Roy Bruce McKenzie earned the distinction of being the only minister in the colonial government who retained his position upon Independence and held the portfolio until 1969, when he resigned on health grounds. He was the Minister for Agriculture.

The South African-born politician is credited with steering Kenya’s agricultural economy through its worst period as white-owned farms were transferred to African owners and large-scale agriculture was replaced with small-scale farming.

Born in 1919 to Roy Douglas McKenzie, he completed early education at Hilton College, a private boarding school for boys in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. McKenzie joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) in 1939 when World War II broke out and later fought as part of the SAAF squadrons deployed to fight Mussolini’s war in Africa. For that, he received two distinguished medals: the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

McKenzie was one of the soldiers demobilised after the war in 1946. He migrated to Kenya and settled on a 1,200-acre dairy farm in Solai, Nakuru, which he named Gingalili Farm. He reared some of the best pedigree cattle in the country and white farmers for many years elected him chairman of Royal Agricultural Society of Kenya, now the Agricultural Society of Kenya.

As one of the most successful colonial farmers, McKenzie joined the league of farmer-politicians, who included leading protagonists Michael Blundell, Ferdinard Cavendish-Bentinck (CB) and Charles Makham, to lead settler politics in Kenya. In 1957, McKenzie was nominated to the Legislative Council (Legco). He was present at Government House, Nairobi, when British Secretary of State for the Colonies Allan Lennox-Boyd told Legco that he would impose a Constitution on Kenya which would last for 10 years.

But McKenzie was not a keen supporter of a lengthy constitutional handover that white settlers, keen to get capital out of their investments, favoured. The Lennox-Boyd Constitution, which provided for 14 Africans, 14 Europeans, six Asians and two Arabs in the Legco faced handicaps during the 1958 Legco opening.

The 14 elected Africans walked out on Governor Evelyn Baring after he announced that there would be no further constitutional changes. This led to a standoff. Musa Amalemba was the only African to accept a ministerial post.

It was in a moment of anger that Blundell stepped down as Minister for Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Water Resources to form the New Kenya Party to advance his moderate political beliefs. His fellow liberal colleague McKenzie took his place in 1959 — a move meant to assure the white settlers that they had nothing to fear. Blundell’s earlier attempts — in April 1959 — to have Africans join his New Kenya Party was rejected for the African leaders wanted to engage the colonial government in constitutional talks and did not want the Lennox-Boyd one.

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