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How plans to settle Jews in Kenya in early 1900s failed

By Amos Kareithi | June 24th 2021

What if the dreaded Uganda dictator, Idi Amin, was not fantasising and Kenya was just a province of his country? Remember on July 25, 1976, when he bragged that he was going to conquer Kenya and have breakfast in Naivasha? Amin may not have been a historian but he had a point when he claimed that Uganda’s territory at one time extended to Naivasha.

In fact, this lakeside town, which is now poised to be a gateway to Uganda as an inland port, was once placed under the rule of Kabaka, the King of Buganda Kingdom, to administer on behalf of Britain.  

The process of incorporating half of what we know today as Kenya into the Uganda Protectorate started in 1902 when the Order-in-Council ordinance was passed, granting Uganda the authority to make laws and impose taxes on behalf of the British Crown.

The law also created the Office of the Commissioner as the official responsible for administration. The commissioner was mandated to make ordinances for the administration of justice, raise revenue, and maintain law, order and good governance.

As if giving part of Kenya to Uganda was not enough, in April 1903, Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain sold the idea to the Zionist movement of establishing a Jewish colony in what they referred to as Uganda but was actually Uasin Gishu.

The Zionist leader, Theodor Herz, initially opposed the idea of East Africa becoming the Promised Land. Rather, he wanted Jews to be settled in Cyprus or Sinai on a temporary basis.

When Hertz ultimately bought the idea, it was rejected by Jews who demanded to go to the Middle East, where they moved to in 1948, creating the State of Israel. Had the Jews accepted to be settled in East Africa, it is interesting to speculate what would have become of Kenya. 

Ironically, in March 1948, six Jews who were among a group of about 250 prisoners who had been detained in Gilgil escaped by digging a tunnel and fleeing by car through Uganda to South Africa where they were finally assisted to get asylum in Belgium. The remaining prisoners were repatriated in July the same year.

Twenty-eight years later, Amin, who had incidentally trained in Gilgil in 1947, had his own encounter with the Jews.

On June 28, 1976, he allowed Palestinian hijackers to land in Entebbe, and the Israelis, with the assistance of Jomo Kenyatta, raided Entebbe and mounted one of the most daring rescue missions commanded by Yonatan Netanyahu on July 4.

Most of the hostages were rescued and reunited with their loved ones, as shown in the photo above. But Yonatan, brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was shot and killed. [Amos Kareithi]

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