Reviewed by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos
(Special Edition Yesterday at the Nation by Cyprian Fernandes, published by Cyprian Fernandes, Pendle Hill NSW Australia, printed and produced by Australian Trade Printers, April 2020. 132 pp.)
The Daily Nation was my favourite newspaper in Dar es Salaam, along with the Tanganyika Standard (later the Standard and then the Daily News). The popular Kenyan newspaper founded by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, first rolled off at the press as a Sunday newspaper on March 20, 1960, and then as a daily on October 3 of the same year.
The paper would arrive in Dar es Salaam from Nairobi in an afternoon flight. At around 6 PM, our 2nd floor neighbour at Islamabad Flats on United Nations Road, (Late) Akbar Ladha, would knock on my door on his way up and hand me a copy of the paper. He and Sherali Bhai owned a prestigious camera shop on Dar es Salaam’s Independence Avenue, and received letters and packages from all over the world from their clients and suppliers. Akber Bhai knew I was an avid stamp collector, and he would pass all foreign envelopes to me.
On Saturday afternoon, I would cycle to downtown to get my own copy of the early editions of the Sunday Nation and the Sunday Post — without the English premier league results! I became conversant with many of the Nation’s columnists, writers and photographers as well as editors. Among them were Philip Ochieng (who would later join the Tanzania’s Daily News for a brief period), Kul Bhushan who reviewed Indian films, sports writer and editor Norman da Costa, chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, Ismaili reporter Sultan Jessa and photographer Azhar Chaudary, among several others.
Many years later, I had the fortune of meeting the Nation’s Bill Fairbain in Ottawa. Author of a number of books in recent years, he contributed a special piece for Simerg. Then, I connected with Sultan Jessa who invited me to his home in Montreal and handed me a collection of photos taken by Azhar Chaudary, which were reproduced in Barakah and Simerg. Sultan passed away in 2019. I prepared a tribute to him and linked it to a much longer piece I had written earlier in Simerg.
Last December, I received a note from the Nation’s former chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, who has made his home in New South Wales, Australia. He wanted to reproduce my article on Sultan Jessa in a special “not for sale” souvenir to mark the 60th birthday of the paper that he stated in his email to me was “my other mother, The Nation.” I was glad to oblige. When the publication was ready in April 2020, Cyprian mailed two copies to me by Australia’s Post Express — including one to give to Sultan Jessa’s widow, Rosila. I kept on tracking the package for weeks. Due to Covid-19, it never left Australia by air. Instead, I would learn several weeks later, that it was sent by surface. I received “Yesterday at the Nation” just last week!
Cyprian commences his souvenir book by producing the introductory note that appeared on the front page of the Nation on the first day of its publication, March 20, 1960. He then says that the souvenir “was made possible by the articles provided by former Nation colleagues and the writings and obituaries of colleagues who have gone before us.”
In his preface “Once Upon a Time” Cyprian notes the brilliant work that Gerry Loughran did chronicling the first 50 years in “Birth of a Nation, The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya” (available in paperback or kindle edition at Amazon).
But for this 60th anniversary souvenir produced completely independently, Cyprian wanted to go further and he therefore dug deep to find more stories about the paper and from the paper. One thing he has done most admirably is to recognize the surviving and deceased journalists who worked at the Nation as well as those whom he tried hard to locate but was unsuccessful to get in touch with. His focus is on the period 1960-1975, a little over the time he himself spent at the paper.
The 132 page souvenir contains previous articles by Michael Curtis (1920-2004) who Mawlana Hazar Imam first recruited as a speech writer and publicity organizer when he became Imam in 1957; experiences at the Nation by numerous editors such as Jack Beverley (Sunday Nation editor from 1962-64), Jon Bierman (Daily Nation, 1960-63), Joe Rodriques, Boaz Omori and Hilary Ng’weno among others. In reading their stories, one learns about the challenges the editors and journalists faced when they were bold in their opinions about heads of state or on local and international political issues. As we find out from Cyprian’s book many were fired or forced to resign or even ended up in jails. One, a news editor by the name of Mike Chester, was expelled from Kenya due to mistaken identity!
One particular event that was reported well, and has been reproduced in the Souvenir, is when Kenya successfully launched the San Marco’s satellite into equatorial orbit from Malindi. Adrian Grimwood’s column in the Sunday Nation of November 12, 1972 explains what would likely take place on the day of the launch. The launch itself was reported on the front page of the Daily Nation’s coast edition with the headline “Kenya in the Space Age.”
A tragic story that Cyprian includes in his souvenir is that of the extraordinary photographer and front line cameraman Mohamed “MO” Amin who was at the right place at the right time when Kenyan cabinet minister Tom Mboya was assassinated. Within a couple of minutes of being shot, Mo Amin was there to record on still and movie cameras, like the photo that is shown below. The souvenir also notes Mo Amin’s coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine in that it proved to be so compelling that it inspired a collective global conscience and became the catalyst for the greatest-ever act of giving. “Unquestionably,” the souvenir notes, “it also saved the lives of millions of men, women, and children.”
Mo Amin died in a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that crash landed in November 1996 in the Comoros Islands. It is said that he died standing while still negotiating with the hijackers until the moment of the crash.
A great piece in the souvenir is about Joe Rodriques, who spent 18 years at the Nation, the final few as the paper’s Editor-in- Chief. During his tenure, The Daily Nation was accused by President Moi’s government of assuming the role of an opposition party and selecting news on a sectarian and tribally motivated basis. Rodriques had written an editorial against the Government when the long time Kenyan politician and opposition leader Oginga Odinga was banned from standing in a by-election. Rodriques was arrested and interrogated. The souvenir notes that “The Nation published an apology of sorts, assuring the government of its support, but actually without using the word apology. This was the beginning of the end of Joe Rodriques, as Editor-in-Chief and his own 18 year association with the paper.”
Writing for himself, Cyprian Fernandes observes, “I owe the Nation — everyone who worked in editorial, photographic, proofreading, the compositors, advertising, Karo and Kano the drivers — and everyone else at Nation House the greatest debt of my life. Thanks for giving me a journalistic life that has spanned nearly 60 years and like Johnny Walker still keeps on walking — for the moment at least.”
He ends his detailed narrative about his days at the Nation with the following anecdote:
“I was travelling with the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi and his wife to Botswana. All went well, except for two things: The VP’s security kept his spare bullets by a candle in his bedroom…there was a lot of bang bang. When I tried to phone my story in via Johannesburg, the operator at the other end let loose a torrent of racist abuse including telling me to ask my wife and taste the real thing….and lots more. Unfortunately for him, the President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, was in the room and listened in. A few weeks later I received an official apology from the South African government and an invitation to visit South Africa as (an honorary white man).”
Cyprian’s love for “my other mother, The Nation” is deep and sincere. The souvenir edition has been prepared, printed and mailed out from his own personal resources. I was delighted to receive a personalized signed copy and thank him for a volume that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is one of very few copies that has been produced, and I am indeed lucky to be among the recipients. I hope a demand for the souvenir will prompt Cyprian to come up with a larger printer run for interested readers to purchase. The Daily Nation’s 60th anniversary falls on October 3, 2020.
Date posted: August 27, 2020.
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Thank you for this article. Reading the Daily Nation and the Sunday Nation was a must for my family when we lived in Kenya. Cyprian Fernandes mentions so many familiar names that were household names for people in Kenya and East Africa. There was one other freelance journalist who wrote for the Nation that I had really enjoyed and that was Kathy Eldon; her 22 year old son Dan, a photojournalist with Reuters, was killed in Somalia in l993. Nairobi and the Nation readers felt shocked.
Mo Amin’s death came soon after in 1996. Most Kenyans and East Africans had become familiar with his work, Kenya had lost yet another creative and talented person. I treasure his beautifully illustrated book “A Pilgrimage to Mecca” and still refer to it from time to time.
Hope Cyprian’s souvenir book become available to the general public, I for one would love to read it.
Thanks for the memories.
Cyprian’s mention of journalists during his time at The Nation reminds me of the wonderful late Jane Porter who wrote a regular coloumn
in the Sunday Nation!