Members and Friends of the Standard Group – Hamjambo! Habari Zenu?
Before I go any further I must clarify something – Strictly speaking I am not a Jeevanjee. I should have informed the organisers—would withdraw the invitation.
Now here I am. Jeevanjee is my maternal grandfather. My mother Shirin was…… youngest child………..my father, an ophthalmic surgeon, was his favourite son-in-law.
So I am not a Jeevanjee. Nor do I carry my father’s name. That is how complicated a woman’s life is …. But that is a story for another day.
Enough of me. Let us talk of the man who has brought us all here today. Tonight is not a night for long historical lectures so I shall give you a very brief account of the role he has played in today’s event. For those who would like to know more; please refer to my biography Challenge to Colonialism – The Struggle of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee for Equal Rights in Kenya.
A M Jeevanjee … born 1856 … Karachi Pakistan. Established a very successful stevedoring and dubashing firm in Karachi but at the age of 30, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to look for other commercial opportunities. He spent some years in Australia, returned to Karachi and then sailed to East Africa, landing in Mombasa. He found commerce undeveloped here and after some years, returned to India.
In 1985, when the British considered building the Uganda railway, they requested Jeevanjee to return and assist them in the venture. He had a good working relationship with the colonial administrators so he joined them; and with the various contracts he was given, built himself a fortune. However, things changed at the turn of the century when the white settlers from Britain and the Boers from South Africa arrived on the scene.
Amongst them was Olive Grey, an Australian woman who fretted at the racial stigma of being regarded ‘not quite white’ because she was married to an Anglo-Indian.
She became editor on the East Africa and Uganda Mail which had been started by a Charles Palmer in 1899. Palmer tried to compete with Jeevanjee’s business acumen unsuccessfully and vented his annoyance in the Mail.
When Olive Grey joined in and extended her frustrations to the entire Indian community, Jeevanjee decided ‘enough was enough’.
Not interested in pursuing lawsuits, Jeevanjee’s versatile mind chose to do a ‘tit for tat’. He was no journalist, he was not even that fluent in English, so he imported the East African Protectorate’s first high speed press and recruited William Henry Tiller as editor. Tiller at that time was night editor of the London News Agency and had an impressive career record.
Thus was launched the African Standard, Mombasa Times and Uganda Argus – That was its first name. Jeevanjee never did things by halves! The first issue, a weekly, was published on 15 November 1901.
Jeevanjee’s financial resources combined with Tiller’s professional ability quickly made the African Standard a formidable competitor to the Mail.
In August 1904, almost 3 years later, the Mail was declared bankrupt and ceased publication. Jeevanjee had scored a bull’s eye! As I said earlier he himself had no penchant for journalism so his purpose having been achieved he sold the newspaper to Anderson and Mayer who were proprietors of Mombasa’s Grand Hotel.
The paper was then renamed as the East African Standard and in 1910, its headquarters were moved to Nairobi. Well aware of his increasingly anti-colonial feelings, one of the clauses of the sale contract was that the paper would never print any derogatory statements about Jeevanjee.
This then is the story of how it all began, and why we are here today. I was only 6 months old when Jeevanjee passed away in 1935 so I have no idea if he had envisioned that his 2 great legacies in Kenya, the Standard newspaper and Jeevanjee Gardens would endure – but many thanks from all of us to the Standard Group for unearthing this history and bringing us all into it.