About 50 years before Martyn Day came to Kenya, another Briton had been here breaking the ground. Dennis Nowell Pritt had come to Kenya in 1952 at the invitation of the Kenya African Union (KAU) to defend the late Jomo Kenyatta and five of his political associates on charges of managing a proscribed organisation.
Though professionally he was a London barrister who practiced law for a living, Dennis Pritt was also a politician and was an independent member of parliament for North Hammersmith until 1950. He was ideologically a socialist who politically leaned in favour of the labour government.
But despite the similarities in their political background and professional training, Dennis Pritt’s experience in Kenya was different from that of Martyn Day. IN his autobiography The Defence Accuses, Pritt recalls the first days in Kenya: “I arrived in Nairobi in the last day or two of November, being welcomed at the airport by many thousands of Africans. Over the long period of the case, on the many occasions on which I had to use the airport, the crowds of Africans for a time grew larger and larger, but finally fell to nothing: they had learned that the fact that a man had been seen by police spies I the crowd welcoming me sometimes led to his detention.”
When Pritt booked into his hotel room, he said the police “moved the guests out of an adjoining room and planted an officer there to see who might call on me, and hear our conversations.” And when he went to Kapenguria to conduct the trial, the District Commissioner issued him a pass allowing him to enter the town but “it was expressly limited so that I could enter the area only half an hour before each hearing was to begin and must leave it within half an hour of the end of the hearing.” This made it impossible for him to have any consultation with his clients who were brought from the Kapenguria jail every morning handcuffed and under heavy security.
A jeep full of armed colonial army troops escorted Pritt as he drove into Kapenguria. The building in which the trial was conducted was surrounded by other troops and three helicopters kept hovering over the compound.
Pritt had to stay at Kitale, which “was so full of settlers who wanted to shoot me on the sight that it was not very long before the Government, which would have been very happy to see the back of me…had to provide me with an armed guard day and night.” And because of the apartheid style social system, Pritt could not get accommodation in a place where he could consult with his fellow non-European lawyers like Kapila and consequently they had to “sit out in the open air, surrounded by an admiring crowd of Africans.”
When he complained about he described as a “denial of justice,” he was charged before the Supreme Court in Nairobi for contempt of court. The Attorney General prosecuted the case, but Pritt was acquitted. The contempt trial was followed with a complaint against him to the Bar Council in London; also similarly dismissed.
Was it worthwhile for him? Where was the satisfaction of conducting political cases for free, living under threat to his life and constant harassment by the government machinery and the settlers? He wrote about it: “Less than five years later, Kenyatta was the Prime Minister of an independent Kenya. The British Government’s manoeuvers to retain Kenya as a colony and to blacken the name of Kenyatta had not been managing Mau Mau; and his statesman-like behavior – including the cool practical way in which he brought about the surrender and re-absorption into society of the remaining Mau Mau forces – had convinced the vast majority of Africans, Asians and Europeans in Kenya as Kenyans, and face with Kenyatta the many problems that confront every newly-liberated country. My wife and I attended the independence celebrations, with full and happy hearts; and this time Africans everywhere were free to recognize me in the streets of Nairobi and greet me openly. ”