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How Emma Pinto was caught up in 1960s US, Soviet fights
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|How Emma Pinto was caught up in 1960s US, Soviet fights by Kenyans247(1): Sun 08, November, 2020 08:24am|
What you need to know:
It was at the height of the cold war and both the US and the Soviets were seeking to build their influences and to achieve their ideological goals
Americans in their bid to counteract the Soviet were working with the British to take control of Kenya information services.
It is quite certain that Emma Pinto, the widow of assassinated Kenya independence hero Pio Gama Pinto, died in Ottawa Canada, without knowing that at one time in the 1960s, she was a key focus of foreign spy agencies alongside her husband.
According to a report by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), titled “Leftist Activity in Kenya” dated July 31, 1964 , the two together with the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Achieng’ Oneko, were accused of being on the Soviet Union’s payroll to block the West from controlling Kenya information services.
It was at the height of the cold war and both the US and the Soviets were seeking to build their influences and to achieve their ideological goals. The information field was a key target, since the media was considered a key tool for maintaining cold war antagonism through the development and distribution of political propaganda.
The cold war intrigues in the information field, began after independence when Russia agreed to provide assistance to the Kenya News Agency (KNA) in a deal brokered by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. The agreement provided for the exchange of information and the provision of technical assistance by the Russian News Agency (TASS). Almost immediately, the KNA started using Soviet-installed radio receivers and teleprinters flown in from Moscow, while Kenyans educated in Russia and Czechoslovakia arrived to work in the agency.
In a telegram to Washington dated July 6, 1964, the British Foreign Office stated, “We regard this as potentially a most serious threat to our interests. Counter action is made difficult by the fact that Oneko , the minister responsible is strong Odinga supporter, and may not be disposed to ask for or accept help from us.”
Americans in their bid to counteract the Soviet were working with the British to take control of Kenya information services. On June 2, 1964, Mr Wendelle B. Coote of the US State Department, had met the British Ambassador to the US and expressed America’s fear that the Kenya News Agency was likely to dictate what was to be broadcast or published in the newspapers.
He informed the British diplomat that they had expressed similar views to a number of Kenyan ministers , in the hope that the information would reach “Kenyatta and produce an awareness of the danger of a left wing take-over of news media,” but nothing was forthcoming.
“The US Embassy believes that Oneko is determined to thwart all US efforts to break into the Kenyan information media, and that he and some of his subordinates may have been paid by the Soviets to maintain a clear field for them,” said the CIA in its report.
Among those singled out was Pio Gama Pinto who the CIA described as an “extreme left wing Goan” , and a close associate of Odinga and Oneko. Despite Pinto not holding any formal position in the KNA, the CIA believed he was the one undertaking clandestine political activities for the news agency and the communists.
Also singled out as a threat to Western interests, was his wife who was working as Oneko’s secretary. The CIA believed she was serving the Soviet’s interests and intentionally sabotaging America’s efforts to contact Oneko. “She has a reputation for losing letters, shifting appointments and otherwise sabotaging , without his knowledge , Western efforts to get to Oneko.” The West believed that even though Oneko was intransigent, he could easily be influenced in the absence of Pinto and his wife who were the main stumbling block. A couple of months earlier, the US had succeeded in persuading Oneko to appoint an American as advisor to the KNA, only for the minister to make a quick U-turn a few days later. Instead, he quietly appointed the Czechoslovak News Agency representative in Nairobi as KNA’s advisor , and editorial and training expert. The CIA spies who were keeping close tabs on the Czechoslovak, later found out that he was being accommodated by Pinto in his house in Westlands.
To have a grip on the KNA, the US State Department shared a number of proposals with their British allies. They included monitoring the output of the KNA, and a regional training scheme organised by the African American Institute (AAI), which itself was a CIA front organisation.
The British, while agreeing that they should both continue with obtrusive activities , were of the opinion that they should do so without causing suspicion or recoil on Kenya’s part. “Acting as a spy, by providing the two allies with confidential information on Kenya News Agency was Kenneth Bolton the Editor of East African Standard. “Bolton has been keeping us informed of developments,” read one confidential letter referenced SCT/42.
During this period, Pinto’s activities in the KNA and the Lumumba Institute were greatly monitored. He was assassinated a few months later just at the gate of his home. In one footage taken just after his murder, , his wife Emma can be seen sobbing while holding his two daughters one of whom was his father in the car when the gunmen struck.
Outside the house, a shocked Margaret Kenyatta can be seen talking to an unidentified man before entering the house to condole with Mrs Pinto. At the gate African and European police officers can be seen examining the shattered window of Pinto’s car, while others combed the ground for spent cartridges. Soon Pinto’s car is driven away as a small crowd of startled Africans looked on in bewilderment.
Jaramogi Odinga in his autobiography Not Yet Uhuru blamed Pinto’s assassination on the forces that were knowingly or unwittingly helping imperialism keep a grip on Kenya. He also thanked Pinto’s wife for typing the manuscript of “Not Yet Uhuru”, together with Caroline Odongo.
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