Challenge to Colonialism
The Struggle of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee for Equal Rights in Kenya
Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee started life as a business entrepreneur in Karachi, then India, spent time in Australia and then travelled to East Africa looking for business opportunities. In 1895, the British Government requested his assistance in building the Uganda Railway, and this cooperation led later to Jeevanjee participating in the development of Nairobi and Mombasa and being appointed the only non-white member in the Legislative Council. Of the many projects he set up, the best known are Jeevanjee Gardens, a recreational park in the heart of Nairobi; the present Standard newspaper (originally the African Standard) and the Bohra Mosque in Mombasa and later took the Bohra priesthood to court in Bombay on an issue of accountability.
With the influx of the white settlers from the UK and the Boers of South Africa the racism and hostility towards the South Asian community, whom they saw as competitors, magnified. AM Jeevanjee then delved into politics. He founded the East Africa Indian National Congress in 1914 and with other fellow leaders, developed a spirited opposition to the colonial policies.
Jeevanjee’s volte-face gave rise to a vendetta in which the colonial government reneged on the multiple contracts it had made with him, sabotaged his ships and awarded an OBE to his more compliant brother. Jeevanjee lost a fortune and passed away in 1935 in Nairobi at the age of 79 years. In tracing his life the author narrates an aspect of Kenya’s history which had hitherto been overlooked.