When elections weren't secret and State held all cards

LEGCO opening in 1954.

There was a time elections in Kenya were not a raucous affair. During this age of innocence, elections were organised by bureaucrats and it was a public affair that the key supporters and campaigners were published in a government newspaper so that everybody knew who was on whose side.

During this time which could be described as the end of the season when Kenyans ceased being under the East African Protectorate and were properly colonised by the King of England, the whole of Nairobi had just two electoral areas, Nairobi South and North.

The rest of the country was organised around settler farms which were used as beacons where polling stations were established.

Africans were not factored in these elections and the representative of His Majesty, the governor held the key to the elections. During the last days under the old Order of the Protectorate, the final election was conducted in March 1920 and five months later, Kenya became a colony.

The then acting governor, Charles Calvert Bowring publicised this election thus: “Under the powers vested in the Governor by Section 3, Schedule III of the Legislative Council Ordinance of 1919, I, Charles Calvert Bowring, acting Governor of the East African Protectorate hereby give notice that a poll will take place on March 25, 1920.”

According to the same notice, the names of the candidates were published in the Kenya Gazette of March 3, 1920. The names of the proposers and the seconders were also listed.

In this particular poll, candidates were battling for posts in Nzoia, Soy, Sergoit, Eldoret Uasin Gishu, Farm 40, Kiambu and Ruiru Hotel. Unlike the current Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which though autonomous is still powerless to deal with electoral offenses, then, the governor was all powerful.

So powerful was the governor that he effortlessly kicked out one of the most powerful settlers at the time, William Northrup McMillan, the gentle giant who weighed over 200 kilos and owned a 15,000-acre ranch in Donyo Sabuk.

McMillan, who had migrated to Kenya in 1904, made history when he successfully hosted former US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 but fell out of favour with the government just before the polls and his election was nullified.

Then, the governor had powers to investigate allegations of election malpractices and nullify the poll if he was satisfied that the election law was breached.