Shamlal Puri

Asian journalists have played a sterling role in the independence struggle and the development of the media in East Africa, yet Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have failed to fully acknowledge their roles. Many of them who formerly lived and worked in the region have migrated to the UK, Canada, the US and other parts of the world. A new book chronicling the lives of the unsung heroes of East African journalism has just been published.

SHAMLAL PURI, who has worked in East Africa, profiles some of these journos who moved to the UK.  



Years ago, I was assigned by the venerable the late Khushwant Singh, editor of erstwhile The Illustrated Weekly of India, to profile Mrs Frene Noshir Ginwala the amiable Indian-origin Parsi managing editor of Tanganyika Standard Newspapers, for an article on East African Asians in that popular magazine. When I approached, Mrs Ginwala, my former editor at The Standard and Sunday News in Dar es Salaam for an interview she gave me a terse but friendly response saying “I don’t believe that as an editor I should personally seek any publicity….”

Colleagues of my era at The Standard often referred to Mrs Ginwala as a “Cyclone in a Sari” because of her strict discipline in the newsroom. This great lady became the first Speaker of the South African Parliament when Nelson Mandela was elected the President.

Ginwala’s rejection of a personal interview came from a breed of journalists from the old school of thought who believed that journalists themselves should not seek publicity. Strangely enough, as I matured in journalism Mrs Ginwala’s words had struck a chord and I also absorbed myself in that modesty shying away from any self-publicity until a senior seasoned journalist woke me up saying times have changed – if you don’t court publicity you will be left far behind in the media circus of the 21st century.

Of course, it is now time for our voices to be heard loud and clear because Asian journalists have left their deep footprints in the world of journalism in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. But their roles have either been written off in the history of the region or conveniently forgotten in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam the three capitals – Dar es Salaam being the economic capital of Tanzania. These are the questions that have always been asked by the actors involved in shaping the independence of these countries and most importantly, the Fourth Estate with some complaining that they have never been recognised with national awards and that their contribution to the national development was not been seen worthy of being noted in the pages of the histories of these countries.

Far from being in cushy jobs and locked up in their own ivory towers these journalists have found themselves in the thick of action risking their own lives to bring news in the newspapers which landed on the breakfast tables of the rest of the country.  They have faced extraordinary challenges, serious threats to their person – including imprisonment and death threats from people in the corridors of power. One scribe Nairobi-born Goan Cyprian Fernandes working at the Daily Nation recalls being warned through a message left with his wife that “a bullet will be put in his head” and one more warning later that “there was a bullet with his name on it”. All this was for his relentless investigative stories in The Nation. Fernandes and his family now live in Australia where Cyprian has worked for the prestigious Fairfax media group

The long wait for the recognition of Asian journalists is now over. Nairobi writer Zarina Patel has stepped in to fill the void with her outstanding 218 page coffee-table book The In-Between World of Kenya’s Media: South Asian Journalists 1900-1992, which was launched recently in the Kenyan capital. The fascinating book covers the role played by Asian journalists for 92 years after which the media was liberalised.

Interestingly, Zarina, who is the author of several books, is the granddaughter of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, the founder of The African Standard the first Asian-owned newspaper in Kenya in 1901 to counter vile racism against Asians by British-owned colonial newspapers at the time. The white-run newspapers went bankrupt and Jeevanjee sold his newspaper to two Englishmen who renamed it as the East African Standard which is published until today as The Standard.

Published by Zand Graphics, this book tells the stories of the unsung heroes of the freedom era journalists. Zarina Patel painstakingly chronicles their lives with information gleaned from archives gathering dust in the newspaper houses injecting a new life into the big untold story of how Indian and Asian journalists were part of the national media crew covering events relating to the independence struggle of yester-years. No mean feat as it took the author five years to get the information under one cover.

In writing this book, she worked tirelessly to track down 28 surviving scribes or their surviving relatives inviting them to tell stories of their life and times as journalists. Then she turned to 18 photographers and ten radio journalists who worked in the media in the independence era to trace their stories. The passage of so many decades has not dimmed their contributions to the Fourth Estate.

Many of these journalists who worked in the Kenyan and East African media and whose careers have been brought to life in this unique book migrated to the UK and other parts of the world while others still live in East Africa.

Some like the late Chottu Karadia made history in Kenya when in 1960 he was appointed the first Asian reporter on the newly-launched Daily Nation owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual head of the Ismaili community at the dawn of Kenya’s independence.

Chottu rose to the ranks from a news reader on the Voice of Kenya, wrote for the continent’s only Gujarati newspaper Africa Samachar and after migrating to the UK in 1964 variously worked with the Birmingham Post and Western Mail in Cardiff, Wales before launching his own magazine Asian Post until it closed in 1984. He passed away in 1990 aged 54.

Chottu’s younger brother Kenya-born Suresh Karadia, who lives in London, also achieved the distinction of being a well-known photographer for major British national dailies – The Times, The Independent, and Sunday Times and today is a film director at CNN.

Another popular name of the yester-years was Bal Raj Chibber, popular known as Billy Chibber. The teacher-turned newsman’s career spanned 30 years working with Uganda Argus in Uganda moving later to Daily Nation, Drum and Trust magazines. He was known for his hard-nosed investigative journalism. He was deported from Uganda but managed to enter Kenya. He settled in Britain in 1971. He died in 1993 aged 70.

Alfred De Araujo, a Goan journalist rose through the ranks of a reporter to the managing editor of Sunday Nation during his long career. He migrated to UK after the failed military coup in 1982. He says in the book that his years in Kenya were a delicate balancing act like “walking on eggshells most of the time”. He joined the Surrey Mirror Group of Newspapers and was soon named editor of the group until his retirement.

Kenyan-born Abdul-Karim Hudani started his writing career while still at school writing for Nyanza Times, Navyug and Africa Samachar and The Colonial Times. Like Chottu Karadia, he was among the first Asian journalists to join the Daily Nation. He vividly recollects subtle discrimination against Asians getting journalism jobs in the yesteryears. He stood up to Kenya Government’s Africanisation programme under which non-citizen Indian origin Kenyan residents were denied trading licences and forced to leave Kenya. He launched his own paper the Kenya Mirror to continue with his campaigning but was arrested in 1978 over a story he had published and charged with sedition forcing him to close the publication. He launched another paper but discovered the authorities had threatened the printers if they printed his newspaper. Hudani finally sought political asylum in the UK arriving in London in December 1979 as a refugee.

Soft-spoken Polycarp (Polly) Fernandes was a popular sports writer at the Daily Nation, who later got a journalist’s job in Esher Surrey, just outside London.

Kenyan-born Anver Versi was destined to go places after a stint as sports writer at the Daily Nation but being a non-citizen was unable to continue in Kenya. He arrived in London 1983 to continue his dream and was appointed editor of Drum, the pan-African picture magazine, with responsibility for the West African edition. He later joined New African Magazine and took over as the editor of their new product African Business, carved out of the old African development magazine, turning it into a world class product. He retired from there and is referred to as Emeritus Editor of African Business and today lives and works with an international organisation in Accra, Ghana.

Another icon who ruled the Kenya’s airwaves for decades is broadcaster Chaman Lal Chaman. His mesmerising voice behind the microphone became popular on the national network Kenya Broadcasting Service, later called Voice of Kenya where he held senior positions before moving to London in 1974. In the UK he launched London’s first Asian entertainment radio programme Geetmala on London Broadcasting Company (LBC) along with another Kenyan broadcaster Suresh Joshi. Chaman worked for the BBC as a TV presenter for the Asian programme Nayi Zindagi Naya Jeewan and later for Sunrise Radio. He is a popular Urdu poet and has penned lyrics for Bollywood films sung by icons such as Asha Bhosle, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam and ghazals for the late Jagjit Singh and his wife Chitra Singh.

The golden voice of career teacher Deedar Singh Pardesi is known to many Bollywood film fans. His songs were broadcast over Cable & Wireless, the forerunner of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. His voice was aired on Voice of Kenya for a quarter of century. He entered Bollywood singings songs for the likes of Biswajeet, duets with Asha Bhosle. He is now settled in UK.

Pritam Singh Chaggar, his wife Tochi Chaggar and Harbhajan Preet are noted Kenyan broadcasters living in the UK.

While Zarina Patel’s efforts in writing this book are highly laudable, she may not have been able to reach everyone who worked in Kenyan journalism. Two names come to mind – Gary Gurmeet, a young Sikh Nairobi journalist who came to London in 1968, rose to be the editor of a local newspaper group Middlesex County Newspapers and later its Managing Director. He later became the Chairman Ethnic Media Group, publishers of newspapers for Asian and African-Caribbean communities. My former colleague now lives in retirement.

I have recollection of how Nairobi journalist Brahm Kapila made headlines when he was deported from Kenya after being accused of possession of what was allegedly claimed to be banned literature. The locals splashed a picture of him on the front page being escorted to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in a Police Land Rover. He settled in Hounslow, West London, and later worked with Chottu Karadia as an editor at the short-lived Asian Post where I also used to be a writer.

This book contains a wealth of knowledge and is definitely worth a read both individually and in public libraries. It has a mine of information which simply cannot be found anywhere else. The book costs UK, Europe and South Asia: US$65, US, Canada and Australia: US$70.

Shamlal Puri worked in East Africa for many years before migrating to the UK. His four-page career profile is published in this book.


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