Pio Gama Pinto: The Indian who became a Kenyan freedom fighter | Features #Pio #Gama #Pinto #Indian #Kenyan #freedom #fighter #Features

Nairobi, Kenya – On December 12, 1963, six months after Kenya’s independence from the British, the former colony officially became a republic. It is an occasion that has been marked ever since as Jamhuri Day.

With the new status came the fight against a colonial-era hierarchy in which Europeans sat at the top, followed by South Asians and then Black Africans who were granted the least economic and political rights, he fought for African nationalism and land distribution.

Today, as Kenya celebrates the 60th anniversary of Jamhuri Day, some of the heroes of its liberation struggle and fight for equality remain unsung. One of them is Pio Gama Pinto, the radical journalist, politician and socialist. His role has been largely forgotten, partly because he died aged just 37 in what was effectively Kenya’s first political assassination on February 24, 1965.

His eldest daughter, Linda Gama Pinto, was just six years old when he was shot dead in the driveway of their family house in broad daylight in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Three men were jailed for his murder yet those close to the story believe the real perpetrators behind the assassination remain unknown.

Linda says her father remains part of the country’s story, even in death.

“[He] is woven into the fabric of Kenyan history and I’m very proud of his contribution,” she said from her home in Ottawa, Canada, where the family emigrated to after the assassination. “My father’s memory has been nurtured by [only] a few people … this was a selfless man who had at his core, the desire for equality.”

Some scholars say he was seen as a threat first by British colonialists and later by the Kenyan post-independence government due to his advocacy.

“By the time of Kenyan independence, he had reached a point where he could oust the capitalist, conservative ruling elite that had replaced the colonial powers,” says Wunyabari Maloba, professor of African studies and history at the University of Delaware. “He had a radical vision and was very much respected by Black Africans so it was extremely important for him to be silenced. Yet his death can’t be viewed just within the domestic context, this was also the time of the Cold War and Kenya was at a pivotal place in eastern Africa.”

Political life

Pinto was born in Nairobi on March 31, 1927, to parents of Goan descent. His father was among the many economic migrants from the Indian subcontinent who took up roles within the colonial administration in East Africa. Pinto, who spent his early school years in India, became politically engaged and joined liberation protests against British and Portuguese rule in the country, working with trade unions in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) and Goa.

A founding member of the Goa National Congress, his activism led to the colonial authorities issuing an arrest warrant so he was forced to return to Kenya in 1949. By then, India was independent, and calls for decolonisation were spreading across the British Empire, even to Kenya.

He learned Kiswahili and, as historian Sana Aiyar has noted, took on editorship roles at the Daily Chronicle newspaper, convincing the owner to print pamphlets in various vernacular languages. He also spoke out against the British on his Swahili programme for All India Radio, which colonialists described as a “consistent denigration of British rule in Africa”.

His role in supplying the Mau Mau – an anticolonial armed uprising led by the Kikuyu people – with arms and co-producing its media mouthpiece The High Command led to his arrest by the British in 1954. He was held until 1959.

British-Kenyan author Shiraz Durrani has been collecting documents on Pinto for 40 years. In 2018, Durrani published Pio Gama Pinto: Kenya’s Unsung Martyr. He told Al Jazeera that Pinto was a skilled journalist who knew how to use his voice to rally people.

“When he was not on the streets talking to people, Pinto used to spend most of his time writing letters and articles,” he told Al Jazeera. “He kept the outside world informed of anticolonial protests and exposed what the British were doing. His ideological stance was also very important and Pinto was not shy about saying that socialism was the solution.”

Indeed, he was also connected with anti-imperialist and socialist movements globally, as well as with American revolutionary Malcolm X.

Personal life

Stories of his personal and financial sacrifice are consistent throughout his brief life. For instance, in prison where South Asians received better treatment, Pinto would share his rations with Black inmates.

It was a contribution made further possible with the support of his wife, Emma Christine Dias, a Goan woman whom he married in 1954, five months before he went into prison. Pinto is said to have used the wedding money gifted to the couple by Emma’s father on a printing press.

“She constantly wrote to him in prison and my father said that without that link to the outside, he may not have survived as well as he did,” Linda told Al Jazeera. “He also taught other inmates to read using her letters. He was allowed to be a very absent father to me and my two sisters and dedicate himself to a larger collective of people.”

While there were also other South Asians who joined Black Africans in Kenya’s independence struggle, Pinto was the most visible among them amid the fight for an equal society across racial lines, Maloba told Al Jazeera.

“This idea – insofar as the colony concerned – was a big problem because the imperial colonial framework was based, and its survival depended on, the idea of divide and rule,” he said. “Pinto was against the idea that the Africans who were taking over from the British should perpetuate the system that oppressed and exploited Africans. His definition of independence was linked to economic power, equality, and sovereignty.”

After his release in 1959, he co-founded the Kenya Freedom Party, which later merged with the Kenyan African National Union, a political party that remained in power until 2002.

‘Nothing has changed’

In recent years, Pinto’s memory has increasingly returned to the surface, including in an exhibition on his life that launched at the Nairobi Gallery in March and is set to travel the country next year.

April Zhu, a Nairobi-based journalist who collaborated on a 2020 podcast series Until Everyone is Free that looks at Pinto’s life and politics, says the success of the first podcast has led to an expansion of the project that will begin airing next year.

She has encountered enthusiasm from young Kenyans when discussing this part of their history as it was missing in their school curricula. One of them is Stoneface Bombaa, host of the podcast and a 25-year-old community organiser from Mathare, an informal settlement in the capital.

“It was a very sanitised history,” he tells Al Jazeera of his time in school.

Having learned more about Pinto in recent years, he describes him as a beacon of hope in a society that remains unequal. “From a younger age, he was fighting for change, fighting for freedom, he wanted people to have their lands right back and to see the end to corruption, poverty, and disease. Since his assassination, nothing has changed, these are the things we are still fighting for today.”

Even with the renewed examination of Pinto’s legacy, Zhu acknowledges that there is still work to do in preserving his legacy.

“It would be a shame if he became memorialised without his politics being brought into the current context,” she said. “For example, why are there no militant trade unions left in Kenya? The things that still plague the majority of working-class Kenyans today are the very things that Pinto fought for. Going forward, that needs to be the centre of any effort to memorialise Pinto.”

#Pio #Gama #Pinto #Indian #Kenyan #freedom #fighter #Features

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