Hail and farewell to Gerry Loughran – media legend and one of Kenya’s most decent of men
Obituary: Gerry Loughran (1935-2023)
The British journalist who did so much to maintain high standards in post-colonial Kenya is pictured holding his book about the birth and the ups-and-downs of life on The Nation newspaper. He died in the same city where he was born, Newcastle -upon -Tyne in north-east England, after suffering from gallstone problems and other inflections.
APARTHEID in the form of separate development was introduced in Kenya and other parts of East Africa by the British colonial government. Asians, Indigenous Kenyans, and migrant communities like the Seychellois and Mauritians did not know it as a colour bar or apartheid but a colonial way of life. Goans were quicker than other communities to mimic (to a degree) the European way of socialising especially the club life, sports, dancing etc. Most non-whites grew up thinking it was all right for some whites to scream, shout, physically sexually abuse the “lower classes”. There were rare exceptions, of course. It is possible that few Asians were victims of abuse by the whites because these two migrant races did not mix or socialise. Nonetheless, there was a little strategic mixing: at work, in the civil service, major corporations, city and municipal councils and in the districts and provinces where the whites were the bosses and the Asians were the “workers”. There was a minor bid to Euorpeanise Asian school children when the Department of Education decreed that parents were not allowed to speak to their children in their native languages because Asian children were having a very hard time mastering the English language because translating Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati or similar into English was just mayhem. In the case of the Goans, English was all well and good but Goan children quickly lost their mother tongue: Konkani, which many regret to this day.
I recall this ugly face of Kenya as a tribute to Gerry Loughran who passed away recently and who will be remembered as one of the most loved journalists to have worked at Nation House. He was the most decent of men.
THE MOSTLY British journalists who left their London Fleet Street jobs to become the pioneers of the Nation group of newspapers were more than reporters, sub-editors, editors, proofreaders and photographers. They proved they lived by the Nation’s motto “The Truth Shall Make you Free”. They were among the first to smash racial barriers, bring human dignity where none existed, respect for fellow humans where none existed, and celebrate a new Kenya, an independent Kenya. Uhuru really first happened in 1960 in the editorial offices of the Nation Group. Freedom was born there. Gerry Loughran who passed away recently was among a group of pioneer journalists who achieved the changes.
BY CYPRIAN FERNANDES
THE British colonialists introduced apartheid-like separate development in Kenya and no one seemed to care a hoot. In Nairobi, Europeans lived in their designated suburbs, went to their whites-only schools, opened their bowels or urinated in the whites (or Europeans) only toilets. They wined and drank in whites-only restaurants, golf clubs and other sports clubs and some in some Catholic churches sat in the front pews reserved for “whites only”. Anglican churches were “whites only” to a large degree. In the offices, the white man was the boss and the rest of us were their humble servants. Asians were happy to do their own thing in their own style in their own designated areas. It was the same for the “First Nations peoples” of Kenya, except they knew one day the white men and all his kith and kin would be forced to leave the country. In the meantime, separate development reigned supremely.
That is until 1960 when the political winds of change were howling throughout Africa and the promise of independence was gaining momentum with each day. Kwame Nkrumah had already become the first African to dance with the Queen at Ghana’s Independence Day celebrations.
The first hint of a multiracial Kenya came with the birth of the Sunday Nation, Taifa Leo and the Daily Nation. Suddenly, a newsroom full of Asians, Africans, Europeans and other nationalities was beginning a new kind of life, free from the colour bar, mutual respect was the new order of the day and we were slightly gobsmacked to see for ourselves that not all white people were purebred racists.
Michael Curtis, the managing director, set the benchmark for staff inter-relations. He was kind and courteous to everyone. He was also the driving force behind the Nation House newspapers’ drive towards majority rule. No one had to be told twice, everyone celebrated that initiative.
We all worked together, drank together (at the Sans Chique and the Starlight Club) at together at various restaurants and did things that were denied us during the decades of racial segregation. Suddenly the coffee “boy” was no longer a boy, Bwana Peter and Bwana Karo were not just drivers … we were all part of a team and each demanded equal respect. We, the locally employed journalists never really achieved equal pay. Overseas journalists were on special rates even though the Kenya Union of journalists fought hard to win parity. Still, it was thank heaven for small mercies. Yes, the foreign journalists were stupefied when they heard a grown man was the family “houseboy”. A chap called David Levine once asked Gerry Loughran about the man who was working in the house he staying in: “How can I call him the houseboy? He is old enough to be my grandfather!”
On the other hand, the new arrivals were hated by the local whites, they were treated as pariahs. Gerry Loughran wrote in his book “How long will you be staying?” “What we new arrivals did not expect was the hostility which greeted us from most of the white establishment and from some of our media competitors – not the slaves at the typewriters, but their bosses, irritated by the challenge to their comfortable lives and the long domination of the market. “They considered us a bunch of ignorant parvenus,” John Bierman (Founding Editor of the Nation) recalled. The only English daily in the country and thus our great competitor was the long-established broadsheet the East African Standard. When its managing director, Charles Thetford, met his new opposite number from the Nation he advised him: “Don’t bother to unpack your bags.” His fuming opponent, Frank Patrick retorted: “I will make you regret that remark.” Patrick said this encounter was the motivating factor throughout his career at the Nation.
Various Nation employees who came into contact with colonialist white folk were abused in no uncertain terms. Gerry Loughran often spoke about the time during the national independence talks in London a senior Nation executive sought an interview with the Governor of Kenya, Sir Patrick Renison, at his apartment. When he introduced himself at the door as “Hayes from the Nation”, the Governor’s daughter inquired “Do you know what we call your paper in Government House? We call it the Daily Filthy”
The Aga Khan who founded the Nation group did not escape racism. However, it was implied rather than explicit. The Ismaili community followers of the Aga Khan were also the victims of hostility, especially the businessmen. The Nation’s sales reps were given a very hard time.
While our English imports were opening our eyes to a new kind of freedom, Kenyans at Nation House were showing off their own journalistic talents, creativity and style. Three men stood out in the early days of the Nation and Taifa Leo. The late George Mbuggus was a live-wire editor and took the Swahili paper to new heights almost with every edition. The late Boaz Omori was the first African editor-in-chief of both English newspapers. I am particularly biased because he gave me the chance to break into foreign news and travel the world. Hilary N’gweno was probably the greatest editor of his day. He was the man who convinced both the Daily and Sunday Nation to stop “thinking white”, and “writing white” and to start meeting the needs of the Kenyan people. From the very first day, all three newspapers had supported Kenyan independence but Kenya’s newspaper needs were slightly different from Fleet Street. Ng’weno asked the Nation executives to learn what was important to the majority of Kenyans and create a Kenyan product and not a Fleet Street lookalike.
The crunch came with the Congo uprising (in Michael Curtis’ own words), the murder of Patrice Lumumba and the landing of Belgian troops. Belgian refugees poured into Nairobi. The Western newsagencies were preoccupied (like their readers) with the fate of the Belgian and American missionaries. Ng’weno tactfully but firmly reminded his staff that the death of many thousands of fellow Africans – whether in civil strife or at the hands of the hated mercenaries – was at least as an important consideration in terms of news priorities for an African newspaper with a majority of African readers. It was the day when a Kenyan newspaper became an African newspaper.
For a 16-year-old with only primary education becoming a journalist was beyond my wildest dreams and whoever, or whatever, I am today, I owe it to every man, woman and youth who worked at the Nation from 1960 to 1978. Tom Clarke, Peter Moss, Brian Marsden, Trevor Grundy, Gerard Loughran, Jack Beverly, Joe Rodrigues, Mike Parry, Peter Moss, Tom Clark, John Eames, John Fairhall, Neil Graham, Bill Harris, Mike Harris, Aidan Flannery, John McHaffie, Neil Graham, Graham Rees, Tony Hall, Brian McDermott, Peter Darling, Brian Tetley, Allen Armstrong, John Bierman (who believed in me and gave me the job off-the-streets), Harry Sambo, George Mbuggus, John Tidey, Bob Muthusi, Philip Ochieng, Boaz Omori, Joram Amadi, Joe Kadhi, John Blandy, Colin Church, Tony Dunn, Mike Chester (who was wrongly deported), John De Villiers, Jim Glencross, John Gardner, Sammy Githegi (who died very young and was a brilliant journalist), Francis Raymond, and thousands more whose names escape in the twilight of my life.
Thanks to all the white journalists who treated everyone in the newsroom and the adjoining offices as human beings, my days at Nation House will always remain the happiest of my life. These memories are made even more beautiful by all the Kenya journalists who played a great part in my development as a journalist. We, Asians and Africans, had been conditioned to keep the white folks at bay, never venturing into their restaurants, sports fields, or churches, speaking to them, challenging a point of view or forcing the point that we are all equal and should be treated so. From that very first day at Nation House in 1960, I was born free even though Uhuru was three years away. I have a long list of people I remember in my prayers. Rest in peace my rafiki.
The 12th of December 1963 put an end to all abuse and hostility. Asians and Europeans who felt there was no place for them in an independent Kenya or that they could not bring themselves to live in an independent Kenya were getting out of the country as quickly as possible. The Europeans who remained in Kenya including those Europeans who would continue to visit the country understood clearly the government would not tolerate racism.
The only thing the locals were not able to achieve was salary parity with the overseas employees.
The first white couple who had my wife and me to dinner was Mike (late) and Val Parry. Others were the Americans Andrew and (late) Kitty Torchia, Alan (late) and Olive Armstrong, and a host of others around the country, Tom and Roslind Clarke … whose names I forget. One of my friends was Guy Spencer, a sports reporter with the East African Standard. Robbie Armstrong of the Starlight Club, but then he was everybody’s host, a friend of the Nation journos though. I often had tea with Sir Humphrey Slade when I was a Parliamentary reporter. Enjoyed a good chat and a glass or two of this and that with Jack Block.
Cyprian Fernandes (above) a Kenya-born Goan was one of the first “locals” to be employed by the Daily Nation in Nairobi. He reached the top of a greasy post-colonial media pole before being condemned by the Kenyatta government for revealing how a clan of greedy politicians were running and ruining Kenya. Today, he lives in Australia. His books and journalism are seen by fellow journalists and Africanists as valuable insights into the workings – and the failings- of an important Commonwealth country. As corruption spread,the British government insisted on calling the Kenyatta regime “the mirror of democracy in Africa.”