Fred Kubai was one of the pioneer trade unionists

Fred Kubai one of the pioneer trade unionists


The scale and ferocity of his bravery and sacrifice to the nation of Kenya is obviously something forgotten, ignored or just hidden out of sight. But for all Kenyans, the heroism and self-sacrifice of Fred Kubai and the Kapenguria Six, who contributed in defeating colonialism, are things to be remembered and learned from.

The late Fred Kubai was born in Nairobi in 1917 to a Christian family who were under the Church Missionary Society (CMS). His exact date of birth is not known.

As a young man, he was educated at various missionary schools in Nairobi and Mombasa. He completed his formal education at Buxton Baptist School, Mombasa (one of the best schools in Kenya by then).

Kubai was later employed by the East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation and he was trained as a telegrapher. Thereafter, he was posted to various stations by the post office service.

 In 1943 to 1945 during the Second World War, he was posted to Lodwar where he witnessed the war between the British and Italian armies.

After the Second World War, he was posted to Rongai and Nakuru Post Offices. He resigned from the post office in 1946, after working for fifteen years. His reason for resigning was job discrimination against a black employee.

Thereafter, he sought a position with the trade union movement in order to assist his fellow workers with their grievances including equal pay for equal work in all sections of the economy.

In 1946, arising from discrimination and general mistreatment of the black working class, Kubai immediately joined the African Workers Federation Union.

In 1949, he managed to unify all registered trade unions under the first Trade Union National Centre.

In 1950, Kubai successfully led the boycott against a Royal charter that would have made Nairobi a city, because land owners within and around Nairobi area were not compensated for their land losses.

He was later arrested in connection with the murder of Muchohi Gikonyo in the Pumwani area of Nairobi. Gikonyo was then a nominated alderman (member of a municipal assembly) with the Nairobi City Council. The trial took nine months but Kubai was acquitted and returned to active politics.

Overcoming obstacles

It is interesting to note that Kubai was sacked for demanding better terms of service for African employees. Later, he turned his energies to singing - which he loved very much. Indeed, he was the Bob Marley of Africa. It became his source of income as he entertained people around Ziwani estate in Nairobi where he lived.

Despite several setbacks, including his arrest on a murder charge, Kubai persisted in mobilising young trade unionists and members of the working class in Nairobi area to join the only black political party KAU to show that workers had political strengthen and will.

In the KAU election at the Nairobi Branch in 1951, his trade union group swept the election board, he was unanimously elected the chairman of KAU, Nairobi Branch and thereafter as the  national Vice-President of KAU.

As chairman of the Mau Mau War Council based in Nairobi he worked closely with other freedom fighters who had been sent to Mt Kenya forest, Aberdare mountains and the Rift Valley to fight the colonial soldiers.

In 1952, the struggle reached a turning point.  Jomo Kenyatta and the rest of the Kapenguria Six, including Fred Kubai, were arrested under the famous “Operation Jack Scott” of October 20, 1952. Officials declared a State of Emergency.

Now famously called the Kapenguria Six, they were taken to Lokitaung Prison, Kapenguria, where they were forced to dig their own personal graves in solid rock.

Later, they were moved to Lodwar where they were allowed visits by family members. Muthoni, Fred Kubai’s wife recalls: “We had to sign in at the local DC’s office when we were going for visits. I stayed at Lodwar for several months with our son Moses Mendza.”

In 1960, Kubai was the first of the Kapenguria Six to be transferred to house detention and restricted in Kabarnet township in Baringo District.

Kubai was released from detention on May 25, 1961. He was placed under house restriction, under order not to talk nor be visited by wananchi and not to hold any meetings for six months.

The restriction order also directed him to report to the District Commissioner, Kiambu at or before midday every Saturday for six months.

In 1962, he was set free and was immediately welcomed by the trade unions. Soon after, Kubai was appointed the director of  the Kenya Federation of Labour and he immediately participated in drafting the first industrial relations charter of 1962.

Diabetic leader

In 1963, during the general election which was termed as free and fair independent polls,  Kubai was elected on a Kanu ticket as the Member of Parliament for Nakuru East. He was later appointed as an Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Services , a position he remained in from 1969 to 1974.

In 1983 to 1988, he was elected to Parliament again and appointed as an Assistant Minister in office of the president.

During the elections in 1988 the late Fred Kubai did not seek re-election but opted to retire from active politics and served as an active life member of Kanu.

In 1991, the diabetic leader suffered a stroke, which was worsened by a blood clot. In 1993, his left leg was amputated.

During his tenure in Parliament, Kubai set up the Mai Mahiu/Kijabe Longonot Company in 1972 and 1,700 people bought shares.

Kubai, who owned large tracts of land, donated some for the construction of a health centre, a school (Ngeya Primary) and a training centre (Mai Mahiu Polytechnic).

He was then honoured and awarded a medal of the Chief Order of the Burning Spear (CBS), a first class honours with citation.

He died on Madaraka Day in June 1996. The passing on of Fred Kubai, bears immense historical significance, symbolising the passing of a remarkable era and its legacy for this nation of Kenya. Today, his children are fighting to inherit his property.

“I was born in 1943, my siblings and I never got the education we deserved as a result of his quest for a free country. His property was destroyed and so were the lives of his children. We have no regrets because we know what he fought for,” one of his sons, Timothy, said in a recent interview.