Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Earle Edward Seaton: A Bermudian Who Left His Mark on Tanzania and East Africa

                                                                  Courtesy of Elizabeth Seaton

         Earle E. Seaton provides us with a powerful example of what happens when the Diaspora meets the Continent. This son of the African Diaspora made significant contributions to the struggle for independence in Tanganyika and later in building the young nations, Tanzania, Seychelles, and Uganda.
         Seaton was born in Bermuda February 29, 1924. He graduated from Berkeley Institute as class Valedictorian in 1941. He attended Howard University in Washington, DC; Seaton met his wife Alberta Jones at Howard. Seaton graduated from Howard in 1945 and then joined London University to study law. Pan Africanism was ripe in Britain at the time Seaton was there. The 5th Pan African Congress had just met in Manchester in 1945. The Congress was organized by leaders from Africa as well as the Diaspora; Jommo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, and Peter Abrahams from South Africa were among the Congress' organizers. Seaton was in London in the aftermath of the Pan African Congress, a time when Pan-African consciousness was ripe. Seaton met Thomas Marealle from Tanganyika in Britain and the two became friends. He learned to speak Kiswahili and became acquainted with East Africans in Britain.
         Marealle helped convince Seaton to move to Tanganyika from Britain. He moved to Tanganyika in August 1948 and opened a law office. The Tanganyika African Association consulted Seaton on legal matters. One of his first major cases with significant implications for the territory was to prepare a case at the UN on behalf of the Meru people. Seaton appeared before the UN Trusteeship Council in 1952 and once again presented his case on behalf of the Meru. Seaton and Japhet Kirilo wrote a small book entitled The Meru Land Case that presented the Meru case against land appropriation.
         The Meru case was the first instance of indigenous people petitioning before the UN Trusteeship Commission. The British were evicting the Meru to open up land for settlers-Afrikaners and Europeans- at the time. Seaton and Japhet Kirilo travelled to New York to petition the UN on behalf of the Meru. Seaton presented the Meru case at the UN Trusteeship Council and the General Assembly. Kirilo presented to the UN in Swahili and Seaton translated to English. The presentation of the Meru case to the UN was widely publicized in East Africa; it helped raise political awareness in the territories. As Nyerere would later recount: “It was the Meru Land case which first attracted international attention to the Trusteeship Territory of Tanganyika in the post-War world…The fact that the matter was apparently the exclusive concern of one of the tribes should not lead to underestimation…” Indeed, Seaton made significant contributions to raising political awareness in Tanganyika, and as such, made contributions to the independence struggle.

         The Seaton family moved to Houston, Texas in 1953. Seaton earned a PhD in international relations from the University of Southern California in 1961. His work on behalf of Tanganyika was not left unrecognized; the Tanganyika government recruited Seaton to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after independence. Seaton returned to Tanganyika in 1962 and spent the next 10 years serving the nation, first in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1962 to 1964, as a judge from 1965 to 1969, and lastly, as Tanzania’s Legal Counsel at the UN from 1969-1971. Nyerere recognized the important contributions Seaton made and thus recruited him to come to Tanganyika in 1962.

                                         Courtesy of tanzaniaphotos @twitter

          Seaton returned to Bermuda in 1972 and served as the first black judge in his home country. This would not be the last time he made his mark in East Africa. He moved to Seychelles in 1979 and became the country’s Chief Justice. He was the first black to hold the position. Seaton retired as the Chief Justice in 1980 and moved to the US. Once again, Seaton responded to the call to go back to East Africa in 1990. He moved to Uganda in 1990 to serve as the Appellate Judge in the Supreme Court. He returned to the US in 1992 and passed away in 1993.

         Seaton made significant contributions to the independence struggle in Tanganyika; furthermore, he helped to build the young nations of Tanzania, Seychelles, and finally, Uganda. Seaton presents one example of how people of the African Diaspora have made significant contributions to African nations. Africans will remember Earle E. Seaton as a trailblazer!

© Azaria Mbughuni

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