Bishops, Lords trashed clamour for one man one vote

Then-Vice President Daniel arap Moi with Jeremiah Nyaga, GG Kariuki, Justus ole Tiipis and Taaitta Toweet during a presser in 1977. [File, Standard]

What would drive two Kenyans, who had never been in a church, to head to the cathedral in London?  

At the height of the crafting of Kenya as a nation, two Asians who had travelled to Lancaster to ensure that their views were captured during the writing of the constitution separately walked into a church.

 In the words of  Bishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, the two, who were not even Christians, begged him to pray for them.

They were anxious about what would become of their race in the event Kenya was granted independence. Their fears mirrored some of the delegates attending the 1960 Lancaster conference that birthed Kenya’s constitution.

 The delegates representing Africans wanted this democratic tenet to be enshrined in the constitution because of the gross misrepresentation of their kin. But the whites thought it was not a good cry at the time and would have drastic consequences that would cripple Kenya.

The Europeans and Asians who had always controlled law-making were outraged that by 1960, a total of 126,000 had been registered as voters and this number was supposed to reach 500,000, to equal the franchise of Tanzania.

What incensed the critics was that all Kenyans over the age of 40 were to be allowed to vote. A proposal was made in the House of Lords that the governor retain some residual powers where he could nominate any number of members he wished to the Legco so that he could push through the government agenda to outvote Africans to be the majority. 

The Bishop of Canterbury was equally scandalized by an African-dominated parliament told his peers during a debate on March 28, 1960: “I do not want to suggest that any of us in this country can go back on that principle. It is merely a most imperfect expedient which, on the whole, we find works well in this country. But I think it is most dangerous to leave it to be thought that it is a principle of universal application..”

The Europeans whose landholdings in 1958 included 500 farms of between 2,000 and 5,000 acres, and 267 of over 5,000 acres in a country where the largest farm owned by African land was 273 acres, detested the text of the Bill of rights which enshrined the right to own property.

Fearing that the settlers could lose their land in the white highlands, Lord Delamere said;” I must warn your Lordships that if by any chance, that pace towards independence were accelerated too far, a situation might well be created which would have most unfortunate repercussions on the African population”.