Girdhari Lal Vidyarthi

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Girdhari Lal Vidyarthi was the first Kenyan journalist to be convicted for sedition. His trenchant criticism of the British Government and unrelenting defence of nationalist concerns on behalf of all Kenyans were consistently expressed in the Colonial Times newspaper that he founded in 1933.

Under the motto ‘Frank, Free and Fearless,’ Vidyarthi and his team of young South Asian writers spearheaded the politics of journalism in Kenya and provided a pivotal channel of expression for emerging freedom fighters like Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Odinga, Achieng Oneko and the future first President Jomo Kenyatta.  Vidyarthi’s radical and unwavering fight saw him convicted and sentenced to prison on three separate occasions.

In addition, Vidyarthi printed several newspapers by militant African writers in indigenous languages, but which followed the radical standpoint of the Colonial Times.  Habari Za Dunia (News of the World), edited by F M Ruhinda, was the very first Swahili newspaper in East Africa to be printed by a private press. The Luo weekly, Ramogi, edited by Achieng Oneko, followed soon after. Swahili and Kikuyu publications like Fred Kubai’s Sauti ya Mwafrika (the African Voice), Francis Khamisi’s Mwalimu (The Teacher), Henry Mwaniki Muoria’s Mumenyereri (The Trustee) and Henry Gathigira’s Jicho (The Eye) were published between 1953 and 1958.

In April 1945, Vidyarthi was convicted of sedition on two separate occasions. His first sentence earned him a 100-pounds fine. The second sedition charge emanated from his criticism of the British occupation of Burma and the subsequent conscription of African soldiers to fight British wars around the Empire.

Vidyarthi brought to light the injustice where wounded African soldiers returned penniless to Kenya whereas their white counterparts were rewarded with land and property throughout the colony. The story resulted in his being sentenced to serve four months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

He was arrested again in May of 1947 and sentenced to eighteen months in prison after an allegedly seditious letter was printed in Habari Za Dunia.

Vidyarthi died in 1985 in Nairobi, a humble man of great courage and integrity, and who committed his life to promoting press freedom and Kenya’s independence.