On the evening of October 20,1952 the Governor of the British colonialist Sir Evelyn Barring declared a state of emergency in Kenya.
The lawyer who represented Jomo Kenyatta during the Kapenguria trial—and he once taught at the University of Ghana.
That he was the lead counsel representing the Kapenguria Six saw him cement his immortality
This was prompted by the killing of African loyalists (men who supported the British such as Senior Chief Waruinge) as well as increased African restlessness on the British government.
Sir Baring's declaration led to the arrest of six political activists who were taken to Kapenguria in northwestern Kenya. They included Jomo Kenyatta, Fred Kubai,Paule Ngei,Kung'u Karumba,Achieng' Oneko and Bildad Kaggia.
The six were arrested on grounds that they assisted the management of unlawful society, Mau Mau, which was a major liberation movement of Kenya Africans against the British.
Now, among a number of high-profile lawyers who represented the Kapenguria six was one Dennis Nowell Pritt.
He represented Jomo Kenyatta during the Kapenguria Trial in which the future president was accused of “managing the Mau Mau” in 1952.
Though an expensive lawyer in complicated cases involving big businesses, the leftist in him also saw Pritt take pro bono cases for those oppressed by the powers that be.
Some of his high-profile clients included Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh.
And it was his effort in defending Kenyatta that the advocate was rewarded with Nairobi’s Dennis Pritt Road (formerly Caledonia Road), which runs from State House Road to Silver Oak Kindergarten.
That he was the lead counsel representing the Kapenguria Six saw him cement his immortality. He was assisted by AR Kapila, Dudley Thompson, H. Oladipo Davies, Jaswant Singh and Fitz De Souza.
Contempt of court
In his 2015 memoirs, A Daunting Journey, Jeremiah Kiereini recalls that Pritt was charged with contempt of court for something he said during the trial and his case tried at the Nairobi High Court.
“The courtroom was extremely crowded because we Africans were incredibly proud of him,” he writes, adding that Pritt was defended and acquitted.
Pritt’s case ran concurrently with the Kapenguria Six trial where Sir Ransley Thacker was the presiding judge with star witness Rawson Macharia, who testified that he was forced to take an oath in Kenyatta’s house which required him to strip naked and drink human blood.
Pritt eventually lost the case.
According to American historian Caroline Elkins’ 2005 tome, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, Thacker was bribed £20,000 (Sh2.7 million) by the colonial government to find Kenyatta and co. guilty.
Only Oneko won an appeal and was detained at Manyani Prison as the rest served seven years and hard labour in Lokitaung Prison.
Dennis Nowell Pritt retired from legal practice in 1960 and became professor of law at the University of Ghana.
He died at the age of 84, at his home in Hampshire, England, on May 23, 1972.
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