Episode 6

Political Mastermind

William Hollingsworth Attwood. Journalist turned diplomat. William Attwood was a U.S. ambassador in Guinea, when Sekou Toure was president, but Attwood got polio and had to return to America. He then worked for U.S. President John F Kennedy, he says, to negotiate with Fidel Castro. But then John F Kennedy was assassinated. After that, the Foreign Service gave Attwood a choice for where he could work next. He could be ambassador in Chile or in Kenya.

Attwood chose Kenya in a heartbeat. For many reasons. Number 1, he said, Kenya had just gotten independence. "Here was a country about to undergo the birth pangs and growing pains of independence. There would be problems—the kind I enjoyed coping with."

He made sure he said "Kehn-ya" and not "Keeenya" like the colonial British. And so, in 1964, William Attwood became the first U.S. ambassador to KEHN-ya.

As the first ambassador to KEHN-ya, Attwood had an important job. This was during the Cold War, between the U.S. and its allies (the Western bloc) and the Soviet Union and its allies (the Eastern bloc).

It was Cold because there was no direct military violence happening—at least within the superpower countries. Basically, you had these two sides (Western bloc, capitalist; Eastern bloc, communist) vying for influence in newly independent countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

And so, at the same time that all of these countries were finally independent in the 1950s and 1960s, there was now a new "scramble for Africa." A scramble between the West and the East for influence over the new African leaders. But this wasn't a nice, polite process of wooing and vying. 

Superpowers don't ask nicely. If you're an African leader, they could give you favors and you would be their puppet. They would help you stay in power. But what if you didn't want to be their puppet? What if you wanted Africans to decide for themselves, like Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara? Or Pio Gama Pinto? Well, they would try to replace you, get you out of power and put in another puppet. But if they realized that you could not be silenced.... they would take you out.

In 1965, only two years after Kenya gained its independence, Pio Gama Pinto was shot and killed on his driveway in Nairobi. This was Kenya’s first political assassination.

My name is Stoneface, host of Until Everyone Is Free. In this series, me and our producer April Zhu will tell the story of Pio Gama Pinto, a Kenyan freedom fighter. But we tell the story of Pinto to answer a very important question: How did the country of Kenya become free…. Without the people of Kenya becoming free?

Pinto was an ally of the Mau Mau. He was an advocate for land justice. He was a trade union supporter. He was a radical journalist. But he was also a political mastermind, and that is what made him so dangerous.

It was a big weekend race at the Ngong Race Course. William Attwood and other important people were there. Attwood looked around, taking it all in. The place, as usual, was filled with all sorts of people. At the bookies—the place to place bets—there was a crowd of all sorts of people. Some wearing "tribal robes," others wearing saris and turbans, others wearing neat houndstooth jackets, others with bare feet, some with binoculars and shooting sticks.

Even though most of Attwood's job involved schmoozing with Kenyan leaders, it was also important for him to help give everyday Kenyans a "good impression" of America. This was not an easy task, because that summer of 1964 was a summer of racial violence in the U.S. Every day newspapers and TV carried reports of Black Americans being brutalized by white racists, especially in the South.

So, for Attwood, it was important that there were “useful visitors” that could prove to Kenyans that Americans were good people. USA Marafiki. Earlier, 4,000 American sailors from the US Navy docked at Mombasa. They "swarmed over the city for four days": sports teams competed with Kenyan teams, they spruced up playgrounds in the city, and local Kenyan leaders were invited on the ship and entertained and dined. They put on a military show where they shot into the air, explosions.

Typical Cold War stuff. You had to display your guns and bombs so your enemies could see. You wouldn't use them, but your enemies had to know that you could if you wanted to. One Kenyan minister even said, “It is comforting to know that we have such powerful friends.” According to Attwood, groups like these Navy sailors were, "useful visitors."

But that day at the Race Course, Attwood ran into a “not-so-welcome visitor.” Someone who made him panic, even if briefly.

The man was sitting in the VIP Box, with President Kenyatta. The man was wearing spectacles. He was leaning over, listening to a member of Kenyatta's cabinet. At first glance, Attwood thought he was a white man. But then he took a closer look, and saw that he was just lighter in complexion. Then, he took an even closer look—and realized this man was a very, very controversial guest indeed.

This man was Malcolm X.

[Malcolm X] “One of the first things that the independent African nations was to form an organization called the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The purpose of our Organization of Afro-American Unity, which has the same aim and objective: to fight with whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western hemisphere and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary.”

This was not his first trip to Kenya, but it was his first trip since Kenya was an independent country. It would also be his last. Why was he here? He was touring Africa to gather support from African leaders. He wanted to bring the problem of racism in the U.S.—violence against Black Americans, their disenfranchisement, discrimination and poverty—before the UN.

This is the man Attwood saw, sitting with Kenyatta. Attwood panicked. He turned to one of his Kenyan colleagues nearby and asked him, Who did this man come with? Who let him come? Do they know who he is?

The Kenyan colleague responded that Achieng Oneko was introducing him as “America’s outstanding civil rights leader.” No no no, said Attwood, that's not who he really is.

Malcolm X was indeed fighting for Black liberation, but what set him apart from other civil rights activists in the US is that he believed black people in America should get power “by any means necessary”—including violence. Black people in the US were being beat up, being killed, being lynched. And people were asking Black folks to nonviolently, nicely ask their killers to stop killing them?

Attwood alerted other parties in Kenya of Malcolm X’s arrival, suggesting they “enlighten their African friends in advance.” He thought that, like the Kenyan dignitaries in Mombasa who were just happy to have "such powerful friends" in the U.S. 

It did not occur to him that Black people in America and Kenyans, who had just fought off the British, had so much more in common. That they were connecting the dots between their struggles for Black liberation from the “white power structure of capitalist imperalism." They were fighting the same enemy, from Mississippi to Nairobi.

You could hear from the way Attwood spoke that he thought Kenyans were gullible and simple, that they were easily impressed. He thought that Malcolm X was just "wooing" them in the way that he was. It did not occur to him that there was a dialogue, that in their solidarity, Black Americans were also learning from radical Kenyans.

At a 1964 rally in Harlem, New York City, Malcolm X shared what he had learned from the Kenyan struggle for independence.

[Malcolm X] In Alabama, we need a Mau Mau. In Georgia, we need a Mau Mau. Right here in Harlem in New York City, we need a Mau Mau.

At that same rally, the SNCC Freedom Singers sang a song about Oginga Odinga.

When Mau Mau began using violence, picking up and making their own guns, then the white colonizers declared a State of Emergency. When Malcolm X called for Black Americans to take up arms and get freedom through violence—like the Mau Mau did here—he caused a State of Emergency in the U.S.

Malcolm X learned a lot from his trips to Africa. He gained a pan-African consciousness. He learned that the struggles faced by Black people in the US and Kenya were not so different just because they were separated by borders. Malcolm X realized that the minds of Black Americans also needed to be decolonized.

There was one person Malcolm X really connected with when he was here in Nairobi, a man who helped him on his campaign to bring the U.S.' atrocities against Black Americans to the UN.

We haven't been able to confirm this, but it is said that, when Malcolm X was in Nairobi, he may have stayed in the guest room of a smallish house in what is now Westlands.

6 Lower Kabete Road. This was the house of Pio Gama Pinto.

6 Lower Kabete Road. The place where that house used to stand is now Sarit Centre. That's why one of the small roads next to Sarit Centre is called Pio Gama Pinto Road.

Pio and Emma would have never gotten this house if it weren't for Emma. If it was up to Pio, they might have lived in that one-room bedsitter forever. After Pio was released from detention on Manda Bay, Pio and Emma stayed together in "open detention" for years in Kabarnet—meaning they couldn't leave the house and all communication coming in was censored. During that time, Linda was born. After his release, they moved back to Nairobi, back into their one-room bedsitter behind the house of Pio's friend Fitz de Souza.

Maybe it was fine for Pio, because he was rarely home, always busy organizing, meeting with people, here and there. But Emma was stuck in this tiny house, taking care of two young children with her mother. The toilet was a hole in the ground. Emma put her foot down, and said, no, Pio this is not okay. You have children now. We have a responsibility to them.

[Linda Gama Pinto] "I have overheard my mother say that it was on her insistence that they got a house. At the time, they had two children. She said, 'This is ridiculous, you now have two children, you need to have a house. You go talk to your friends and get us a house.' So it was really on her insistence that we actually had a place to live. Because I think my father—details, details, these personal details he was not really interested in."

Pio's friends agreed with Emma. They all had houses. They kept telling Pio he ought to buy a house, but he always put it off. Joseph Murumbi, one of Pio's best friends, decided they would just stop asking him. They went directly to Emma and told her they had decided to buy a house for them. They told Emma to go around town and look for a house that was suitable, and then tell them. They would not give the money to Pio, because "if that money was in Pio's hands, it would soon be distributed to all his friends and those in need." Just like those days in detention, when he left Manda Island barefoot because he'd given even his shoes away. Pio would never change. That was just Pio.

Emma found a house, and his friends bought it for them. 6 Lower Kabete Road. It wasn’t very big, but it had a few bedrooms and a large yard, with lots of trees and a vast, open lawn. It was there that Pio and Emma made their home.

When a large tree in the yard fell down, Pio kept it. He would chop some of it every day. Little by little. A daily exercise. Emma said it was because he liked to keep his muscles.

[Linda Gama Pinto] We had this big, big fallen tree in the yard, and he would go out there with an axe and chop away at it, so that would be one of his exercises. He would go out there and chop at this massive tree for 15-20 minutes at a time. I mean, he was not a big man, but he had his muscles. I have a feeling that he did have a degree of vanity in that he did keep up a bit of a physical regime to maintain his looks. He didn't get fat; he kept his muscles strong. Mum, do you have anything to add? Was Papa vain? [laughs]

[Emma Gama Pinto] No.

[Linda] She says no, but I—

[Emma] He liked to keep his muscles.

[Linda] Yes, my mum says he liked to keep his muscles. He was an athlete, so I think he kept that aspect of training.

His daughters, Linda, Tereshka, and Malusha, grew up in that house. The little girls would climb up on their father's back, and he would do "weighted" push-ups out on the grass, while they squealed, jolted up and down.

What Linda remembers from those days was always being surrounded by Kenyan women doing household chores. There was a gate at the back of the yard, and people would often show up asking for help, or asking for a job. Pio never said no. He would always give them something, or find some little job around the house for them to do. And so, in those days, Linda remembers there were always plenty of people around, doing small tasks like picking out stones from rice or sorting beans.

Pio set up a study in one of the bedrooms. He put lots of large desks there, and also a bed. Every day, they received newspapers from all different countries. Pio always had an eye on the news and an ear to the radio. He was glued to his typewriter, sending off letters or articles to  leaders of freedom movements all over the world.

Emma described their house as more of a hotel. It was a place where everyone was welcome. People were always dropping in for meals at all hours of the day. And they would often host revolutionaries who were escaping from their home countries like Angola or South Africa. They would stay over for a night or two and share stories about the situation back at home.

6 Lower Kabete Road was a little refuge for those all over the world fighting for freedom.


Dec 12, 1963. Independence Arena. Chilly, night time. At exactly midnight, the lights were all turned off and the place was plunged into darkness. The Union Jack was lowered. At 12:01, the flag of Independent Kenya was hoisted up to replace it.

Black, like the people of Kenya, red for the blood shed during the fight for independence, and green for the country's land. It was the end of 68 years of colonial rule.

In a speech, Uganda's premier Obote honored the Kenyans who died in the struggle for independence. “The struggle in Kenya was bitter. Many people lost their lives. May they not look backwards. May they make their hard-won independence a reality.”

President Jomo Kenyatta also made a speech. But his speech did not even mention Mau Mau. He did not honor the Kenyans who did not live to see this day, did not live to see this flag, did not live to hear this national anthem. Oginga Odinga later wrote that "the fighters of the forest and the camps" are in danger of becoming the "forgotten men of the freedom fight."

The Forgotten Men of the Freedom Fight. For the most part, they weren't given land (Episode 3). These fighters definitely weren't given positions in government, or in the army, police, because it was said they were uneducated. These fighters remained unemployed. The children of detainees or dead freedom fighters could not afford school fees.

Who did get government office? Who got opportunities for higher education? Who got stable jobs in the new administration? Loyalists. Those who remained loyal to the British, while others were fighting "Mzungu aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru." Those who risked it all in the detention camps and in the forests—they had lost out to the people who had played it safe.

Oginga Odinga said this: “The stage following on independence is the most dangerous. This is the point after which many national revolutions in Africa have suffered a setback. National governments have left too much in their countries unchanged."

[Stoneface] This is a very important point that I want to spend some time thinking through, so we’ve called in Fello. How are you?

[Felix] Great.

[Stoneface] What does this mean: That independence is not the same as decolonization.

[Felix] Independence is not the same as decolonization. Ok, so we know what independence looks like. Midnight, national anthem, one flag down, another flag up. What does decolonization look like?

[Stoneface] To understand decolonization, let's start with colonization. What is that?

[Felix] Well....you have a few people in power, foreign people. And they steal the land, they take the natural resources of the country and they "own" it.

[Stoneface] Mhm. And how do they turn that land into money?

[Felix] They grow stuff on it. Well, *they* don't do the growing, they force local "natives" to work on that stolen land, almost for free. Then they sell those cash crops, like coffee, tea, whatever, to outside of the country.

[Stoneface] So basically they are turning the land into crops, turning the crops into money, turning that money into houses and nice things—for themselves.

[Felix] —because it is a privately owned farm. It is the colonizer's farm.

[Stoneface] So the colony, both the land and the people, are being extracted of all their value, and that value goes to Europe.

[Felix] Ok, so that's colonization.

[Stoneface] Right. So now. Look at what happens in Kenya after independence. What changed? Well, the color of the faces of people in power changed. Now the government has black people. But, the balance of power. Who owns what? Who makes money from whom? The power structure never changed. The owners of these big, private farms are black instead of white.

[Felix] Right, there's that quote from Pinto that goes:

[Pinto] If when we have achieved independence, we only have black Lord Delameres instead of white Lord Delameres, we will have achieved very little.

[Stoneface] And many of the same laws that the colonizers created to control the natives, they didn't throw them out. They kept them.

[Felix] Like what?

[Stoneface] Ok, like even this year with corona. In March, Uhuru used the Public Order Act in order to enable the pandemic measures, like curfew. This Public Order Act was created in 1950, right before the Mau Mau State of Emergency. It allowed colonizers to basically round up whomever they wanted. [And, as you know, police have been so violent with curfew enforcement...]

[Felix] So the new leaders really just took over from the colonizers and were like...actually, this is not so bad. Let's not change things too much.

[Stoneface] I mean, things did change. But, again, we need to focus on power. Always look for where the power is. Don't look at the color of the faces, or the tribe. Who really has the power?

[Felix] So what you're saying is that Kenya got independence and went from a colony to the Republic of Kenya—BUT that Kenya did not decolonize, because underneath all the new black faces in government, the underlying power structure did not change.

[Stoneface] Exactly.

[Felix] So then, if these new black faces are the new rulers, does that make them colonizers?

[Stoneface] No, not really. They're simply the new Home Guard.

[Felix] Ohhh......

[Stoneface] The real colonizers are still foreign countries. In colonial times, the British depended on the Home Guard to keep the local population under control, so that they could continue extracting from the land and people. But of course these Home Guard, chiefs, and other loyalists, they got perks. They got some land, or they got more money.

Same thing happened after independence. The colonizers, before leaving, wanted to make sure that land and industries were put in the hands of an African elite.

[Felix] How did they do that?

[Stoneface] So the Agricultural Development Corporation, which funded a lot of the land buy-back programs, was heavily financed by UK, West Germany, US. British employees as a condition. National Assurance Company of Kenya was made into a national company, but only 10% of the company was owned by Kenya. Most of it was British insurance companies.

But, to run all of this, you need to have loyalists in power. That is why, not only in Kenya, but in colonies all around the world that were close to independence, colonizers worked hard to build up a comfortable middle class and build alliances with them.

[Felix] A new Home Guard.

[Stoneface] Exactly. And that's why we call this.....neo-colonialism. The new colonialism.

[Felix] Ahh.... Hm, this makes a lot of sense. And it also makes me think...of course this is not anything new. I don't think we need to teach people that their leaders are corrupt—

[Stoneface] —but it's not even just about corruption. Everyone has a corrupt uncle. We can replace one corrupt leader with another until we're all dead. The problem is that neocolonialists have put people in power who are moderate and easily corruptible, who give handshakes with colonizers rather than put their fists in the air. Instead of asking why those people are so corrupt, we should be asking why they are holding power, and not the people.

[Felix] But corruption is a big problem, no?

[Stoneface] The problem we choose to see defines how we solve it. If we choose to see corruption as the main problem, then the solution to that is to find purer and purer leaders...

[Felix] Mm.

[Stoneface] ...but if we take a step back and see the problem as the entire system, neo-colonialism, that Kenya is still a colony...then the solution to that requires structural change.

[Felix] What do you mean by structural change? Like, big change?

[Stoneface] As in, you can't just repaint the house. You have to knock it down, re-build a foundation, and build a new one with new walls. You have to change the structure.

[Felix] But what would structural change look like in Kenya?

[Felix] We have been told that it is only through private property that progress can be made. You’ve heard this argument. In fact, it was even in the BBI report. They wrote that, even if you split all the wealth among 40 million Kenyans, everyone would only have a small amount. They’re saying that what we actually need to do is grow the entire economy so everyone can have more.

[Stoneface] But look at Nairobi. There is already so much wealth. Look at all those skyscrapers, all those new highrises and hotels, office buildings.

[Felix] Yeah, that’s the real question. If the entire economy grows, will everyone have more?

[Stoneface] No, of course not. Not the way that the economy in Kenya is structured right now. ...Not with capitalism.

[Felix] Once the construction workers who build those skyscrapers are done building them, the buildings will be hidden behind barbed wire. Those construction workers will never get to live in them. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even be let in, unless they’re there to fix something. Neither will their children.

Nairobi keeps growing, keeps modernizing….. but only behind barbed wire.

[Stoneface] And who is all this barbed wire for? The poor. The desperate. Outcast Nairobi.

[Felix] Exactly. So this is the tragedy of private property. So long as you have private property, you will need to protect it from the destitute. ...And how do you protect it from the destitute? Gates. Barbed wire. Askaris….

[Stoneface] …police.

[Felix] Yes, police. Police exist to protect private property.... But only the private property of the rich.

[Stoneface] You see that, in Nairobi, it is only the ghettos that are surrounded by police stations. In Mathare, we have four police stations. Let me read a quote from Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party in the U.S. He said,

[Huey Newton] “The police in our community couldn’t possibly be there to protect our property because we own no property. They couldn’t possibly be there to see that we receive due process of law for the simple reason that the police themselves deny us due process of law. And so it is very apparent that the police are only in our community not for our security but for the security of the business owners in our community, and so to see that the status quo is kept intact.”

[Felix] You see how Huey Newton from the Black Panther Party, and people like Malcolm X and Kwame Ture in the U.S. were talking? Black people in the U.S. were talking about the same things as black people in Kenya and other parts of Africa. They realized very similar things are happening across different continents.

In the U.S., Black people were forced to work as slaves on plantations so that white people could “grow the economy” and get rich, build things for themselves, and put them behind barbed wire. What about Kenya? Black Africans were forced to work as wage labourers on farms so that white people could “grow the economy” and get rich for themselves, build things for themselves, and put them behind barbed wire.

Both in the U.S. and in Kenya, the elite created police to protect themselves and their things from the poor surrounding them. When you stockpile wealth for yourself, but there are lots of poor people around you whom you are exploiting, then you have to find a way to keep them away from it. Whether it is barbed wire or police.

Are you seeing what I’m getting at? So what is really the common enemy? It is capitalism. And you cannot easily separate racism and capitalism. As soon as you identify capitalism as the enemy, then you realize that the struggle of a poor woman farmer working on a huge white-owned farm in Kitale is connected to the struggle of a factory worker in China who works 18-hour days. And that is connected to the struggle of an undocumented Mexican worker cleaning toilets in California. And that is connected to the struggle of a single mother of five in a favela in Rio.

[Stoneface] Whoa. ok.

[Felix] It seems complicated, but the bottom line is simple. All oppression is connected. That’s why Malcolm X came to Africa. He was fighting for freedom for Black Americans, and he wanted to learn from Africans who had just won their struggles for liberation.

We don’t have many photographs of Pinto.

He didn't attend events to be seen. He wasn't the kind of politician who would stand before a crowd of people and deliver a speech.

The photos we have of him tell us how he spent his time instead. There's a photo of Pinto and Kenyatta, while Mzee was detained at Lodwar, and Pinto and others like Odinga were fighting for his release. There's also a photo of Pinto, Fitz de Souza, and others protesting with signs against Portuguese colonization of Angola. Or a photo of Pinto visiting the family of Senior Chief Koinange while they were in restriction in Kabarnet. Or a photo of Pinto at a reunion of ex-Mau Mau and ex-detainees.

Pinto was always working behind the scenes. He brought different groups of people together. He helped organizations improve their tactics. When someone needed help—whether that was printing a radical newspaper, getting school fees to families of ex-Mau Mau fighters, or organizing a labor strike—he was there. Pinto was an organizer.

There's been something I've been thinking about recently: the difference between a politician, an activist, ...and an organizer.

A politician is someone who is in power. They have the power to make change. An activist is someone who doesn't have power but "speaks for" the powerless, either to politicians or to those all around the world, to raise awareness... and pressure those in power to make change. But an organizer... An organizer doesn't wait for those in power to make change. Organizers bring the people together so they can take that power back. Organizers don't speak for people; they let the people speak for themselves.

And how do they do that? By bringing people together. In solidarity.

Politicians have power, but organizers also have a kind of power: people power. Whenever there was a need, Pinto showed up. He showed up for the Mau Mau, getting them weapons, funding, and medical care when they were fighting in the forest. He showed up for the families of detainees and forest fighters who had died; he helped gather money for their children's school fees. He showed up for the trade unions, helping them to craft better demands for their strikes and writing letters to MPs in the UK to support the young trade union movement in Kenya. He showed up for the small vernacular newspapers that couldn’t afford to pay printing presses to print them. Whatever it was, whomever needed help, Pinto was there.

There’s another photograph of Pinto when he became MP in 1964. Propped up on the shoulders of his friends, with his hands in the air.

Pinto actually never wanted to be an MP. He wasn't that kind of a politician. President Kenyatta tried many times to get him to be part of his government, to take up some high position, but Pinto always refused.

But, after some time and much persuasion, Pinto decided that, at least as an MP, he could put pressure on the government from within the Parliament.

In his short time as MP, that is exactly what he did. He made trouble for Kenyatta and the conservative wing of the government. And that… that is what would lead to his assassination.

Even right after Kenya became independent, it was clear that there was a big split in KANU. On one side, you had capitalists who believed that if farms and industries were privately owned and made more profits—if we could "grow the economy"—then the wealth would trickle down to the rest of Kenyans.

But on the other side, you had radicals like Pinto who believed that the existing system was already rotten to the core—because it was built on colonialism. They believed you had to break everything down. But not only break things down. To rebuild. There was no going back to "the way things were before" colonization.

Independent African countries had to build something new in place of colonization. For example, instead of keeping those European-owned farms intact and just selling them to rich Africans, we should nationalize them. Make them owned by the state, then employ people to work on them. Or give them to co-operatives owned by landless Africans. You can’t just change the color of the skin of the landowner. You have to make a bigger change.

This goes back to what we talked about earlier. What makes a colony a free country? A new flag? A new national anthem? Or is it....the relationship of power between a government and its people? Does this new country still treat its people as colonized subjects, to be exploited and extracted?

How free are the people? Are they only free to choose between low wages and starving? School or hospital bills? Are they slaves....to the cost of living?

A lot of African leaders at the time understood that freedom must mean freedom from poverty. Freedom from the cost of living. Do citizens have enough to eat? Can they afford rent? School? Do they have jobs?

These leaders understood that you could not just evict colonizers. Colonizers had already built a system where wealth was drained out of the colonies. Remember the barbed wire? Where wealth was growing, but only for a certain elite, the colonizers. Colonialism and capitalism go hand in hand.

So, these leaders said, in order to be truly independent, we need to rebuild a new system, to keep wealth right here. And not just for elites. We need that wealth to go back into schools, hospitals, universities, industries, things that can make the lives of Africans happier, healthier, and more free.

This is why so many of Africa's first leaders were socialists. Kwame Nkrumah. Thomas Sankara. Julius Nyerere. And yes, Pio Gama Pinto was a proud socialist.

[Pinto] “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.”

In Kenya, living conditions were actually getting worse after independence. The slogans we used to hear before—"Uhuru na umoja, uhuru na harambee, uhuru na ujamaa" (Freedom and unity, freedom all together, freedom and familyhood)... Kenyans were now saying “uhuru na njaa.” (Freedom and hunger)

Kenyans were saying, “Wapi uhuru? (Where is freedom?)” How free are we when more people were unemployed after independence than before independence? When more people are hungry? When people are still landless?

We know that Pinto was on a hit list for a long time. We know that both the Kenyatta government and foreign governments were monitoring him. But we don't know what was the last straw that made them decide that Pinto had to go. That the deed needed to be done.

There are many theories. Some believe that it was because Pinto knew that Kenyatta was eating the money given by the British, which was meant to resettle landless Kenyans, especially Mau Mau. Some say that Pinto was ready to expose Kenyatta's corruption, which would spell the end of Kenyaetta's reign. Others say that it had to do with the Sessional Paper No 10, a plan that would chart a capitalist path for Kenya which was written by Mboya and some Americans. Pinto had prepared an alternative socialist policy paper on behalf of Odinga, which would compete against Kenyatta and Mboya's. There was enough support for Pinto's version among the MPs that it could have been passed.

Whatever the last straw was, we will never know. Before Pinto could expose Kenyatta's corruption to Parliament, before he could present that socialist plan for Kenya and threaten Kenyatta's grip on power.....he was dead. Slumped over in the driver's seat of his car, right outside his house.

That same house on 6 Lower Kabete Road.

Special thanks to Linda Gama Pinto. It was an honor to share space with Emma Gama Pinto before she passed in October 2020.

Special thanks too to the SNCC Legacy Project for permission to use audio of from a performance of “Oginga Odinga” on 10 Nov 2007 at Woodson Regional Library, Chicago, IL (Presented by Chicago Area Friends of SNCC and the SNCC History Project). You can watch their performance here.


De Souza, Fitzval. Forward to Independence: My Memoirs. 2018.

Durrani, Shiraz, editor. Pio Gama Pinto: Kenya’s Unsung Martyr. Vita Books, 2018.

Durrani, Shiraz. Kenya’s War of Independence: Mau Mau and Its Legacy of Resistance to Colonialism and Imperialism, 1948-1990. Vita Books, 2018.

Koster, Mickie Mwanzia. “Malcolm X, The Mau Mau, and Kenya’s New Revolutionaries: A Legacy of Transnationalism.” The Journal of African American History, vol. 100, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 250–71. 

Mbughuni, Azaria. "Malcolm X, the OAU resolution of 1964, and Tanzania: Pan-African connections in the struggle against racial discrimination." The Journal of Pan African Studies 7.3 (2014): 177-194.

Odinga, Jaramogi Oginga. Not Yet Uhuru. Heinemann Educational Books, 1967.

Episode 1. Wapi Uhuru?
Episode 2. Mau Mau Ally
Episode 3. Land Justice Advocate

Episode 4. Radical Journalist
Episode 5. Trade Unionist
Episode 6. Political Mastermind

Episode 7. Martyr

“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.”

Pio Gama Pinto