Saturday, July 4, 2009



Africa News Online
By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
July 5, 2009

This month, like others since 1969, we will again be remembering the day Tom Mboya lost his life to an assassin on Government Road one Saturday afternoon. And as they say, time heals all wounds even for those who were close enough to witness and feel the events of that tragic day.

This year however, this article has set out to revisit the values Mboya cherished and lived for, not why he died at the time he did.

Post death writings on Mboya and even his own writings before, reveal another side of him that many ordinary Kenya may never have known.

Some of these writings like those of David Goldsworthy reveal to us Mboya’s humble origin, modest living but flashy lifestyle that was his image as late as 1960 when he was still a proud owner of a little 2-roomed house in Ziwani Estate in the Eastlands of Nairobi. The fact that he borrowed money from a bank to build his first house in Convent Drive also gives us an idea of the kind of leader he was compared to our present day over night millionaire politicians.

What kind of leader was Mboya and what things did he care about most? What was his vision for Kenya and Africa?

The first thing that comes to the mind of the aging generation of Kenya that benefitted or whose children benefitted from Mboya’s dream projects is the Student Airlifts of the 1960s, an initiative that saw hundreds of East African students fly to the USA for studies with the sole objective of coming back to manage newly independent states.

Without a doubt, Mboya was a visionary who strongly believed in sound education and proper training for management of the affairs of the state.

Beyond agitating for Kenya’s independence, he was acutely aware that once Uhuru came, many Europeans manning the Public Service and private enterprises would quit their jobs and relocate to Britain since their racist attitudes would not let them remain in Kenya to serve under Kenyatta; the man they had described as a “leader unto darkness and death.” Therefore, as much as political leaders were busy putting pressure on Britain to grant Kenya independence, there was urgent need to prepare young Kenyans for the more challenging job of running the nation.

In order to realize his dream of getting more Africans into American universities, Mboya co-founded the Kenya Education Trust together with Dr. Munyua Waiyaki and Mwai Kibaki. From the American side were Evangelist Billy Graham and David Henry, the Harvard Administrator for African Scholarship Programme of American Universities.
In his quest to get this programme on course, Mboya travelled to the United States many times and met almost everybody that mattered in politics at the time.

He met Patrice Lumumba of Congo and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold at the Barclay Hotel in New York. Both men were later to die violent deaths in Congo during the Congo crisis of 1960.

Other notable Americans he brought into the programme were Jackie Robinson of the African American Students Foundation and Vice President Richard Nixon from the State Department.

He later roped in Senator JF Kennedy in his capacity as a Trustee of the Joseph P Kennedy Jr. Foundation. This meeting culminating in the Kennedy Foundation donating S100, 000, prompting the State Department to match the amount. However, since the airlift became an American election issue, Mboya declined the offer from Richard Nixon that was in effect a Republican attempt to neutralize the Democrats’ influence on African agenda.

Mboya’s strong belief in good training for good management was evident throughout his career as a trade unionist and as a politician. More than any other trade unionist in Kenya’s labour movement, Mboya strove to provide sound training and leadership for the workers of Kenya in order for them to understand their rights and the larger world they lived in. He saw training as a tool for empowerment. This legacy is now immortalized in Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu overlooking Rusinga Island, his birthplace on the shores of Lake Victoria. It is also the reason Kenya has had Tom Mboya lectures every year for the last 40 years.

In Mboya’s entire life, nothing captured his understanding of the environment he operated in as Kipling’s poem that he once cited to his audience at a public rally in Kamkunji Stadium during his first parliamentary election, which he went ahead to win with a landslide.

At that rally, which was a melting pot of all Kenyan tribes, Mboya quoted Kipling thus:
“If you can keep your head when all around you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet, don’t look too good or talk too wise…”

These lines accurately described Mboya’s and Kenya’s politics of then. The clamor for Uhuru had brought with it infighting, backstabbing, jostling for power, rumor mongering, peddling falsehoods against one another and generally sowing seeds of discord we see in our politics today.

A lot of literature on Mboya does not depict him as saint either in Kenyan politics. If anything, he is seen as a more ambitious young man that had set his eyes on the ultimate prize; of becoming Kenya’s next president after Kenyatta. This perception made him a target of all competing forces since they all dreaded his organizational skills and grassroots support among all tribes of Kenya.

Right from his days in the Labour Movement, he made it his habit not to look at people through the prism of tribe. He saw Kenyans as Kenyans and dished out opportunities that came his way to the best qualified and the most deserving without a thought about ethnicity.

Little wonder that when the first elections were held, he beat Martin Shikuku and Munyua Waiyaki at the first parliamentary polls for Bahati in 1961 in a predominantly non- Luo constituency.

As Mboya waited for the results of his first parliamentary elections in his little house in Bahati with his friend Colin Legum, he hardly alluded to the outcome of the results; instead focusing his mind other weightier matters ahead of Kenya and Africa. “For hours, he spoke brilliantly about the likely patter n of developments in Africa in the 1980s”, says Goldsworthy in his book, Tom Mboya, The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget.

He never lived to see the ‘80s let alone the ‘70s!

Talking to many Kenyans that were old enough to work with him in government soon after independence, one hardly finds a single Kenyan who would accuse Mboya of ineptitude, impropriety, ethnicity, mismanagement of resources or even bias towards his community or region.

He strove to be a role model and a good example to all Kenyans. That is why Mwai Kibaki, Simon Nyachae, Francis Atwoli and Charles Njonjo still speak of him with fond memories.

And as Goldsworthy says in his book, “Mboya’s winning the Bahati Constituency in 1961 represented the most resounding and personally satisfying blow he ever struck in his career against negative tribalism. In fact it led some to conclude that, thanks to Mboya, the struggle to achieve a common sense of Kenyan nationhood was on the way to being won.”

Has Mboya’s dream of a truly united Kenya, devoid of negative ethnicity, equal opportunity for all and a thriving and well managed economy been realized 40 years later? The jury is still out there