Achhroo Ram Kapila
Born in 1926 in India, Kapila arrived in Kenya in 1930. He became a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and enrolled in the Kenyan Bar in 1947. He quickly rose to become one of Kenya’s most brilliant lawyers, using his skills to aggressively defend other Kenyans in their fight against colonial injustice.
He defended publisher G L Vidyarthi, and trade unionists Makhan Singh and Jesse Kariuki, and when the state of Emergency was declared in 1952 he, together with Dennis Pritt, a Queen’s Counsel from England and Chaman Lal from India, took up the defence of the Kapenguria Six.
But that was not all. When the British Government instituted criminal trials against Kenyan nationalists on a massive scale, Kapila appeared in hundreds of those cases.
So memorable was his defence of the Mau Mau victims at Lari that in 2002, 50 years later, at a very emotional meeting with the elders of Lari, he was appointed the patron of the Lari Memorial Peace Museum.
Kapila also acted for several heads of state, including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Uganda’s Milton Obote, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Albert Rene of the Seychelles. These were not just matters of the law, but milestones on the road to independence.
In addition to being Kenyatta’s legal defender, Kapila was also his political adviser. He was a close friend and adviser to Mboya, whose assassination confirmed his disillusionment with the direction that the Kenya government was taking. Long before it was fashionable to do so, Kapila fought a long, costly, and often lonely battle against the distortions of Kenya’s constitutional system.
He was the first recipient of the Law Society of Kenya’s honours award. Without a doubt, Achhroo Ram Kapila played a significant role in changing and directing the course of Kenya’s history.