Life & Times of de Souza

The liberation of Kenya can be considered in two linked phases. The first was the war of independence from British colonialism, which ended in 1963. The second phase started after independence and is an on-going struggle for liberation from capitalism and imperialism. Any assessment of a Party, a politician or an activist needs to take account of these phases with differing conditions and requirements.

Fitz de Souza’s activities and contributions can be assessed separately in the two phases. The earlier phase has been well covered, including in the introductory section of his autobiography (de Souza, 2019). An important reflection of his life and stand can be gleaned from how others saw him in his personal life. An excellent insight is provided by Gama-Pinto (2020), Pio Gama Pinto’s daughter, Linda: 

As regards Fitz, unfortunately, I really can’t comment on his political views. I can say that he and Romola were kind to my mother. We were in Canada some time before any of my father’s friends visited us. … Fitz came a couple of times, once with his whole family in 1974. I was 16 and was licensed to drive and acted as ‘chauffeur’, driving them on a sightseeing trip to Ottawa, Kingston and around Toronto.

I do recall him saying that he was a “humanist”. In 1980 Fitz paid for our entire family, including my grandmother, to fly to Kenya for a four-week holiday. Whenever my mum passed through London, she spent a couple of days at the de Souza’s. 

Whatever Fitz’s political views, I can only judge his actions and behaviour toward our small family. He kept in regular contact, gave a lovely gift of a return visit to Kenya (our first since our departure in 1967) and he always welcomed mother’s presence. At my sister’s (Malusha) request, he journeyed to Canada and walked her down the aisle and he also gave me a generous wedding gift. No one else of that political class, regardless of their avowed beliefs, not Murumbi, Oneko, nor numerous others kept in contact to see whether or how, their “friend’s” widow and children were fairing. I am not angry or bitter – through hard work and perseverance we built good lives here. We are, each of us, blessed in countless ways. I do wonder, however, if those other “friends”, and the nation for whom papa sacrifice everything, ever asked themselves if they could have done anything to easy a widow’s burden? Whatever Fitz’s political views, his actions demonstrated that he was a good friend to my father.

That is indeed a glowing a reflection on Fitz de Souza’s personality and his contribution to the struggle in Kenya. It is easy to mouth high political slogans and proclaim adherence to high ideals but it is in daily life and in personal and social relations that a true assessment can be made of a person’s real character, away from the glare of cameras and news reports.

Fitz de Souza’s contribution to the liberation of Kenya from colonialism was exemplary as indicated in his memoirs and various studies on him. But he also deserves a critical appraisal if he is not to be patronised by reviews. It is in this spirit that the following section has been written.

Two Paths 

Kenya’s history is one of contradictions. On the one hand were the external contradictions between the people of Kenya and colonialism and imperialism. This changed qualitatively with the achievement of independence when people’s contradiction with capitalism and imperialism became the primary one. 

On the other hand, there was the internal contradiction among the people themselves. During the colonial period, the contradictions were between those who sought changes and reforms through petitions to the British Government and those who took a more militant position of armed struggle to end colonialism. After independence, the contradictions were between those who favoured capitalism and became willing allies of imperialism and those who wanted socialism and resisted imperialism. The history of Kenya, as well the role of individual politicians, can only be understood fully within the context of these internal and external contradictions.

Jomo Kenyatta and KANU-B Partyi reflected the former position — support for capitalism — and sought to retain the economic and political structures created by colonialism. Their action intensified class conflict and resulted in increased poverty for the working people, while the comprador bourgeoisie grabbed national wealth and resources. Their ideological position was expressed in the Kenya Republic Sessional Paper No. 10 (1965) which became the national policy under Kenyatta. The economic, social and political outcomes of these policies are summed up by Ochieng’ (1995, p. 91): 

The postcolonial state has largely inherited the former colonial economic infrastructure and policies. Kenya’s economy is still dominated by multinational corporations and foreign capital. While the former ruling and farming European bourgeoisie departed at independence, their positions were largely inherited by an indigenous bourgeoisie, who are ruling in collaboration with international finance. Although it is demonstrable that the interests of the indigenous (or local) bourgeoisie and those of foreign capital are not harmonious, no fundamental structural changes have been made in the inherited colonial economy

The new government, under guidance from imperialist countries, used state power and resources to reinforce the class system initiated by colonialism. It is the vested interest created under this programme that created the new petty bourgeoisie, many of them were the homeguards created by colonialism to fight Mau Mau.

The opposing side was made up of those who sought equality and justice and rejected capitalism in favour of socialist policies. Their position was reflected at the time of independence, for example, in the document, The Struggle for Kenya’s Future (1961) which stated:

Let us fashion an ideology which will unify the vast majority of our people by articulating their needs and by advancing a program of socialist development in agriculture and industry which promises to eradicate poverty, disease and illiteracy, a program which will draw out the creative talents and energies of our people, giving them that personal dignity and pride which comes from socially constructive and productive activity. Let us, in short, provide our people with the ideological and organizational tools necessary for the achievement of genuine independence and development. Let us not sell them cheaply down the glittering path of neocolonialism and social, economic and cultural stagnation.

Socialism was also the aim of the Kenya People’s Union whose Manifesto (1966, pp.3-5) proclaimed that it will ‘pursue truly socialist policies to benefit the wananchi. It will share out the nation’s wealth equitably among the people and extend national control over the means of production and break the foreigners’ grip on the economy…’

These then were the two positions in Kenya politics when Fitz de Souza was active. The need after independence was not to continue the colonial status quo but to chart out a new path where justice and equality played key roles.

In this situation, many people, including Oginga Odinga, Bildad Kaggia, Makhan Singh, Fred Kubai, Pio Gama Pinto and Ambu Patel stood firmly for socialism and opposed Kenyatta for taking the capitalist path as he went on looting and stealing national resources. Below are two examples of the position of prominent South Asian activists which contrasts with the position taken by de Souza. Makhan Singh, a communist, was perhaps one of the most influential figure in the history of Kenya. The threat he posed to the imperialist status quo by his opposition to capitalism and imperialism was so powerful that he was locked up by the British colonial governments in Kenya for 11 years and in India for over four years. Jomo Kenyatta also feared Makhan Singh’s influence on the trade union movement and kept him away from politics, yet he remained steadfast in his pro-people stand. He made no compromises for position and power. Seidenberg (1983, p.97) provides a record on his stand and achievement:

With the return of Makhan Singh in August 1947, the trade union movement also acquired a radical wing. Having spent eight years in India actively participating in the trade union movement and the political struggle for independence, Makhan Singh was well equipped to breathe new life into Kenya’s labour and freedom campaign. The Labour Trade Union of East Africa formed in 1937 and later the larger East African Trade Union Congress (EATUC) formed in May 1949 became the nerve centres for activities of the more militant Asians. From 1947 until 1952, when all trade union activities were proscribed, Makhan Singh worked in behind-the-scenes activities with prominent African trade unionists including Bildad Kaggia, Aggrey Minya and Tom Mboya.

The second example is that of Pio Gama Pinto. At the time of independence in 1963, Pio Gama Pinto (1963) went on record to proclaim:

Kenya’s Uhuru must not be transformed into freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry, and live in ignorance. Uhuru must be Uhuru for the masses — Uhuru from exploitation, from ignorance, disease and poverty. The sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands of Kenya’s freedom fighters must be honoured by the effective implementation of KANU’s policy — a democratic, African, socialist state in which the people have the rights, in the words of the KANU election manifesto, “to be free from economic exploitation and social inequality”.

It was everything that Kenyatta opposed. Fitz de Souza, by aligning himself with Kenyatta and rejecting in his actions the position of Pinto and his colleagues became, intentionally or not, a supporter of Kenyatta’s position.

Battle Lines Drawn 

By the time independence was won, battle lines had already been drawn between those who favoured capitalism and all the ills it implied and those who opposed it and came up with alternative proposals. In this situation, individual politicians could no longer claim to be neutral. Everybody had to take sides. There was now a clear dividing line in Kenya politics.

The ideological stand of Kenyatta and KANU-B had been set out clearly even before they came to power. It was no easy task for Kenyatta to impose his power over the country as he faced powerful opposition. However, he managed to clear his path to absolute power, of course with imperialist support. Mutie et al (2015, p.56) explains how he planned to gain legitimacy as a national leader:

Faced with the twin problem of forging a nation from the diverse ethnic communities of Kenya and placating the Kikuyu masses, Kenyatta decided to pursue both goals simultaneously. He co-opted the power elite of other ethnic nationalities into his ruling coalition and by so doing, he set himself up as the ultimate patron in the neo-patrimonial state he presided over, without placating the poor and the dispossessed. This complex client-patron network within which Kenyatta set up “ethnic chiefs” was aimed at helping him retain power.

Fitz de Souza’s rise to power in the Kenyatta government needs to be seen in this context. Kenyatta needed a person well respected within the South Asian community to strengthen his position as baba wa taifa.ii But he wanted no radicals. Few met his requirements for the South Asian community. Makhan Singh would come with all the workers and their socialist ideologies if given half a chance and Pio Gama Pinto would stick to his principles of justice and equality. Joseph Murumbi did not stay on board once he saw the real nature of the Kenyatta clique when it resorted to the assassination of Pio Gama Pinto. Many others were too economically powerful or had other strengths that Kenyatta did not want.

The ideal person should appear to be neutral, well respected nationally and internationally, ideally with a background in law so he would respect the rule of law, however unfair it was; with ‘no personal interest in leadership’ as de Souza (2019, pg. 207) says. And someone who would be comfortable with capitalism and with working under Kenyatta and KANU-B.

Kenyatta found his ideal candidate in Fitz de Souza who he knew well from his trial days. He was honest, hardworking and loyal. That is not to say de Souza was part of the mafia clique that Kenyatta created. He worked with the best intentions, hoping to serve people who needed support and rule of law. Events were to show that there was no neutrality in the battles raging in Kenya. One had to be committed either to Kenyatta and capitalism or to socialism and join Oginga Odinga, Pio Gama Pinto, Makhan Singh, Bildad Kaggia and many others who were charting out an alternative, socialist path. The price that the latter group paid was high, as the assassination of Pinto showed. But de Souza chose to be on the side of Kenyatta. He was not coerced into joining the group that hi-jacked independence. He did not join out of ignorance of what Kenyatta stood for. In his Memoirs (de Souza, 2019, p. 235) he states clearly what Kenyatta represented:

Kenyatta [was] a leader who saw the fruits of independence as belonging not only to the country and the party, but also to himself and those close to him.

Indeed, Kenyatta had offered de Souza various favours, which would not have happened were he not totally corrupt. Again, de Souza (2019):

Kenyatta equated loyalty with land, and as early as the Lancaster House talks, had told me that when independence came I should have some as a reward and to be patriotic. …He offered me not one farm but several (p.228)…. Kenyatta seemed keen that I should have a position in the new Kenya, and as well as offering me farms, asked if I would like to be a minister, or Attorney General (p.233)… Kenyatta pretended to be on the left when it suited him, and on the right when it suited him. I think his ideology was basically that of himself as ruling patriot… and he had an absolute determination to remain in power

At the same time, de Souza knew how ruthless Kenyatta could be, as he told Pio Gama Pinto a number of times. And he also knew what Pinto and the others he worked with stood for. The opposing positions of the two sides were clearly shown in the battles over socialism vs capitalism, disguised as African Socialism. The Sessional Paper 10 (1965) of the Kenyatta side and the alternate proposal that Pinto and others were working on were well known to de Souza. 

It is then clear that knowing what each side of the contradictions in Kenya stood for, de Souza took a decision to side with Kenyatta while keeping in close contact with Pinto and his socialist allies, perhaps out of sympathy for their position; perhaps he hoped to bring the two sides together. The tragedy for de Souza was that an honest, well-meaning person was used by ruthless gangsters who had captured national leadership.



De Souza, Fitz (2019): Forward to Independence: My Memoirs. Independently Published. Gama-Pinto, Linda (2020): Personal communications. email, 24-05-2020. 

Kenya People’s Union (1966): The Manifesto of the Kenya People’s Union. Quoted in Ochieng’, William R. (1995): Structural & Political Changes. In Ogot, B.A. & W.R. Ochieng’ (1995, p.99). 

Kenya, Republic of: African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya. 1965. Nairobi: Government Printer. G.P.K. 3938-5m-12/65. 

Muchai, Karigo (1973): The Hardcore. Life Histories from the Revolution No. 1. Richmond,B.C., Canada: LSM Information Centre. 

Mutie, Steve M. (2015): Jomo Kenyatta’s Speeches and the Construction of the Identities of Nationalist Leader in Kenya. English Language and Literature Studies 5(2) 2015. 

Ochieng’, William R. (1995): Structural & Political Changes. In Ogot, B.A. & W.R. Ochieng’ (1995),pp. 83-109. 

Ogot, B.A. & W.R. Ochieng’ (1995): Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940-93. London: James Currey. 

Pinto, Pio Gama (1963): Glimpses of Kenya’s Nationalist Struggle. Pan Africa. 12-12-1963. Alsopublished as a monograph: Nowrojee, Viloo and Edward Miller (Editors, 2014): Glimpses of Kenya’s Nationalist Struggle by Pio Gama Pinto. Nairobi: Asian African Heritage Trust. Reproduced in Durrani, Shiraz (Ed, 2018): Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya’s Unsung Martyr 1927 – 1965. Nairobi: Vita Books. 

The Struggle For Kenya’s Future. The document was written as ‘part of a collective effort byseveral Kenyans and myself [Don Barnett]… It was mimeographed and distributed at the Kenya African National Union (KANU) conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in December 1961’ – Don Barnett in Muchai, K. (1973): 5-9. 29