How Britain's plan to settle Jews in Kenya was scuttled

Sir Charles Eliot.

There was a time Kenya was so broke that it was on the precipice of being auctioned to any investor.

So dire was the situation in 1903 that the governor of the protectorate, then Charles Eliot, was ready to welcome Jewish settlers here in the hope that they would inject some capital.

He expressed fears of Kenya going bankrupt when he supported the idea of making the country the promised land to Jews who had been uprooted from Poland and hundreds massacred.

Eliot saw their coming as a blessing and Charles Miller has cited him in his book, The Lunatic Express thus, "You must understand the importance of the financial question. This protectorate alone costs the government PS256,000 (Sh39,651,529.88 ) per annum and as long as we go on this way, we are always exposed to the risk that a radical government may cut our vote in aid and what would we do then?"

Eliot feared that Kenya would simply collapse and, "it is better to be supported by them than to do that."

The governor's fears were not farfetched because the first attempt to run Kenya and Uganda by Imperial British Company in 1888 as a business entity for a period of 50 years had ended abruptly.

The company incurred heavy debts administering Kenya and Uganda and had to surrender the latter to the British government in 1895 after being paid PS250,000 (about Sh38,722,197.15). This paved way for the creation of the East Africa Protectorate and the appointment of Arthur Hardinge as first commissioner.

Despite Eliot's desperate attempt to save Kenya from being bankrupt a second time in eight years, the tide turned against the establishment of a Zionists state.

Jews were described in newspaper articles in unflattering terms as evidenced by one letter to the editor where the author ranted that, "To read of this beautiful land being reserved for for foreign Jews paupers is enough for one to wish for a big nose and a name like Ikey Moses."

It is these anti-Jews sentiments that somehow made Eliot to change his mind and remark, "though some of them (Jews) are very wealthy, a visit to to the Jewish part of Russia and Poland produces a most disagreeable impression of dirt and squalor."

The project to turn Kenya into the promised land was scuttled by the Jews when during a Zionist International conference held in August 1903, they rejected the idea which was being promoted by their leader Theodore Herzl. The country's cash problems persisted and are still haunting Kenya today and Israel, where the Zionists finally settled 45 years later is influential nation.