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How boycott of South Africa goods shamed Commerce and Industry Minister Julius Gikonyo

By Patrick Alushula | Published Tue, November 7th 2017 at 10:25, Updated November 7th 2017 at 10:35 GMT +3
Former Trade Minister Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano. He was 'detained' in South Africa for his anti-apartheid stance (File: Standard)

NAIROBI, KENYA: “We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way,” wrote Charles Dickens in his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities.

Dickens notes, in the book whose plot focuses on the years leading up to the French Revolution, that some of the noisiest authorities during that time insisted on being received; for good or for evil.

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As Kenyans revolutionists pushed on the ‘Africans first’ agenda, they at one point, back in 1960, decided to boycott South African goods in protest over the apartheid policy that was hurting Africans.

This was signed by the then Commerce and Industry Minister Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano.

But as revealed in the Hansard, which records the happenings in the 1960 Legislative Council, Dr Kiano who had signed the paper to rally Kenya to boycott South African goods found himself in a tight corner while on a visit to England.

While the move had been applauded as a way to stand with Africans who were being discriminated against in South Africa, the commerce and industry minister did not imagine what befell him while in a South African airport.

Days after Dr Kiano had stood on the floor of the Council and told members that he had signed a document to help Kenya boycott South African goods, he took a trip to London.

Then an urgent meeting cropped up in Kenya. He had to take a trip back home via South Africa and attend the meeting.

“And when he arrived in South Africa, there was no other machine to bring him here. He had a meeting here and the only machine that could bring him was one of the South African Airways,” narrates Ngome, a specially elected member in the 1960 Legislative Council.

But the airport authorities in South Africa stuck to their guns.

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Apartheid rule

They were determined to watch the minister for commerce and trade boycott the airline whose nationality was associated with oppressive and discriminative apartheid rule.

They reminded him of the resolution he had passed while in Kenya.

“He eventually said he was sorry about that and had to fly to Nairobi via South African Airways. This was a position of humility,” says Mr Ngome in the Hansard.

It was this humbling experience that made members of the Legislative Council torn down their sharp comments during a motion that was pointing fingers at white South Africans who were living in Kenya even as oppressive laws were being passed on Africans back in South Africa.

According to Tom Mboya, a legislature for Nairobi, only Tanganyika (Tanzania)condemned the Sharpeville shootings that happened in South Africa while Kenya remained mute.

He was afraid that South Africans living in Kenya would try to bring such policy in the country.

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“I consider that it is necessary to make our position clear to make South African government know that they cannot look to us for support or even sympathy in their present barbaric and blind attitude to non-whites,” said Mr Mboya

. At that time, some private scheme had even put up an advert to lure Kenyan technicians to move to South Africa for work. However, the government was opposed to this.

However, Michael Blundell, then in charge of Agriculture docket told the Council that he did not think for a moment that there was any significant proportion of the European community in Kenya which was determined to replicate the happenings in South Africa.

While challenging African leaders to think about winning the confidence of all communities and not just their own, Mr Blundell said that white settlers were not “remote and sinister bogey.”

However, Mr Alexander differed with him.

“Those who want to go should go quickly because in remaining here, they are part of or become part of a disease of a disease that could spread alarmingly - a disease of doubt, despair, gloom and doom,” he said.

Tom Mboya said that even if say 1,500 skilled whites, who did not believe that what was happening in South Africa was wrong, could leave Kenya, the economy could only suffer temporary shocks but “we would have gained in our morals duty.”

He said that upon Kenya gaining independence, it was to still push for a commitment to freedom and human rights through boycotting South African goods.

“This county must take a position in the South African situation- economic sanctions against South Africa, Nairobi airport not be used by South African airlines and even closing down the Commissioner’s office in Nairobi,” vowed Mboya.

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 “Diplomacy may be expensive at times and this particular case, when it is quite evident that another government or people are in their actions destroying everything that we stand for,”  

Despite the humiliation Kiano suffered, he never gave up.

Six years later after the incidence, he found himself divorcing his American wife, Ernestine Hammond.

He reached out to President Moi and through a gazette notice, she had to leave Kenya.

Ernestine Hammond Kiano had shown herself by act and speech to be disloyal and disaffected towards Kenya,” the June 4, 1966 Kenya Gazette read.


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