Fitz de Souza: Kenyatta’s right hand man reveals all in memoir
Forward to Independence, the long-awaited memoir by the outstanding Goan lawyer and parliamentarian, Fitz de Souza is out. A worthwhile eye-opener for the sons and daughters and ex-East African Goans, it talks about the role that Fitz played in the early life independent Kenya and also, his journey which starts with his ancestors in Goa, his father’s move to Zanzibar and family’s life.. and more. CYPRIAN FERNANDES reviews the book
The first time I read the name Fitz de Souza was in a newspaper when I was nine years old (1952). Two names caught my young eye: de Souza (because he was a Goan) and Jomo Kenyatta (because he was the most frightening leader of the human blood drinking Mau Mau). It newspaper report was about the court case in which (Kapenguria) six alleged leaders of the Mau Mau were being charged. To this day, I can remember the shivers that ran down my spine as my young, immature mind tried to make sense of it.
Anyway, the horrors would soon disappear as I would take courage from “my friends” the children of the Mau Mau who had taken over the valley adjacent to my school. It there that I learnt the other side of the story. I got to know things better as time went by.
Over the next few years, I would occasionally see de Souza’s name in newspaper stories. They did not make a very big impression on me but I was curious how a Goan (the Goans I knew were not known for their interest in African nationalism or the fight for Kenya’s freedom). A year or two after Uhuru in 1963, I found myself in the press gallery of the Kenya Parliament. Down below was Fitz de Souza, the Deputy Speaker, Sir. Over the next five or six years, my admiration grew and grew for this articulate, quietly studios, legally precise, the Solomon of all things Parliamentary, and a brilliant lawyer at that. It is little wonder then, I have been enthralled by his memoir. I have always thought of him as the greatest Goan I have known. Some Goans laughed at me. But I am not alone. My all-time favourite journalist, HilaryNg’weno, in the preface to the book writes: “The story you read in this book is not just about Fitz. It is a story about the foundations of the Kenya nation. And it is for that reason that I feel very strongly that Fitz Remedios Santana de Souza will forever remain a legend for many Kenyans.”
The history of his ancestors, especially his mother and father and their safari to a new world and their new life, Fitz’s own path taken in schooling, finding his calling to law at a very early age and achieving it make the new worlds of Europe an education and an adventure … are all filled with charm, laughter, naivety, and, of course, 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 Mau. In his memoir, Fitz once-and-for-all smashes the colonially created demonization: “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, he 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.’
The Kenyatta philosophy:
Fitz deftly tries to explain why Kenyatta was so adamant that the Kikuyu should be among the first 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 had a lot of time Oginga Odinga and two got on quite well: This is Fitz’s take on the Luo leader: “Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga were two totally different personalities. Odinga, a 50-year-old Luo chief, was warm-hearted and affectionate, and more of a humorist than a socialist I would say. He loved people, helped them in whatever way he could, and had nothing against money, seeing the creation of wealth as a way forward. He had started a bus service from Kisumu and given it to an Indian to run, and also set up a Luo thrift society. I think he was keen on everyone having a better life all round. As leaders do, he liked to show himself off but didn’t seem vain, preferring traditional African dress rather than, like some, the most expensive modern suits and shoes. Odinga’s only real flaw I would say was a tendency to lose his head occasionally, and speak too strongly and emotionally.”
Tom Mboya for President:
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 touted Tom Mboya for President. Here is Fitz’s eye witness account. “What Tom (Mboya) saw in Charles Njonjo was an opportunity. Like Bruce, 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 who 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. 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.”
THE murder of Pio Gama Pinto:
Pio Gama Pinto was Fitz’s political mentor and very best friend. He tried desperately to try and convince Pio to turn away from face-to-face confrontation with JK. Fitz was one of the few who were courageous enough to tell me about the abuse-riddled stoush between Pio and Kenyatta in the corridors of Parliament House that probably spelt the end for Pio. Here Fitz tells how he tried to save his friend by attempting to bring him down to earth: “Pio arrived back home in Nairobi in the morning (from hiding in Mombasa). That evening, J.D. 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 would die for him. When Pio was told about the caller, he said he knew whom 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 list would form a key part of his group’s opposition to Tom’s Sessional Paper 10. 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 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.’ 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.’”
In other accounts of the incident related to me by others, the word “bastard” was prominent. Asked why he called the President “a bastard”, Pio is said to have replied: “Because he called me a bastard first.” When I heard that I doubted anyone could have expected to remain in Kenya alive … not after calling President Jomo Kenyatta a “bastard”.
Pio Gama Pinto was assassinated on February 25, 1965.
Fitz reveals for the first time how that land settler fund was established by the British Government to buy out white farmers who were leaving the country 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, appointed to the post by Kenyatta, as committee members.”
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