Sunday, July 31, 2005

Kudos to Nd. Pheroze and Other Progressive Kenyans of South Asian Heritage

Debunking the Myths, Clich├ęs and Stereotypes About The Kenyans Some of Us Insist on Calling "Indians"....

"...The Government is breaking a promise and trying to muzzle those who are protesting at its conduct.

During the December 2002 General Election, the Government, then in opposition, promised that it would bring in a new constitution with two key components: to make the Executive significantly accountable to Parliament and the new constitution would be made by the people.

The so-called Kilifi draft that was tabled in Parliament breaks this promise. Though there are differences from the present constitution, there is no significant change in the checks on Executive power that can bring about change in the lives of many Kenyans.

There is no accountability to nor sanction by Parliament over the President’s actions or inaction. There are no checks that can prevent Executive corruption. There is no provision to ensure that the small group in control shares power and does not exercise it to the exclusion of other communities.

Neither is there a provision to stop a power elite or single community from doing the same. The Kilifi draft ensures the opposite and that is why they have pushed so desperately for it.

Secondly, the Naivasha accord, the Parliamentary Select Committee and Kilifi draft are not constitutional provisions written by the people. Nor have the people’s representatives – the MPs, written them. What the people gave the new MPs is the opposite: a mandate not to write the new constitution by themselves, but to pass what the people had decided.

If the Government and MPs had the mandate to write a new constitution through the PSC and their own meetings in Naivasha and Kilifi, why did they not do this within the first 100 days of 2003?

The answer is, they have no such mandate. They have only done this after they failed to get at Bomas the type of unchanged ‘change’ they wanted. Then they blocked Bomas, till they could intrigue a shameful pact with the people they had rejected in December 2002.

If they seek now to speak in the name of the people to make a new constitution, in whose name do they speak when they bring back persons these people removed from government?

In engineering recent events, this government and Parliament thinks it has acted cleverly. All it has done is make Kenya the laughing stock of Commonwealth constitution making.

This constitution making has no legal pedigree. It is repeating the huge mistakes of the amendments from 1966 to 1997, with the same cast of players: cynical Executives, their sycophants and subservient legal officers. We can predict with certainty that if Kilifi draft is forced into the constitution, we shall be repeating our last 20 years complete with power centralised in the hands of an elite identified by ethnicity, increased poverty, ethnic clashes, unaccountability in government, corruption, escalating insecurity and a nation without respect abroad..."

-Pheroze Nowrojee, Kenyan Human Rights Lawyer from his Op-ed piece, "They Conned Us", East African Standard, July 31, 2005

Pheroze Nowrojee is one of Kenya's and Africa's most well known human rights lawyers. He has been a mainstay of the Kenyan national democratic movement for many years and like many other so called "dissidents" and "disgruntled elements" (to revive the curious lingo of the KANU yesteryears) got into several brushes with the one party dictatorship.

This statement from the early 1990s by the International Commission of Jurists provides a snapshot:

"The Geneva based ICJ, acting through its Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL), announced that its observer at the trial, starting 20 November, will be Mr Ali Mohamed Hamir, former Chairman of the Zambian Law Association and a member of the Executive Committee of the African Bar Association.

ICJ Secretary-General Adama Dieng noted that the charges against Mr Nowrojee come during a period of intensified government harassment of human rights lawyers and those who represent unpopular clients. He went on to state, however, that the ICJ would wait until receiving Mr Hamir's report before determining if there had been a violation of the Rule of Law.

Mr Nowrojee, 51, is a well-respected senior advocate of the High Courts of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and has lectured at the law faculties in both Kenya and Tanzania. He is also a member of the Kenya Law Society.

The contempt charges stem from a letter Mr Nowrojee wrote to the Registrar of the High Court of Kenya protesting court delays in rendering a decision in the case of Mrs Herma Muge. Mrs Muge is the widow of Bishop Alexander Muge who was killed under mysterious circumstances. He is further charged with "causing the publication of information from the same letter in the local daily papers, the Daily Nation, The Standard and Kenya Times".

On 18 October 1990, the Attorney-General Matthew Muli called for the imprisonment of Mr Nowrojee in the local press. He argued that the "publication of the alleged letter is a scurrilous and unjustified attack on the court and calculated to bring into disrepute and contempt the administration of justice". The charges allege that the publication of the letter to the court was contemptuous, as well as the publication of the letter in the press. According to Mr Nowrojee, however, he was properly exercising his obligation as an advocate to pursue the means at his disposal necessary to ensure adequate representation for his client.

Mr Nowrojee is also involved in other politically sensitive cases. Currently he is the lawyer for Gitobu Imanyara, lawyer and editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly. On 28 September 1990, the Attorney-General banned the magazine prohibiting the sale or distribution of all "past, present and future copies" of the magazine. On 8 October 1990, Mr Nowrojee obtained a temporary stay on the ban of the Nairobi Law Monthly..."


Years before the Nyayo House survivors and their supporters stormed

the notorious torture chambers in downtown Nairobi and there was any talk of setting up

a Truth and Justice Commission for Kenya, Pheroze Nowrojee was already out there, talking publicly about "State Response to Political Assassinations in Kenya" at a

JM Kariuki memorial symposium.

His name is listed among other illustrious past winners of the "Kenyan Jurist of the Year Award":

Wanyiri Kihoro 2004

Dr.Willy Mutunga 2003

Ms.Raychelle Omamo & Ms.Grace Githu(Posthumously) 2002

Dr.Ooko Ombaka & Prof. Yash Pal Ghai 2001

Mr.Njonjo Mue 2000

Hon. Martha Karua 1999

Hon. James Orengo 1998

Prof.Kivutha Kibwana 1997

Hon.Mirugi Kariuki 1996

Mr. Pheroze Nowrojee 1995

(no picture available)
Justice Frank Shields 1994

Dr. Gibson Kamau Kuria 1993

In October 2002 Pheroze Nowrojee was declared the recipient of the International Bar Association's

distinguished Benard Simons Memorial Award.

As a Kenyan of South Asian descent, Pheroze Nowrojee has done a lot to demystify some of the home grown and colonial era stereotypes about "wahindi"; he is just one among many Kenyan social justice activists of a similar culture background- together with people like Murtaza Jaffer,

Zarina Patel,

Salim Lone,

Davinder Lamba,

Sultan Somjee,

Shiraz Durrani

Aslam Khan
and Zahid Rajan who is one of the editors of the Nairobi based

Awaaz magazine, Pheroze Nowrojee has helped to shatter the stubborn illusion and lingering myth that Kenyans of South Asian heritage are all "apolitical" or "conservative" dukawallahs if they are not matapeli,walanguzi na wagongaji kama akina Kamlesh "Nimeokoka" Pattni na Ketan "Kamiti ni Kubaya" Somaia.

Pheroze who describes himself as an "Asian-African" is a director of a cultural organization which bears that name. In the year 2000, The Asian-African Heritage Trust co-organized a photo exhibition titled The Asian African Heritage: Identity and History showing their contributions to the political struggles and socio-economic development aspirations in this part of Africa. Here is an excerpt from the write up:

"...The Asian African community has been involved in dissent and political activity against oppression for as long as it has been involved in commerce and finance. As the exhibition examines Kenyan history, one finds figures such as

A.M. Jeevanjee (of Jeevanjee Grandens renown) and

M.A. Desai, who continuously and successfully challenged and controlled settler ambitions for their self-rule in Kenya on the apartheid model of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa.

Makhan Singh and
Pio Gama Pinto spent years in detention in the struggle for Kenya’s freedom. Pio Pinto, over the 35 years since his assassination, remains a major influence and national role model for all Kenyans.
Joseph Murumbi was the voice in exile of a silenced Kenya during the Emergency, and later Foreign Minister and our second Vice-President. Amir Jamal is one of the founding fathers of the Tanzanian nation. Fitz De Souza was Deputy speaker of Parliament from 1964-1969, and Chanan Singh was Parliamentary Secretary to President Kenyatta from 1963-1964. But as important was the unheralded support that the community gave to the struggle for independence. Examples of this are people like Mrs. Lila Patel and her husband Ambu Patel, who led the movement for the release of Jomo Kenyatta; and Mrs. Desai and J.M. Desai, whose home served as a base of nationalist politics during the same period. Habib Kheshavjee represented many other who were the quiet workers for the independence movement.

In law, advocates such as A.R. Kapila, Fitz de Souza, and Jaswant Singh defended Bildad Kaggia, Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai, Achieng Oneko and Kungu Karumba at their trial at Kapenguria (1952-53). They and others such as Chanan Singh defended in hundreds of Mau Mau Causes and appeals. C.B. Madan was a memorable Chief Justice, 1986-88.

In the struggle for the freedom of the Press, Asian African journalists and publishers have played a long and critical part over the whole century. These include Haroun Ahamed, Editor, The Colonial Times, D.K. Sharda, Sitaram Achariar (The Democrat). N.S. Thakur, and four generations of the Vidyarthi family. The Vidyarthis, in publishing since 1935, are still today discharging their professional duties as journalists and publishers in difficult circumstances. Achariar also printed the Gikuyu newspaper Muigwithania, (1928) the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) paper edited by Achieng Oneko. Among others that the Vidyarthis published were Sauti ya Mwafrika, the Kenya African Union (KAU) newspaper, Henry Githigira’s Habari za Dunia, Henry Mworia’s Musmengerere, and Francis Khamisi’s Mwalimu. The printing of all these papers for the forty years between 1920 and 1963 were direct challenges to the colonial government which sought to suppress the African voice against colonialism and for freedom.

Between 1962 and 1972, TRANSITION, edited and published by Rajat Neogy from Kampala, was the leading intellectual magazine from the African continent and reached a global audience.

In the field photojournalism, names such as

Mohamed Amin, Mohinder Singh Dhillon,

Priya Ramrakha,

Sayyid Azim (who won a 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Best Spot News Photography) and

Jitendra Arya are internationally known.

While much has been written about the community, Asian African writers have over the decades themselves written much, on a wide range of subjects, both creative and academic. Among them are internationally admired scholars such as Professor Yash Ghai, Professor Dharam Ghai, Professor

Mahmood Mamdani,

Professor Issa Shivji and

Professor Abdul Sherrif; and renowned novelists such as G.V. Desani (All About Hatter, 1948, Penguin Modern Classics 1972) and

M.G. Vassanji (The Gunny Sack).

The exhibition has published a selected bibliography of such writing.

Films, entertainment and show business have been contributed to by, among others, Sharad Patel (The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin), Sachin and Avni Dave (supporting UNICEF and numerous other causes) and Freddie Mercury of the pop group Queen (born Farokh Bulsara in Zanzibar)..."

Of course that list excludes the great Kenyan linguist, cultural historian, prolific author, educator and round champion of Kiswahili the late mwalimu Shihabuddin Chiraghdin and the internationally renowned Uganda-born scholar and African anti-globalization guru, Prof.Yash Tandon

And perhaps it was just a slight oversight that prevented the Kenyan anti-colonial colossus

Pranlal Seth, euologized in this link by Zarina Patel from receiving more ink.

It would appear that there is a genetic predispostion for human rights law advocacy in the Nowrojee clan:

Binaifer Nowrojee is a respected attorney with a social conscience in her own right. She works at the same Harvard institution that "mysteriously" in 2004, disinvited Kiraitu Murungi from giving a speech at that Ivy League campus- "coincidentally" when my former lawyer was busy hurling huge jabalis to block the constitutional review process and twiddling his thumbs instead of giving the thumbs up for the launching of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission... Yes, she just so happens to be Pheroze's daughter.

I hope you can see why I sat up and took notice, as opposed to just skimming casually through, when I saw Pheroze Nowrojee's article in the Standard earlier today. As opposed to former Kenyan jurists of the year like Mirugi Kariuki, Kivutha Kibwana, Martha Karua and Kamau Kuria who all seem to be having a serious bout of political amnesia that has made them do
ideological somersaults and out of this world human limb knots tied by newly fangled, ex-activists/fresh sycophants aka expert political contortionists with a changing of the neo-colonial guard in 2002, Pheroze Nowrojee has stayed the course, sticking to the cause, 'cause for so many of us it is still too costly to sell out your principles for a sinecure, a fat bank account, a government flag on a nifty gas guzzler. There is still no price for many of us in the Kenyan social justice field that makes it attractive for us to commit political

hara kiri through a

Crude Transmogrification of all that we detested, all that we opposed, all that we fought against.

The phenonemon of having a former Nyayo House survivor, torture first hand witness and political detainee such as Mirugi Kariuki proudly and blithely declare, in a recent newspaper interview, that he is no longer "an activist" as he snuggles into his snazzy office as the second most powerful person in the country's internal security ministry is still too ghastly to contemplate- a comrade and colleague of mine in Nairobi recently urged me to write to Mirugi and denounce him- but I am still recovering from my shock at his demeanour these days- not mentioning a word his role in supervising the clobbering of his former "comrades" during the three days of mass action that unleashed so much police mayhem in such a city such as Nairobi.

The Kenya Democracy Project is paying this public tribute to Pheroze Nowrojee not because he is special, but rather because he is typical- it has been typical for Kenyans of South Asian heritage to have in their ranks, democrats, radicals, socialists, anti-imperialists and all those who are opposed to globalization, unwarranted military invasions and unbridled attacks on civil rights and academic freedoms.

It is about time for Black African Kenyans to FINALLY amka and smell the kahawa about our nutmeg complexioned brothers and sisters. Online I see a lot of people hurling crude,racist slurs at their own fellow citizens; comfortable that they slander entire communities some of whom have a stronger claim to Kenya. Sometime back when matters were getting out of hand in terms of deranged attacks on those "Wahindi thieves" in the youth oriented Kenyan online forum known as Mashada, I decided to speak out by launching this linked thread on the 31st of January 2004 and the ensuing discussion was raucous, ridiculous at times,but it served to remind ourselves, those of us who live outside Kenya that the mere fact that someone boards a plane at JKIA to come to Boston, Madrid, Amman, New Delhi does not necessarily mean that they are automatically going to transcend tribalism, sexism, racism, religious fantacism and all the other negative vibes will stay with us unless people starting makeing conscious decisions to grapple with the distortions about a very significant community in Kenya.

This is the least we could do.

We owe it to Makhan Singh and Jeevanjee;

We owe it to Lila Patel and Binaifer Nowrojee;

We owe it to Zarina Patel and Jammit Durrani;
We owe it Salim Lone and Pio Gama Pinto.

And speaking of Pinto, do you remember the recent award that

Emma, Pinto's widow flew from Canada, accompanied by their daughter,
Linda to collect postumously on his behalf?

Even if you didn't, no, scratch that:

Especially if you did not know anything about

Pio da Gama Pinto, now would be as good a time as any to encourage you to learn more about the Kenyan patriot from this link to the Awaaz

magazine special edition...

Onyango Oloo