KENYA HISTORY PROJECT

Makhan Singh: Trade Unionist

MAKHAN SINGH (1913-1973) was a trade unionist and one of the fathers of Kenya’s labor movement.

He formed Kenya’s first trade union in 1935, the Labour Trade Union of Kenya. With fellow trade unionist Fred Kubai, Singh was instrumental in uniting workers represented by different trade unions under the umbrella trade organization East African Trade Union Congress formed in 1949.

With Kubai, they were the main organizers of the successful Nairobi General strike of 1950 for which the colonial government preemptively arrested and detained them just days prior to the strike.

Makhan Singh probably has the lone distinction of having been detained in India and Kenya for his political activities against the British colonial governments in both countries. He was behind bars for 5 years in India and spent a further 11 years of detention in Lokitaung, Kenya.

Certainly, the length of his detention in Lodwar is also probably among the longest of all Kenyan freedom fighters detained by the colonial government.

Despite his great contribution to trade Unionism and sacrifice to the freedom struggle, he sank into obscurity after Kenya’s independence and has not received the great attention among historians that other freedom fighters of his caliber have received.

Probably his son Hindpal Jabbal sums up best the selfless and principled life that his father led serving the cause of freedom and trade unionism and not seeking attention for himself in the book,  “Makhan Singh: A Revolutionary Kenyan Trade Unionist” by Shiraz Durrani.

“...People like Makhan Singh never expect any rewards. They do a totally selfless service to whatever cause they passionately believe in, and then quietly depart leaving a great mark behind them…” 

However, Makhan Singh is embraced and highly regarded within the global Sikh community. Read this great article about him written by noted and award-winning playwright Dr Atamjit Singh. Atamjit also wrote a play titled “Mungu Comrade” on Makhan’s life that enjoyed success in Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Makhan Singh was born in Garjakh, India which is now located in present day Punjab Province, Pakistan. His family moved to Kenya in 1927 when he was 13 years-old.


Other Good Reads

Liberating Minds, Restoring Kenyan History: Anti-Imperialist Resistance by Progressive South Asian Kenyans 1884-1965. Mar 23, 2017 by Nazmi Durrani. Google books preview.

Yesterday in Paradise. Paperback – September 15, 2016 by Cyprian Fernandes. Google books preview.

Progressive Librarianship: Perspectives from Kenya and Britain, 1979-2010. Dec 29, 2014 by Shiraz Durrani. Google books preview.

Makhan Singh: A Revolutionary Kenyan Trade Unionist, Dec 29, 2015. by Shiraz Durrani. Google books preview.

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