Asian African Heritage Trust

2000-2005 Exhibition
» Intellectual Heritage

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 Gardens reknown) 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 1998 Pulitzer) 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 writhing.

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).