Manilal Ambalal Desai
Manilal A Desai was born in 1879 in India and trained as a law clerk in Mumbai. He immigrated to Nairobi in 1915 having experienced British colonialism in India and briefly interacted with Gandhi-ism. In Nairobi he joined the East Africa Indian National Congress (EAINC) and became its honorary secretary. He started the East African Chronicle which was banned in 1921. He befriended the African leader, Harry Thuku, who helped him print his Tangazo broadsheet and took care of his family when Thuku was arrested and detained in Kismayu.
Desai built the EAINC into a functioning force against colonialism. He participated in meetings with the Governor and with the Colonial Secretary in the UK. He rallied the Indian community in Kenya to demand its rights and championed publicly for ALL the colonized. In 1923 he was elected president of the EAINC and led a Kenya Indian delegation to London which resulted in the Devonshire Declaration. At one time he was imprisoned for participating in a boycott of payment of the poll tax.
So popular was he that the colonial government had no choice but to nominate him to the Legislative Council, and there too Desai continued with his stringent anti-colonial stance. He keenly felt the lack of a newspaper and in 1926, set off on an East African tour to raise funds for one, as well as for the EAINC. While in Bukoba, Tanzania, he suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 47.
The Indians of East Africa lost a truly great and altruistic leader and a valiant fighter against colonial injustice. In his memory, they built the Desai Memorial Hall and Library in Nairobi, which became a meeting place for Indian and African leaders and the trade unionists throughout the colonial period. It was sold and later demolished in 1993.
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