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THOMAS JOSEPH MBOYA

Tom Mboya

If there is one thing Kenyans across the board agree unanimously on, it is the fact that the late Tom Mboya was the best President Kenya never had. Throughout his illustrious career, Mboya's performance was nothing short of brilliant, a factor that earned him worldwide recognition, but also led to his assasination in 1969. Once again, Kenya, and indeed Africa, had lost one of its energetic and vibrant sons to senseless political violence. Its very sad that he never lived longer to enjoy the fruits of Kenya's independence after fighting so earnestly for it.

Thomas Joseph Mboya was born on 15th August 1930, at Kilimambogo, some 20 miles northeast of Nairobi. His parents, Leonard and Marcella Ndiege were both from the Luo community. Tom was not a particularly gifted scholar, as is the case with many other gifted leaders. He however had a lot of charisma and was extremely articulate, factors which made him very effective as a leader. Everyone who met him saw in his eyes one thing--potential.

The rise of Tom Mboya, as is the case with most other key players in Kenya's independence struggle can be traced to the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952 by the British colonial government in Kenya. This was the time period that saw the rise of Kenyan leaders especially after the arrest and detention of Mzee Kenyatta and the banning of the Mau Mau. Mboya entered the Kenyan political scene via the Trade Union movement. He founded the Kenya Labour Workers Union(KLWU) and served as its Secretary-General till 1963. He also served in a similar capacity at the Kenya Federation of Registered Labour Unions(KFRLU), a testament to the energy and vibrance that his name became synonimous with.

Mboya defeated incumbent C.M.G.Argwings-Kodhek and replaced him in the Legislative Council(LEGCO). At that time the LEGCO comprised only 8 Africans, an issue Tom would later feverently oppose. With his political career soaring high, he founded the People's Convention Party(PCP) in 1957 and served as its President. The PCP had a striking resemblence to Ghana's Convention People's Party(CPP) of Mboya's good friend Kwame Nkrumah-Ghana's Prime Minister. Nkrumah and Mboya were quite good buddies especially given the fact that they were Pan-Africanists who had a vision for a single and unified African continent. Mboya and other Pan-Africanists believed that the borders as they existed in Africa were European creations, and that Africans needed to do away with them after kicking out the colonialists. He attended various Pan-Africanism conferences around the world, the most notable ones being The July 1st 1958 Makerere University conference and the one in Accra Ghana on December 8th 1959, that was presided over by chief Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. Other notables in attendance at the Accra conference included but were not limited to Guinnea's Sekou Toure and George Padmore. As good an idea as Pan-Africanism was, I believe its supporters appreciated the enormous difficulties it would pose, given Africa's diverse cultures and wide expanse. Their vision never came to fruition.

With Kenyatta behind bars, Kenya's political scene changed dramatically. There emerged a more cohesive force among African leaders all rallying behind one common cause--the release of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. The clamour for Kenyatta's release also saw the unification of the major political parties at that time. On May 14th 1960, The Kenya African National Union(KANU) emerged as a new nationwide political party and was basically a unification of Kenyatta's Kenya African Union(KAU), Mboya's National People's Convention Party(NPCP), and Oginga Odinga and Dr. Kiano's Kenya Independent Movement(KIM). KANU came about largely as a result of the January 15th 1960 Lancaster House Conference in London. At the conference, with Mboya heading the Kenyan delegation, Kenya's independence schedule was set. Kenyatta's release from prison however was not granted just yet. Though the party appointed James Gichuru to be acting party president while Kenyatta was still incarcerated, it was very evident that Mboya was the center of power. It is widely believed that this saw the beginning of a campaign by some within the KANU ranks to clip his wings and stop him from rising to power.

Below is a photograph of Mboya with President Kenyatta at the height of the freedom struggle in Kenya.

Kenyatta and mboya

Kenyatta was finally released from prison on August 22nd 1961, and took over from Gichuru as KANU's President. Mboya became the party's Secretary-General. Kenya finally gained independence in 1963, and Mboya became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in Kenyatta's first government. In 1964, Kenyatta appointed him the Minister of Economic Planning and Development, a portfolio he held until his untimely death on July 5th 1969. That fateful day, right around noon Mboya was gunned down in Downtown Nairobi, an assasination widely believed to bear tribal connotations. One of Kenya's finest had fallen victim to one of Kenya's worst diseases--tribalism. Mboya's spirit however continues to live on today and all the bullets in this world could never kill it.

Tom Mboya's story is a very sad one for a lot of Kenyans and indeed Africans, but particularly so, among his Luo community who saw their presidential ambitions washed away with his assasination. In a country with diverse cultures and languages as Kenya, its only fair that power rotates among the various communities, and Mboya was clearly the frontrunner for the Luo community. Apparently, some people saw him rising fast and could not stand a Luo presidency. To add insult to injury, an almost similar scenario surfaced in 1990, with the assasination of yet another high flying Luo leader Dr Robert Ouko. After a remarkable performance in the United States that impressed many Americans, his burnt and mutilated remains were discovered in the bushes of his Koru home. As gory as this assassination was, and given the amount of international concerns this matter raised, it is baffling that nothing significant ever came out of the investigations that were launched by President Moi. The President brought in John Troon of the world reknowned Scotland Yard to investigate the incident. Troon became a household name in Kenya, but his investigations were abruptly interrupted when they implicated senior government officials in the Moi administration.

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