Kenya wasn’t a frontline state, but hey, we donated a Land Rover

We did little to help liberate other African countries

In Summary

• Kenya wasn’t a front line state, but hey, we donated a Land Rover

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta
Image: FILE

Since Kenneth Kaunda's recent death, a lot has been said about his role in liberation movements especially in Southern African countries such as Angola,  Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and of course South Africa. 

In all the conversations about the Frontline States and their leaders, such as Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel and Kaunda, Kenya and by extension its leader Jomo Kenyatta, a contemporary of Kaunda and Nyerere, are notable by their absence.

Someone on Twitter raised this the other day and it got me thinking about how the Kenyan government was prevented from taking a more robust position in the liberation of other African countries by our foreign affairs doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. 

Some might say Kenya hid behind this tenet of foreign affairs to get itself out of awkward questions about why it did not do more than host exiles from these countries, and they would not be necessarily wrong.

While Kenya happily hosted exiles from African countries fighting for their liberation, it made it very clear it would not countenance them organising politically against their countries of origin.

Kenya stuck so religiously to this non-interference policy that it was genuinely shocked and upset when others did not reciprocate. 

For instance, when, at various times Uganda, Tanzania and even former colonial masters Britain allowed Kenyan dissidents to organise and operate from their countries.

This was completely opposite to Nigeria, for instance, which since independence in 1960 had made the total liberation of Africa the centerpiece of its foreign policy.

As far as African liberation movements were concerned, especially on the basis of hosting military camps, Kenya tended to steer clear of the issue of African liberation movements.

That is except for the curious case of the gift of a Land Rover to the South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) in 1964, ostensibly to help with the movement’s transportation needs across Botswana, Zambia and Angola.

I’m willing to bet that when President Jomo Kenyatta, who famously operated a generally hands-off policy when it came to the liberation of other African countries, made this uncharacteristic gesture, he was under the influence of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Seriously, though, it must be said there were always certain individuals, groups and even organisations that ignored this somewhat controversial tenet of Kenyan foreign affairs and did what they could in the struggle for the liberation of all of Africa.

One of the earliest such individuals was Pio Gama Pinto, described by the journalist Cyprian Fernandes as “perhaps the near-perfect African socialist in a Kenya that was probably 95 per cent capitalist”.

In 1962, Pinto and his comrade from detention on Manda Island, Timothy Mwinga Chokwe (later the first speaker of the Senate), were among the moving spirits behind the formation of the Mozambique African National Union, Manu. 

As members of Kanu, and in collaboration with comrades in Tanu, Tanganyika African National Union (clearly party name originality was not their strong point), Pinto and Chokwe supported Manu, which was based in Mombasa before the outgoing British colonialists banned it at the behest of the Portuguese government.

Manu moved to Dar es Salaam in newly independent Tanganyika, where it merged with other parties to form the liberation movement Frelimo with Eduardo Mondlane as its head. 

Then there was the most outspoken foreign minister Kenya ever had, Dr Munyua Waiyaki. 

Waiyaki was left-leaning and was never afraid to take on powerful Cabinet colleagues, such then AG Charles Njonjo and even President Jomo Kenyatta, when it came to Kenya’s dodgy ties with South Africa.

I’ve written before of the controversy surrounding the visit to Nairobi of the South African heart surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard. The visit was sponsored by Njonjo and caused a political fracas between Waiyaki and Njonjo.

Waiyaki took every chance he got to rule out all unilateral diplomatic contacts with South Africa and often spoke of his belief in the total isolation, economic and diplomatic, of apartheid South Africa. 

Meanwhile, if anyone has factual examples of Kenya helping liberate other countries, feel free to share.