister of Health, Defence and Foreign Affairs, and successfully lobbied the Organisation of African Unity to supply arms to freedom fighters in apartheid South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique.
8 ‘Kiambu Mafia’ was the term used to describe a small group of people from the then Kiambu District of Kenya, who had benefited financially and politically from parcels of land ‘awarded’ or ‘sold’ to them by the Kenyatta government.
9 See Durrani, Kenya Resists, op cit.