Former Attorney General Charles Njonjo was rooting for Tom Mboya to become Kenya’s president instead of Jomo Kenyatta, a newly-published memoir by Jomo’s lawyer, Fitz de Souza, claims.
The book, Forward to Independence, also reveals that freedom fighter Pio Gama Pinto, who was later assassinated, had a shouting match and altercation with Jomo Kenyatta on the grounds of parliament where insults were traded.
Before Kenyatta walked away, after they were separated by De Souza, Pinto is alleged to have told Kenyatta: “I will fix you!”
In his memoir, De Souza, who would later become Kenya’s deputy speaker, recalls an incident when Mr Njonjo invited him for tea at a city hotel to ostensibly ask him to dissuade Pinto from supporting Kenyatta.
“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 Gama Pinto, 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,” replied Mr Njonjo.
That both Njonjo and Mboya were scheming something before independence has never been revealed, and de Souza writes:
“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.”
It also emerges that Mboya was also seeing Njonjo as a stepping stone to his own ambitions.
“What Tom (Mboya) saw in Charles Njonjo was an opportunity. Like Bruce (Mackenzie), 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,” De Souza writes.
Pinto was Fitz’s political mentor and best friend. He tried desperately to convince Pinto to turn away from face-to-face confrontations with Jomo Kenyatta.
Fitz was one of the few who were courageous enough to tell me about the abuse-riddled stoush between Pinto and Kenyatta in the corridors of Parliament that probably spelt the end of him.
In this book, De Souza tells how he tried to save his friend by attempting to bring him down to earth just before he was killed.
“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 who Ndegwa was and that he was trying to organise to kill him.”
De Souza says that this visit was “perhaps … a warning”. But this did not deter Pinto from a project he was carrying out to embarrass all the land-grabbers.
The Kenyatta’s lawyer says that the “warning” 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 Mboya’s Sessional Paper 10. The expectation was (that) there was to be an explosive result: a vote of no confidence against Kenyatta.”
When he got to learn about Pinto’s new escapades, De Souza says he tried to warn him too: “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 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.”
The former deputy speaker now says that Pinto appeared not to have taken heed.
“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.