Tom Mboya

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Tom Mboya
Tom Mboya 1962 (cropped).jpg
Mboya in 1962
Minister of Justice
In office
1963 – 5 July 1969
PresidentJomo Kenyatta
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byCharles Njonjo
Personal details
Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya

(1930-08-15)15 August 1930
Kilima Mbogo, Kenya Colony
Died5 July 1969(1969-07-05) (aged 38)
Nairobi, Kenya
Political partyKenya African National Union
Spouse(s)Pamela Mboya
Alma materRuskin College, University of Oxford
CabinetMinister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Minister for Labour
Minister for Economic Planning and Development

Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya (15 August 1930 – 5 July 1969) was a Kenyan trade unionist, educator, Pan-Africanist, author, independence activist, and statesman. He was one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya.[1] He spearheaded the negotiations for independence at the Lancaster House Conferences[2], and was instrumental in the formation of Kenya's independence party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), where he served as its first Secretary-General.[3] He laid the foundation for Kenya's capitalist and mixed economy policies at the height of the Cold War and set up several of the country's key labour institutions.[1]

Tom Mboya's intelligence, charm, leadership and oratory skills won him admiration from all over the world.[1] He gave speeches, debates, and interviews across the world in favor of Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule and spoke at several rallies in the goodwill of the civil rights movement in the United States.[4] In 1958, at the age of 28, Mboya was elected Conference Chairman at the All-African Peoples' Conference convened by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.[5] He helped build the Trade Union Movement in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and as well as across the Africa. At one time, he served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). In May 1959, Mboya called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria to form the first All-Africa ICFTU labour organization.[6]

Mboya worked with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to create educational opportunities for African students this effort resulted in the Kennedy Airlifts of the 1960s, which enabled East African students to study at American colleges. Notable beneficiaries of this airlift include Wangari Maathai, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Barack Obama Sr. (The father and namesake of Barack Obama). In 1960, Mboya was the first Kenyan to be featured on the front page cover of Time magazine in a painting by Bernard Safran.[7]


A monument in honor of Tom Mboya erected at Moi Avenue, Nairobi

Thomas ("Tom") Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was born on 15 August 1930 in Kilima Mbogo, near Thika town in what was called the White Highlands of Kenya.[8][5]

His parents were Leonardus Ndiege and Marcella Awour, who were low-income sisal farmers.


Mboya was educated at various Catholic mission schools. In 1942, he joined a Catholic Secondary School in Yala, in Nyanza province, St. Mary's School Yala. In 1946, he went to the Holy Ghost College (later Mang'u High School), where he passed well enough to proceed to do his Cambridge School Certificate. In 1948, Mboya joined the Royal Sanitary Institute's Medical Training School for Sanitary Inspectors at Nairobi, qualifying as an inspector in 1950. He also enrolled in a certificate course in economics with Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa. In 1955, he received a scholarship from Britain's Trades Union Congress to attend Ruskin College, University of Oxford, where he studied industrial management.[5] Upon his graduation in 1956, he returned to Kenya and joined politics at a time when the British government was gaining control over the Kenya Land Freedom Army Mau Mau uprising.

Political life[edit]

Mboya's political life started immediately after he was employed at Nairobi City Council as a sanitary inspector in 1950. A year after joining African Staff Association, he was elected as its president and immediately embarked at molding the association into a trade union named the Kenya Local Government Workers' Union. This made his employer suspicious, but before they could sack him, he resigned. However, he was able to continue working for the Kenya Labour Workers Union as secretary-general before embarking on his studies in Britain. Upon returning from Britain, he contested and won a seat against incumbent C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek. In 1957, he became dissatisfied with the low number of African leaders (only eight out of fifty at the time) in the Legislative council and decided to form his own party, the Nairobi People's Convention Party.

At that time, Mboya developed a close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who, like Mboya, was a Pan-Africanist. In 1958, during the All-African Peoples' Conference in Ghana, convened by Kwame Nkurumah, Mboya was elected as the Conference Chairman at the age of 28.

In 1959, together with the African-American Students Foundation in the United States, Mboya organized the Airlift Africa project, through which 81 Kenyan students were flown to the U.S. to study at U.S. universities. Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a friend of Mboya's and a fellow Luo; he received a scholarship through the AASF and occasional grants for books and expenses, although he was not on the first airlift plane in 1959, since he was headed for Hawaii, not the continental U.S.. In 1960, the Kennedy Foundation agreed to underwrite the airlift, after Mboya visited Senator Jack Kennedy to ask for assistance, and Airlift Africa was extended to Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now Tanzania), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Nyasaland (now Malawi). Some 230 African students received scholarships to study at Class I accredited colleges in the United States in 1960, and hundreds more in 1961–63.[9]

In 1960, Mboya's Nairobi People's Convention Party joined with Kenya African Union and Kenya Independence Movement to form the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in an attempt to form a party that would both transcend tribal politics and prepare for participation in the Lancaster House Conference (held at Lancaster House in London) where Kenya's constitutional framework and independence were to be negotiated. As Secretary General of KANU, Mboya headed the Kenyan delegation.

After Kenya's independence on 1 June 1963, Mboya was elected as an MP for Nairobi Central Constituency (today: Kamukunji Constituency)[10] and became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs,[11] and later Minister for Economic Planning and Development. In this role, he wrote the important "Sessional Paper 10" on Harambee and the Principles of African Socialism (adopted by Parliament in 1964), which provided a model of government based on African values.


He retained the portfolio as Minister for Economic Planning and Development until his death at age 38 when he was gunned down on 5 July 1969 on Government Road (now Moi Avenue), Nairobi CBD after visiting Chaani's Pharmacy.[12] Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge was convicted for the murder and later hanged. After his arrest, Njoroge asked: "Why don't you go after the big man?"[13] Due to such statements, suspicions arose that Mboya's shooting was a political assassination.

An outrage over his assassination led to riots in the major cities of Kenya. President Jomo Kenyatta gave a eulogy at Mboya’s requiem mass, saying of his colleague, "Kenya's independence would have been seriously compromised were it not for the courage and steadfastness of Tom Mboya."[1] A statue of Mboya was installed on Moi Avenue, where he was killed, and the nearby busy Victoria Street was renamed Tom Mboya Street in his honour.

Mboya left a wife and five children. He is buried in a mausoleum on Rusinga Island which was built in 1970.[14]

Mboya's role in Kenya's politics and transformation is the subject of increasing interest, especially with the prominence of American politician Barack Obama. Obama's father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a US-educated Kenyan who benefited from Mboya's scholarship programme in the 1960s, and married during his stay there, siring the future Illinois Senator and President. Obama Sr. had seen Mboya shortly before the assassination, and testified at the ensuing trial. Obama Sr. believed he was later targeted in a hit-and-run incident as a result of this testimony.[15]

Career and politics[edit]

Mboya started working for the city of Nairobi and became involved with the trade union. While still working as a trade union official, Mboya enrolled for a Matriculation Exemption Certificate with the Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa, majoring in Economics.[16] In 1955, he went to Ruskin College, University of Oxford to study Industrial Management.[17]

While employed by the Nairobi City Council as a sanitary inspector, Mboya was elected as chairman of the African Staff Association. He developed it into a trade union, which became known as The Kenya Local Government Workers Union.[1] When the colonial government refused to recognize the union, Mboya sued for recognition and won.

In 1953, during the Mau Mau War for Independence, Jomo Kenyatta and other leaders of the independence party, Kenya African Union (KAU), were arrested. They asked Mboya to take up leadership of the KAU and continue the struggle. However, the government banned the KAU. Mboya then turned to using the trade unions as a platform to fight for independence. He was elected as Secretary General of the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL), the umbrella body for trade unions in Kenya. In that role, Mboya gave speeches in London and Washington against British atrocities in Kenya. He also organized several strikes seeking better working conditions for African workers. At that point, the colonial government nearly closed down the labour movement in the effort to suppress his activities.[1] Mboya reached out to other labour leaders across the world, more so in the ICFTU, including American A. Philip Randolph, with whom he was close. Mboya raised funds to build a headquarters for the KFL.

In 1956, after Mboya had returned from the United Kingdom, the colonial government allowed black Africans to run for office and serve in the Legislative Assembly. Tom Mboya was elected from Nairobi.[18] He was elected secretary of the African Caucus (called African Elected Members Organization - AEMO) and continued a campaign for independence, as well as seeking freedom for Jomo Kenyatta and other political prisoners.[1] He used his incredible diplomacy skills to get support for the independence movement from foreign countries.

In 1961, Jomo Kenyatta was released and together with Oginga Odinga and Mboya, they formed the Kenya African National Union. It negotiated with the United Kingdom and colonial government to set conditions for Kenya's independence in 1964. Mboya was instrumental in the talks. He also designed the flag for the new republic.[1]

Kenya gains independence[edit]

In the Independent Republic of Kenya, Mboya who was a pre-independence Minister of Labor since 1962, was appointed by the New Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta as the first Cabinet Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs- a post he held from June 1, 1963 until December 1964. He created the National Social Security Fund, Kenya’s social security scheme. He also established an Industrial Court to hear labor-management cases.[1] When Kenya became a republic on December 12, 1964, the new President Kenyatta appointed Tom Mboya to the Economic Planning and Development Ministry and transferred all functions of his former ministry to the office of Attorney General under Charles Mugane Njonjo. whilst some pseudo sources have claimed that, "Together with Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki, he issued Sessional Paper 10, which defined Kenya’s form of economic policies." The truth is that James Samuel Gichuru was the Minister for Finance from June 1, 1963 until 1966 when Kibaki was a parliamentary secretary (assistant minister) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry with Julius Gikonyo Kiano PhD as the Cabinet Minister. Tom issued the Sessional Paper No. 10 in April 1965 covering the period of 1964 - 1970 under the title African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya. Kenyatta and Mboya were known advocates of Non A-lined international policy not wanting blanket application of capitalism while completely abhorring scientific socialism. For avoidance of doubt, it was until 1966 when Kibaki was appointed for the first time as Minister for Commerce and Industry. Mboya's development plans at the Ministry were credited for Kenya's development rate of 7%, which was sustained during his tenure as the Planning Minister.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Mboya's father Leonard Ndiege was an overseer at a sisal plantation in Kilima Mbogo.[19] Mboya married Pamela Mboya in 1962 (a daughter of the politician Walter Odede). They had five children. Their daughters are Maureen Odero, a high court judge in Mombasa, and Susan Mboya, a Coca-Cola executive, who continues the education airlift program initiated by Tom Mboya, and is married to former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. Their sons included Lucas Mboya, and twin brothers Peter (died in a 2004 motorcycle accident) and Patrick (died aged four).

After Tom's death, Pamela had one child, Tom Mboya Jr., with Alphonse Okuku, the brother of Tom Mboya.[20] Pamela died of an illness in January 2009 while seeking treatment in South Africa.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kenya Human Rights Commission, "An evening with Tom Mboya"
  2. ^ David Goldsworthy, Tom Mboya The Man Kenya wanted to Forget, Heinnemann, 1982 at Page 191 to 195
  3. ^ Bethwell A. Ogot, William Ochieng, Decolonization and Independence in Kenya: 1940 – 1963, East African Publishers, 1995, Page 65
  4. ^ Nzau Musau (27 July 2015). "Standard Digital News - Kenya : President Uhuru Kenyatta praises Tom Mboya at state banquet". Standard Digital News. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Super User. "Tom Mboya - Biography". Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  6. ^ Kwama, Kenneth (1 October 2013). "Standard Digital News - Kenya : Tom Mboya- Kwame Nkrumah row jolts trade union movement". Standard Digital News. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  7. ^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Tom Mboya - Mar. 7, 1960". Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Tom Mboya — Biography". Retrieved 30 March 2008.
  9. ^ Shachtman, Tom (September 2009). Airlift to America: How Barack Obama, Sr., John F. Kennedy, Tom Mboya, and 800 East African Students Changed Their World and Ours. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-57075-9.
  10. ^ Center for Multiparty Democracy: Politics and Paliamenterians in Kenya 1944–2007
  11. ^ Tom Mboya (1970). The challenge of nationhood. Heinemann Educational Books ltd. p. 39. ISBN 0-435-90081-1.
  12. ^ a b Kiplagat, Sam (26 January 2009). "Mboya widow dies in SA after illness". Daily Nation. Nairobi: Nation Media Group.
  13. ^ "Kenya: Unanswered Questions". Time. New York City: Time Warner. 5 December 1969. Retrieved 24 July 2011. Four months after the murder of Kenya's brilliant young Economic Planning Minister Tom Mboya, prison officials in Nairobi announced tersely last week that Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, the Kikuyu tribesman convicted of the shooting, had been hanged secretly "in accordance with the law." The officials refused to disclose the date or details of the execution, but it was reported in Nairobi that Njoroge had died at 3 a.m. on November 8. According to these reports, he went to his death without explaining what he had meant when he asked police after his arrest: "Why don't you go after the big man?"
  14. ^ Joe Ombour, "Tombs where great men lie", Daily Nation, Weekend Magazine, 5 September 2003
  15. ^ "A father's charm, absence", Boston Globe 21 September 2008
  16. ^ "Tom Mboya | Kenyan politician". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  17. ^ David Goldsworthy, Tom Mboya The Man Kenya wanted to Forget, Heinnemann, 1982 at Page 34
  18. ^ Bethwell A. Ogot, William Ochieng, Decolonization and Independence in Kenya: 1940 – 1963, East African Publishers, 1995, Page 58
  19. ^ Ombuor, Joe (4 July 2009). "Mboya's legacy still alive, 40 years later". The Standard. Nairobi, Kenya: Standard Group Limited. Retrieved 23 July 2011.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Ombuor, Joe (4 February 2009). "Final journey of an icon, tribute to Pamela Mboya". The Standard. Nairobi, Kenya: Standard Group Limited. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 23 July 2011.

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