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Failed peace pushed Mzee Jomo to war after Gatundu meet

Kolbio Police outpost at the Kenya-Somalia border which was a popular target for the Shifta, 1964. [File, Standard]

The birthing of a new nation can be painful. Not even modulated debates in Lancaster and Rome conference halls could yield peace to a country that was just about to taste freedom after seven decades of servitude. 

These were the makings of a nightmare that has lasted more than a lifetime. When the officials of the Northern Province Peoples Progressive Party (NPPP), whose clarion call was “Secession Now" met Kenya’s last governor, Malcom MacDonald in 1962, their mission was clear. Self-determination.

The residents of Northern Kenya Frontier District (NFD) were determined to join the larger Somalia where they had an identity of language and religion rejecting the prospect of being minorities in a new Kenya when it got independence.

In a bid to avert a crisis MacDonald met the 34 chiefs from the six districts of NFD in Wajir to convince them to participate in the May 1963 independence elections as the government looked for an amicable settlement to the secession question.

But the meeting was short. It took less than five seconds for each of the 34 chiefs to present their case. They rejected the call to participate in the elections. They also affirmed their quest for freedom by voting overwhelmingly during a referendum to break away from Kenya.

Shortly after the elections which were won by Kanu, Somalia pressed for a meeting to be held in Rome in August 1963. Prior to the meeting, Mogadishu successfully blocked Kenya’s new Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta, from participating since the country had not yet been granted full independence.

The situation was saved by Britain which connived with Kenyatta for Kenya to send a delegation that would be part of Britain. Kenyatta dispatched Cabinet ministers, Mbiyu Koinange, Tom Mboya and James Gichuru.

Once the Somalis had presented their case in favour of the bid, they were shocked when Britain, which had at some point favoured the Somalis quest, ceded its right to speak.

Instead, the British head of delegation, Duncan Sandys, chose Mboya to present the British view.

And Mboya did not disappoint for he was at his best as he tore into shreds all that the Somali had said, concluding that the so-called Greater Somalia would forever remain a “bad dream in the minds of those who conceived it".

The following day, Jomo chaired a Cabinet meeting under a mango tree in Ichaweri, Gatundu, which drew plans for the beginning of the Shifta War which would last a decade.