When I'm Gone - Remembering Hassan Rattansi

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

Dr Hassan Rattansi, philanthropist, educationist, sportsman and humanist, passed away a year ago on 1 December 2003. Born in 1921 in Nyeri, he rose from running a grocery shop to managing and developing one of Kenya's best-known educational philanthropies.

For his contributions to education, the disadvantaged and sport, he received the following awards: Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Letters from the University of Nairobi(November 1998); The Silver Star of Kenya by His Excellency the President (December 1998) Lions Club Nairobi- Host Appreciation Award (1998-99); The President's Award, Kenya (January 1999); and Honorary Doctorate, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Kenyatta University (October 2002).

Dr Hassan Rattansi was a truly remarkable Kenyan. Awaaz remembers him through eulogies written by three of his compatriots, Elkanah Odembo, Prof Godfrey Muriuki and Charles Njonjo; and his widow, Vijoo. Smile, as he would have wanted you to, as you read a few of his many rib-tickling quips.




By Elkanah Odembo

The author is a former Director of Ufadhili Trust


I think about Hassan Rattansi. I think about him often. It is not clear to me why Dr. Rattansi is so often in my thoughts. Perhaps it is that so much of what I do on a daily basis touches on some aspect of what Dr. Rattansi represented and worked for. Peace, social justice, philanthropy, fairness, hard work, good governance, social responsibility, etc.

Often I have talked about the uniqueness of Hassan Rattansi. I am increasingly convinced that he lived a full life and that his life is testimony that there is still hope for mankind.

I miss his sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself and others. The things he would say about his lawyers, doctors, accountants. The wisdom of Hassan Rattansi was easy to detect if ever you spent any time with him. His ability to see and internalize the many opportunities and challenges that face Kenya today, and the generations to come. I don't know anyone who knew so much about so many different things. The economy, governance, peace and security, nature and conservation, culture, and human development are all issues Hassan read about and discussed passionately. It was the kind of passion that if found in some 100 or so Kenyans could truly bring about change in this society. I can imagine his reaction to the President's appointment of a "Dream Team" to deal with Kenya's inequalities. He would probably say something like "This team will be dreaming while the inequalities continue to rise".

Hassan was a great admirer of nature and all good things in God's world, and believed strongly in preservation and conservation of nature for future generations.

Hope is a great asset for mankind and Hassan hosted it well. It was amazing how a man could sustain such hope in the face of the unpleasant realities that we are faced with. Hassan believed that people matter. That they matter, irrespective of age, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, creed or station in life. He also believed in the importance of preserving people's dignity regardless of the level of distress and destitution. What a gift!

Hassan's response to the fundamental injustices in our society was also unique. He was the ultimate reformer. He used his position in society extremely well. While committed to care giving, he also pursued change. Remedy and rehabilitation are important, but he also believed in reform. While he lived a life of service, he was also a champion of social development. In this way he served the true interests of the country and its people.

I listened to Dr. Rattansi speak at many events and meetings. What was consistent at each of the occasions was the warmth, reflection, inspiration, openness, directness and the quiet passion. He was the embodiment of the values and ideals of a social worker. But what impressed me the most about Hassan was the quality of the person in him. He had an incredibly balanced approach to life, people and events.

Encouraging others is not a thing that comes easily for most of us. For Hassan it was second nature. At many events that I attended with him he was considered the "Wiseman", combining the qualities of great attention to detail, while keeping focus on the big picture.

He truly was a quiet giant. He has built the Rattansi Educational Trust into a tremendous powerhouse institution with a remarkable track record of commitment to social justice. He gave a strong moral force to the work of local nonprofit institutions.

I would conclude by saying that for me there are two qualities that Dr. Hassan Rattansi has exemplified. The first is that he has served as an inspiration to continually challenge myself and to always reach a bit further. The second has been his strong moral compass, directing that there should be a sense of social justice and fairness, and making the world a better place.

Long live his dream



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.


A Fascinating Narrator


By Charles Njonjo

The author was a former Attorney General


Hassan is an extraordinary man. I don't think in my life I have met a man who you meet for the first time and you feel an affinity towards him. In 1962 I returned from England as a young lawyer and was employed by the government. I had a job but where was I to stay? The residential areas were still strictly segregated with the Europeans in Karen and Westland suburbs, the Asians in Parklands and the Africans in the slum areas. Hassan heard about my predicament and immediately, without a second thought, invited me into his home. I stayed with him for two months before I moved on to spend another two months with Sir Ernest Vasey before I was finally given a government house just opposite State House.

Hassan was a remarkably open and cosmopolitan thinker. He, together with Ibrahim Nathoo, John Mutura, Derek Erskine, I and others, formed the United Kenya Club which was founded on a concept of multi-racialism. He was a very conscientious person and in the days, late 1950s, when councillors truly served the citizens without any remuneration, Hassan was appointed to the finance committee of the Nairobi City Council.

In 1957, Kenya was moving towards independence. Mohamedally Rattansi foresaw the great need for education and established the Mohamedally and Maniben Rattansi Education Trust to assist needy students. He handed over the title deeds for the prime properties to Sir Evelyn Baring, Governor of Kenya. A year later he passed away and Hassan took over its management He devoted the rest of his life to administering and developing it and I have been privileged to serve on its board since 1964.

Hassan was a much sought after after-dinner speaker as he had a store of fascinating stories to narrate and his sense of humour was fabulous. He could be quite merciless with his wit, not sparing himself or his family members. I remember his words as he poured me a glass of whisky in his home: "Now drink it slowly and savour it, it is very expensive," he advised!




An Inherited Legacy

By Dr Vijoo Rattansi 


Hassanally has finally been granted his famous, "Boarding Pass". It is very difficult to believe that Dr Hassanally Rattansi is no longer with us. Born in Nyeri, in a valley nestling between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya on 14 March, 1921, he was the fourth child, in a family of ten, of Mohammedally and Maniben Rattansi.

A fascinating story teller and accurate to the last detail, Hassanally often went down memory lane and recollected with great enthusiasm how his father and mother would walk to Nyeri, via Naivasha and then over the Aberdares. This was in the early part of the 20th century, to trade with the various tribes, living there. Bartering was the way of trade then. It was during this early part of his life that young Mohamedally and his very young bride were surrounded by the Wakikuyu, Wandorobo, Wakamba and Masaii. This experience impressed upon them the essential unity of humankind, which they passed on to their children.

Hassanally always recalled how lucky he was to have parents who did not compromise their ideals of truth, honesty and integrity. The simple and noble principles they tried to follow throughout their lives deeply influenced Hassanally who always lived by them, and shared the same with us, his family. I remember him telling the children when they were young. "Never tell a lie. To cover that one lie many others will follow. Truth, is the answer whatever the consequences."

In keeping with the abiding cultural tradition in India, Hassanally's parents strongly believed in "Dharma" or duty. This places an obligation upon us to pay back to the fullest extent we can, all that we owe to the society that has made it possible for us to mature and prosper. Hence the birth of "The Rattansi Educational Trust" in 1956.

A born sportsman who represented Kenya in tennis and cricket, at international level, Hassanally started his sports business, Nairobi Sports House in 1948. In the 1980's, Hassanally and I decided that we would devote all our time to the Rattansi Educational Trust, to realize his parents' dream of expanding the Trust to greater heights and doing our part of "Dharma" this time round. We sold Nairobi Sports House thus making a clean break from the material world.

Even before we sold the business, Hassanally worked for the Trust with a zest only he possessed and started to realize his parents' dream. The little ground floor building that was the Trust soon became the four storey building it is today, with plans to go higher a couple more storeys should the need arise. Working at the Trust with Hassanally's laughter and jokes to keep us going made the myriad problems we had to face, so easy to surmount. Nothing was a problem to him; a joke he made out of anything and everything. Ever ready to laugh, many a joke was cut at my expense, all in the name of a good laugh! Until the end, his sense of humour never failed him. While he was in the ICU in hospital, I asked the older children to fly in from England. On the morning they arrived we went to see Hassanally in hospital, I said to him, "Look who I've brought". He gave us his naughty but happy smile, looked at all the five children and said to me, "A lot of protein!"

Although the children and I will always miss Hassanally tremendously, we also realize that we must follow the ideals he stood for and we must also celebrate his life at the same time because he drank deeply from the cup of life. How fortunate, privileged and humbled we are to have been part of his very full and enriched life.


This article was originally published in the AWAAZ Magazine