Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Fictions, The Truths, The Songs of Empire

"My client, a petty criminal, was accused of involvement in a jewellers’ robbery. For once, he had a cast-iron alibi, but presenting the truth in court would jeopardise British national security. You see, on the night in question, he was in Nairobi, not London. He had gone on His Majesty’s service, with a sack full British Pounds. His mission was to recruit willing Kenyans to testify against one Jomo Kenyatta, implicating him in being a leader in the Mau Mau."

This scenario is described by Tunji Sowande, a Nigerian barrister in London, referring to his most memorable case, from 1954.

Actually, it’s fiction. Most - well, some of it. The fictional parts are the character of the petty criminal, the robbery and the impending court case. The first of the two “truths” is that the British Government of the day indeed manufactured evidence against the man who eventually became the first President of independent Kenya. They bribed Kenyans to present this “purchased evidence” in court, and Kenyatta was thrown in jail for seven years. The seeds had been sewn in the British psyche that the Mau Mau (or the Kenya Land and Freedom Army to use the name they gave themselves) – the movement resisting the occupation of their land by White settlers were not freedom fighters but terrorists wantonly massacring innocent people who had the misfortune of belonging to a race that went to spread civilisation, Christianity and farming knowledge to this part of “the Dark Continent.” The fact that the climate was particularly favourable, and the land extremely fertile and rich in precious minerals was “purely coincidental, your Honour.”

Evidence that Kenyatta and his “co-conspirators” presented in their defence probably included that of a man who claimed to have had his nails and buttocks pierced with a sharp pin, been suspended upside down with his hands and legs tied together, and had his testicles crushed with parallel metallic rods - by White British officers. The circumstances were extraordinary of course, because as we all know, the British are otherwise kind, decent chaps.  The victim, on the other hand, has a lot to answer for: had he not evaded capture for so long, a Trump Presidency would be the product of an overly-fertile imagination.

Let me explain: castration was a weapon by Whites against Blacks (and others) – in Africa, the Caribbean, the United States and elsewhere. If that victim had been successfully castrated, say just ten years earlier, he wouldn’t have fathered the boy who would eventually travel to America and impregnate the White woman who would then give birth to one Barack Hussein Obama. I rest my case...

The second “truth” is the fact that Tunji Sowande really did exist. Born in colonial Nigeria in 1912, he chose a different path to Kenyatta, studying law in London and staying. Overcoming the predictable racism of the time, he became a barrister, later Britain’s first Black Head of Chambers and eventually first Black judge.  He also loved cricket, and in 1978 became a full member of a club you practically have to be born into – the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), whose ground is Lord’s, and whose committee used to select England Test sides.

How more “Establishment” could a Nigerian become in England? Once “in” however, Sowande revealed his revolutionary side, and opened doors for others. Long before the word became part of liberal parlance, his chambers was the epitome of diversity – by race, gender and even sexuality. This according to one of his protégés - a woman who before meeting him had struggled for long to get a tenancy because her father was Sri Lankan. Kim Hollis, Britain’s first ever minority female QC is now Director of Public Prosecutions in the British Virgin Islands.
Outside of law and cricket, Sowande travelled Europe and the UK as a musician, equally at home in jazz clubs as a drummer and saxophonist as he was singing in nursing homes or the Temple Church in London’s Inns of Court.

Never seen in public without a fine jacket and bow tie, this dapper, quiet, unassuming man was apparently not a political animal. However, one assumes that he observed the events of the day – the jailing of that well-known terrorist, Nelson Mandela; the Vietnam war; King’s assassination; anti-colonial struggles and civil wars in Africa – with considerable interest, even if not with as much passion as cricket.

One can only speculate what he would make of today’s world, but I humbly submit that beyond reasonable doubt, even the most strident of “little-Englanders” would accept and welcome Tunji Sowande as “a good immigrant.”

Just An Ordinary Lawyer. A play, with songs, written and performed by Tayo Aluko is at Theatro Technis, 38 Crowndale Road, London NW1 1TT between 11 and 28 January, at Theatre Royal, Bath on 16 January 2017, and touring.    

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