Uganda Scheme

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The Uganda Scheme was a plan in the early 1900s to give a portion of British East Africa to the Jewish people as a homeland. It drew support from prominent Zionist Theodor Herzl as a temporary means of refuge for European Jews facing antisemitism.[1]


The offer was first made by British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to Theodore Herzl's Zionist group in 1903. He offered 5,000 square miles (13,000 km2) at Uasin Gishu (at the time spelled "Gwas Ngishu"), an isolated area atop the Mau Escarpment in modern Kenya (not Uganda).[2] This territory had only recently been transferred from the Uganda Protectorate to the East Africa Protectorate in 1902, as part of the Uganda Railway development plan.[3] The land was thought suitable because of its temperate hill station-like climate and its relative isolation, being surrounded by the Mau Forest. The offer was a response to pogroms against the Jews in Russia, and it was hoped the area could be a refuge from persecution for the Jewish people.[4]

The idea was brought to the Zionist Congress at its sixth meeting in 1903 in Basel. There a fierce debate ensued. The African land was described as an "ante-chamber to the Holy Land" and a Nachtasyl (temporary night shelter), but other groups felt that accepting the offer would make it more difficult to establish a Jewish state in Ottoman Palestine, and also that the Jewish nation would not be able to claim itself as native to that land, since there were no historic or culture links between the Hebrews and this part of East Africa. Before the vote on the matter, the Russian delegation stormed out in opposition.[why?] By a remaining vote of 295 to 177, it was decided to send an "investigatory commission" on expedition to examine the territory proposed.

The next year a three-man delegation was sent to inspect the plateau. Its high elevation gave it a temperate climate, making it suitable for European settlement. However, the observers found a dangerous land filled with lions and other creatures. Moreover, although it was sparsely populated by small bands of Maasai (themselves having recently conquered the Sirikwa tribe), the Maasai were hostile to other tribes and outsiders.[citation needed]

After receiving this report, the following Congress in 1905 decided to politely decline the British offer. Some Jews viewed this as a mistake; they then split from the ZO and established the Jewish Territorialist Organization, with the explicit aim of establishing a Jewish state anywhere, not just in Palestine. A few[citation needed] Jews did move to Kenya, but most settled in the urban centres. Some of these families remain to this day.

Uganda Debate[edit]

The Uganda Debate is still used as a metaphor in present-day politics. Religious Israeli settlers place supreme importance on settling in the Biblically-hallowed Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank) and some have used the term "Latter-Day Ugandists" to describe others who are willing to accept a Jewish state based on the 1947 United Nations plan or the 1949 Armistice Agreements—i.e., excluding the West Bank. This term implies that liberal Israelis—like the adherents of Uganda Programme—are simply interested in a place where Jews can live in peace, and care little about supposedly historical or biblical matters.

In Fiction[edit]

  • The story of the 1904 expedition, as well as an imagined vision of a Jewish state in Uasin Gishu, is told in Lavie Tidhar's novelette "Uganda", in his 2007 collection HebrewPunk.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Uganda Proposal". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  2. ^ Joseph Telushkin (1991). Jewish literacy. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-688-08506-7. Britain stepped into the picture, offering Herzl land in the largely undeveloped area of Uganda (today, it would be considered an area of Kenya). ... 
  3. ^ Červenka, Zdenek (1973). Land-locked Countries of Africa. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 81–88. 
  4. ^ Theodor Herzl's biography at Jewish Virtual Library
  5. ^ The story online at Flurb Magazine

External links[edit]