15th March 1922
Nairobi, Kenya Colony, British East Africa.
I was born in Nairobi on the day when the colonial soldiers opened fire on the crowd protesting against the imprisonment of Harry Thuku. Harry Thuku, a soldier in the Kings African Rifles, the star battalion at the legendary parades of the British army in Nairobi, had just returned home to Kenya from the war in Burma. He now defied the governor’s order on the wearing of the hated kipande. The kipande itself was just a numbered metal identity pass that all native casuals in the Indian business streets and plantation labourers in the White Highlands had to wear with a chain around the neck. But it was because of the memories of chained slaves that were not so distant from the workers’ minds that they could not but see their new metal ID as a symbol of slavery. Thus it did not surprise anyone when the bazaar folk talked cagily about the growing numbers of disgruntled workers around the country who objected to the wearing of the pass. “But,” they would argue, “it’s the law of Kenya Colony that all native subjects of the king must be seen with the metal ID at work.” What they did not know was what I learnt much later in my adulthood, that if the law was not peacefully obeyed, it would be brutally enforced. The Empire needed to recover from the war by developing its colonies as quickly as possible so it would be ready for another war. And for that a disciplined African labour force like Indian commerce and skilled builders, was essential.