Saturday, 14 September 2019 22:51:11

The Uganda Proposal - How Uasin Gishu Almost Became Israel

If the Plan Had Succeeded, Eldoret Would Today Be the Capital of Israel

Did you know?

If it were not for a last-minute disagreement, Uasin Gishu County would today be the State of Israel?

If the plan had succeeded, Eldoret would today be the capital city of Israel; and the rest of Kenya would be the occupied territory. Governor Jackson Mandago would probably be the leader of Hamas, a resistance movement opposed to Israeli occupation.

The Uganda Proposal refers to an agreement between Britain and the Zionist Movement to settle Jewish people in Uasin Gishu. It named the Uganda Proposal because, at the time, Uasin Gishu was part of Uganda. (I explain this in The Evolution of Kenya's Borders Since the Berlin Conference).

The Zionist Movement began in the late 19th Century in response to growing antisemitism. At the time, Jews lived in many countries around, and they were minorities in all of them. They faced persecution in some of the nations.

The Zionist Movement was established in 1897 by Dr Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist. Its objective was to advocate for the creation of a Jewish state in which Jews were the majority.

Initially, the Zionists were not specific on where they wanted the state created. According to Herzl, all they wanted was land. "Let them give us sovereignty over a piece of the Earth's surface, just sufficient for the needs of our people, and then we will do the rest," he would say.

As the search for such a home progressed, Uasin Gishu was one of the seven places identified for possible Jewish settlement. (The others were in Argentina, Australia, Iraq, Canada, Libya, and Palestine).

Palestine was their first choice - because of historical connections. However, in 1900, Palestine was under Ottoman rule, and negotiations between the Zionists and the Ottoman Empire to settle Jews in Palestine were unsuccessful.

However, since they wanted to urgently resettle Russian and Eastern European Jews who were targets of rising anti-semitic campaigns, they requested the British government to find an alternative place in any of her colonies.

In 1902, Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, visited East Africa. He toured Uasin Gishu, and he thought it would be an excellent place to settle the Jews. On his return to England, he proposed it to Herzl - and he liked it.

In 1903, Herzl made a formal request for Uasin Gishu to the British Government. In response, Chamberlain wrote: "If Dr Herzl were at all inclined to transfer his efforts to East Africa, there would be no difficulty in finding land suitable for Jewish settlers."

Chamberlain offered to settle them in Uasin Gishu "in conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs."

At the time, Uasin Gishu included the present-day Trans Nzoia County.

On 23 August 1903, Herzl tabled the proposal at Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.

Herzl told the 600 delegates present:

"An offer has been extended to us. It is an offer that will improve the condition of the Jewish people without them relinquishing any of the principles on which our Movement was founded."

The Congress voted 295-178 (with 98 abstentions) to send a delegation to East Africa to see the land they had been offered and decide if it was suitable. However, immediately after the vote, delegates from Russia walked out, accusing the others of betrayal. They said they would not accept any proposal that did not include the setting up a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Herzl died in 1904, a year before the Seventh Zionist Congress of 1905.

At this Congress, the delegation that had travelled to East Africa reported that Uasin Gishu was unsuitable for mass Jewish settlement.

The Congress also voted that it would not accept Jewish settlement anywhere except in Palestine or its immediate vicinity.

That is how Uasin Gishu was saved.

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