Perhaps very few of us know that Kenya was once poised to become the homeland of the Jews. Historical records indicate that back in 1903, the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered to Zionist leader Theodor Herzl a portion of the British East Africa Protectorate (current Kenya) to be designated for Jewish settlement. The 16,000 square kilometre piece of land (only six square kilometres less than current Israel) was to extend between Lake Nakuru, Kisumu, Mt Elgon, and the equator. The idea received an initial majority vote approval from the Sixth Zionist Congress in Switzerland, which agreed to send a team to spy the land. In 1905, a Zionist commission arrived in Kenya to investigate the possibility of a Jewish homeland. As they found out, the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey – but there were giants.
Among the first hurdles was the cold shoulder the spies received from the then British settlers in Kenya, who feared being invaded by poor Jewish immigrants. The other giant was the Jews themselves. Some of them feared that the Kenya option would jeopardise their chances of acquiring a Jewish homeland in Palestine – the true Promised Land. Thus, the Zionist Congress rejected the settlement plan and continued to agitate for a place in Palestine, a dream they realised in 1948.
Whereas the settlement plan flopped, by the time the struggle for Kenya’s independence gained momentum, the ties between Israel and Kenya had become symbiotic. Israel embraced Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and sought to assist in the struggle for freedom. Indeed, soon after independence, the Kenyan-Israeli friendship blossomed. Kenya benefited from numerous training programs – mostly in rural development, irrigation, social work, and health. Kenyans were taken to Israel for courses and Israeli instructors came to Kenya.
President Kenyatta therefore remained friendly and trustful toward Israel all his life, and often helped it in times of need – such as when he allowed an Israeli air force plane to refill in Nairobi on its way back from the famous Entebbe Raid in Uganda. Interestingly, even at the death of President Kenyatta, it was another Jew, George Vamos, one of Kenya’s foremost architects and painter, upon whom the mantle fell to design the mausoleum for the late President. This he did in a record three days.
In the time of President Moi these ties were enhanced in several ways, including when he culminated his visit to Israel in 1994 with the establishment of the Kenya Embassy in Israel. Indeed, throughout most of Kenya’s history, Israel has been a trusted friend that has helped us in many areas. Likewise, Kenya has mostly stood with Israel in her times of need – sometimes at great costs. It is therefore rather unfortunate to observe what seems to be a change of heart towards Israel within certain quarters of government.
The recent public lament by Noah Gal Gendler, the immediate former Israeli Ambassador to Kenya, can only be considered unfortunate. Having met the Ambassador, I found him to be a down-to-earth diplomat who had a great love for the two countries he served. Yet, he appeared to have been so frustrated that he threw caution to the wind and publicly gave a litany of frustrations he had experienced during his tour of duty. This is sad because, there is a sense in which in the blessing of Israel lies our blessing.
When God appeared to Abraham – the father of the Jews – He promised to make Abraham a blessing to the nations. He further promised that whoever blessed Abraham would be blessed. This has been proved over the years. As many groups, individuals, or nations as have blessed Israel, have equally experienced special blessings. It is a historical fact that, whether in Europe or North America, Jews have played a significant role in major scientific innovations and business breakthroughs that have catapulted the nations into significant growth trajectories.
Here in Kenya, in the days we stood with Israel, we were literally the centre of Africa. One can only imagine where we would be if the Jews had become the 43rd tribe of Kenya.
Projects like Galana would not only be successful but would be commonplace. Yet it appears that, just like the settlers who for selfish reasons resisted the settlement of the Jews in Kenya, there may be another group silently opposed to strong Kenya-Israel ties. We must resist such groups and give the new Israeli Ambassador Oded Joseph the right hand of fellowship. Who knows, in so doing, God might look favourably towards us and leave us a blessing.