By Ibrahim A Rashid
Over 12 million registered voters go to the polls next week, as Kenya holds its third referendum.
North Eastern Province or former Northern Frontier Districts (NFD) was the first referendum in Kenya. It was conducted by the British Government in 1962 on the political future of NFD.
Somali-speaking people, apart from Somalia Somalis, inhabit three other nations in the Horn of Africa: North Eastern Province of Kenya, South Eastern Ethiopia (Haud) and Djibouti. Until and up to 1963 when Kenya attained independence, the North Eastern region had been isolated from the rest of Kenya by laws passed in 1902 and 1934, restricting movement of persons entering or leaving the six districts (Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale). The Lancaster House conferences were in three phases (1960, 1962 and 1963) in which Kenya’s constitutional framework and independence were negotiated. The Second Conference in February 1962, agreed on a firm framework for a new constitution. But the special representative for NFD, the late Abdirashid Khalif stunned the Conference, saying he was neither "Kanu nor Kadu" but an absolute Secessionist.
The colonialists attempted to resolve this political conundrum using an independent Commission of Inquiry to carry out a referendum to verify the desire of the Somali community in NFD. This was where "A right went wrong". The Commission composed of Mr G C Onyiuke of Nigeria and Major Gen M P Borget of Canada started its work on October 22, 1962, when the pro-secessionist clamour was at its climax. The Commission established that five out of the six districts favoured secession by a majority vote. These were Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Moyale and Isiolo. The percentage in favour was at well over 80 per cent of the total NFD population. The right went wrong through failure by the British administration to approve results of the referendum and acted contrary to its results.
Kenya Regional Boundaries Commission, formed in 1963 to verify and ratify regional boundaries, ascertained that NFD was Kenya’s seventh province and no further debate was encouraged. The Kenyatta Government threw a cordon sanitaire around NEP and this seriously curtailed the social, economic, cultural, and political activities and human rights abuses intensified. This was the point of departure for all parties and a major turning point in the pastoralists-State relations.
The writer is a commentator on political and social issues.