When I'm Gone - Remembering Hassan Rattansi - Dreamer & Achiever

Written by By Elkanah Odembo, Prof. Godfrey Muriuki, Charles Njonjo and Vijoo Rattansi.



Dreamer & Achiever

by Professor Godfrey Muriuki 

The author heads the Department of History, University of Nairobi


Mr. Rattansi was born in Nyeri on 14th March, 1921. Walking all the way from Nairobi, his father, Mohamedally, had settled in the newly-established boma of Nyeri, at the turn of the century. He then bartered beads, salt, sugar, amerikani, and blankets with the Dorobo and Kikuyu. Several years later, his bride, Maniben, joined him. He had married her when he was only twelve years old and she was ten. It was a typical Indian child-marriage. By Prof. Godfrey Muriuki

Hassanally started his early education in a makeshift school in Nyeri. In those days, the government made no provision for Asian schools in the rural areas. In small towns, such as Nyeri, Asians typically clubbed together to hire a teacher or two from India and set up their own school. More often than not, a leading merchant would make rooms available in his house for classes.

In 1931, Hassanally completed whatever schooling Nyeri could offer. He then enrolled in the Government Indian Senior Secondary School, now Jamhuri High School, in Nairobi. He passed his London Matriculation Examination in 1936 and hoped to study medicine or pharmacy in the United Kingdom. But his parents moved to Nairobi and left him and his elder brother to look after their Nyeri business. This abruptly cut short his ambitions for further education.

From these humble beginnings, he had an illustrious career as a sportsman, businessman, civic official and philanthropist. Over the years, he played a leading role in the development of sports in Kenya as a sportsman or sports administrator. He held various elected positions in sports organizations dealing with cricket, lawn tennis and badminton. For example, he was Chairman of the Asian Sports Association in 1958-59, Kenya Table Tennis Association in 1962, and Kenya Lawn Tennis in 1965. He also served as Treasurer of Kenya Cricket Association in 1965 and the Kenya National Sports Council between 1966 and 1984. And between 1994 and 1997, he served as a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kenya National Sports Council.

Equally, he ably represented Kenya in the international arena. For instance, he was player-manager of the first East Africa Cricket Tour of South Africa in 1957 and team manager of the Kenya table tennis team to Cairo in 1962, and lawn tennis team to the first African Games in Brazzaville in 1965.

His love of sports was exemplary. It is this life-long commitment to sports that led the Rattansi Educational Trust, of which he was a long-standing chairman, to offer financial support to a variety of sporting bodies as well as purchasing sporting equipment for many educational institutions.

His civic duties were multi-faceted. They include serving as a councillor in the Nairobi City Council (1960-65) and being a member of the board of governors of Highway Secondary School, Kenya High School and St. Theresa's Secondary School. He also served as a member of His Highness The Aga Khan Nairobi Provincial Council and Nairobi Hospital Board.

But it is in the field of education where his contribution has been most significant. His father and mother established the Rattansi Educational Trust in 1956. Hassanally became the chairman of the Trust in May 1962. Over the years, he developed it into one of, if not, the leading charitable organizations supporting post-secondary education and youth programmes in Kenya. In order to effectively do this, he sold his own business in 1987 in order to devote his energies and talents to the Trust. He did this free of charge and on a daily basis for sixteen years.

Like his father, he strongly believed in social justice and that education is vital for the advancement of individuals and Kenya as a whole. For this reason and since its inception, the Trust awards bursaries to deserving Kenyans drawn from polytechnics, teacher training colleges and local and overseas universities. For example, annually it awards bursaries worth over sixteen million Kenya shillings. In this regard, University of Nairobi has benefited from the Trust since the inception of the cost-sharing policy in 1990-91 academic year.

The Trust has contributed to the education of many prominent Kenyans. To mention only a few, these include: Raju Batavia (Batavia Enterprises Ltd., Mombasa), the late Justice J.M. Gachuhi (Court of Appeal), Mohamed Hyder (former Professor of Zoology and Principal, College of Biological and Physical Sciences, University of Nairobi), J.B. Karugu (former Attorney General), B.E. Kipkorir (former academic and Kenya's Ambassador to the United States) and Sadru Ramji (Wyco Paints, Nairobi).

Mr. Rattansi passionately believed in the value of sports. He had also an abiding faith in the youth of this country. For this reason, he fully participated in the administration of youth organizations, such as the President's Award scheme of which he had been a member since 1966. Indeed, he made the resources of the Trust available to other youth programmes, particularly the Outward-Bound School, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. This is a clear demonstration of his patriotism and commitment to the welfare of Kenya.

Finally, Mr. Rattansi was a scholar in his own right. Deeply religious, he avidly read books on religion, world affairs and Kenya. In particular, he took a keen interest in the history of Kenya. To this end, he sponsored studies on the history and culture of Asians in Kenya and East Africa.

To date, this venture has yielded three books all written by Cynthia Salvadori. These are: Through Open Doors: A View of Asian Cultures in Kenya, published in 1983, Two Indian Travellers, published in 1997 and We Came in Dhows, 3 volumes, published in 1997 also.

In short, Mr. Rattansi made an outstanding personal contribution to social justice, development of sports and philanthropic support to education in Kenya. For that reason, University of Nairobi awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree and the Government of Kenya a Silver Star in 1998. It is such a friend that Kenya lost on 30th November, 2003. We shall certainly miss his gracious company and great sense of humour.