Pinto Talk – 2018
PIO GAMA PINTO
At Shiraz Book Launch 21/2/2018
I will present a very brief outline of Pinto’s life history and then highlight a few of his characteristics which I think are of relevance to our struggles today.
Pio Gama Pinto was born in Nairobi – 1927
Well educated political family – sister was an MLA in India, father in Kenya Civil Service for 30 years, brother Rosario fully supported Pinto’s political work.
Schooling in India – joined a strike – formed an organization to fight Portuguese colonialism in Goa.
To avoid arrest returned to Kenya in 1949.
Started working as clerk but soon drawn into politics. Became secretary to EA Indian National Congress, joined Denis Akumu in African Workers Congress which was in opposition to Tom Mboya’s US-affiliated Labour Union, took on editorship of the Daily Chronicle. Printed and also posted posters, wrote numerous reports of colonial plans and policies and drafted speeches for Kenya’s leaders.
Taught himself Kiswahili in order to be closer to the people.
When Emergency declared in October 1952, procured funds and weapons for the Mau Mau freedom fighters from Nehru, Prime Minister of India and established a Mau Mau War Council in Mathare.
1954 married Emma Dias from Goa – 5 months later was detained on Manda Island near Lamu together with Achieng Oneko and others including 2 South Asians. Final released in 1959 and immediately set about contacting and helping the widows and families of the freedom fighters.
Worked tirelessly to bring KANU to victory. With other South Asians formed the Kenya Freedom Party as then KANU was for Africans only. Incredible work schedule: It was not unusual to find Pinto at his desk at 2.00am and then meeting a visitor at 5.00am.
Pinto never sought status or income for himself. Whatever he had he shared with fellow detainees or the needy. He died a pauper.
In 1963 Pinto was elected as Member of the Central Legislative Assembly and in July of the following year he was appointed a Specially Elected Member of the House of Representatives.
With Jaramogi Odinga, Kali, Oneko, Kaggia, Okello and others he established the Lumumba Institute and the Pan African Press essentially to train party cadres. Here, in April 1965, in a secret conclave the group plotted a parliamentary coup, Pinto was the rapporteur. They planned to present their alternative to the Tom Mboya-led Sessional Paper No 10 on African Socialism. By now a serious ideological rift had developed between Jomo Kenyatta and his clique and this socialist group which was demanding a ceiling on land ownership, a more equitable distribution of wealth and just rewards for the Mau Mau freedom fighters.
Pio Gama Pinto was assassinated on 24 February 1965 – gunned down in broad daylight as he drove out of his gate, his terrified 18 month old daughter Tereshka in the back seat of the car, watched the dastardly deed.
Soon after the murder, Pinto’s comrades, for security reasons, lit a bonfire in his back garden and fed it with ALL of Pinto’s writings and documents – the lot. Hence we have no means of accessing Pinto’s thoughts, concerns, ideology even. Fortunately a year after his death, the Pan African Press published a booklet with all the many, many eulogies expressed and these give us some insight into the life of this truly remarkable Kenyan.
For those who are interested the eulogies are available in AwaaZ Issue 1 which we published in 2005 and is available at the desk outside.
I would like to spend the next few minutes just highlighting what I think that some of Pinto’s life story can teach us in our present struggles.
It was Burudi Nabwera who said that ‘Pinto was a socialist – but his approach to socialism was non-doctrinaire. He was not a textbook intellectual. He relied very heavily on his native intelligence, most of his ideas were based on common sense. By and large he preferred a pragmatic approach to solving problems.’ So for example, though he was well versed in the injustices of capitalism and class, he did not call for nationalization and instead campaigned for a mixed economy. He stopped at ceilings on land ownership and a more equitable distribution of wealth. He knew that in 1963, Kenya neither had the assets to nationalize nor the skills to manage them. So Pinto made his plans very much in keeping with the times.
Dr Munyua Waiyaki said that Pinto was ‘a first class schemer and strategist’. He outmaneuvered the security network to secretly secure funding for the victory of KANU in the 1963 elections thus out smarting KADU and its imperialist backers. And he was not averse to taking harsh measures to achieve his political goal – Kenyan Intelligence suspected that he had a hand in the murders of chiefs Waruhiu and Hinga, and of Mbotela and Ofafa. So Pinto was not averse to using violence for furthering the people’s struggle.
Pinto practiced mass-roots organization rather than just grass-roots interaction. He was in close contact with top government leaders as well as village elders, with the rich as well as the poor. He was well rooted at all levels of Kenyan society. He took help from wherever he could get it with the sole aim of benefitting the Kenyan masses.
It was Joe Slovo in South Africa and Martin Luther King who, much later, said: An injury to one is an injury to all. Pinto observed this ethos fully. When Fitz de Souza asked him ‘why are you trying to liberate the Goans in India?’ Pinto said ‘But we all need to be liberated’. Later he had planned to join Frelimo to fight the Portuguese in Mozambique. Clearly he believed that one cannot make exceptions as a revolutionary. For example in today’s Kenya: You cannot be a sexist or homophobe and then claim you are not a racist or ethnic chauvinist.
Which brings me to the issue of religion. I can say without hesitation that one of the biggest obstacles to mobilizing people in the struggle for a better world is the religious fundamentalism that is being propagated by the Capitalist ruling class and its allies everywhere. And we Kenyans have succumbed to it hook, line and sinker. So sacred are these ‘religious’ lies and rituals that while we can publicly discuss ‘socialism’ or ‘class’ we are unable to question ‘religion’. And religion ensures that we remain idealists believing that wealth and poverty, and the hundreds of other injustices, are God-given – our duty is to try and make life more bearable for the poor, etc. It is the dialectical materialists who ask the why and how questions which lead us to the roots of our oppression. We know that Pinto was born a Catholic but beyond that no-where is there any mention of his faith or belief. If they existed they were totally immaterial to his completely self-less devotion to the struggle.
As activists, I believe, we must lead by example and we have much to learn from Pio Gama Pinto’s life and thinking. Power to the PEOPLE.