Tom Mboya

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Tom Mboya
Tom Mboya Aharon Becker 1962.jpg
Mboya (left) with Israeli Histadrut Secretary General Aharon Becker in Israel in 1962.
Minister of Justice
In office
1963 – 5 July 1969
President Jomo Kenyatta
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Charles Njonjo
Personal details
Born Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya
(1930-08-15)15 August 1930
Kilima Mbogo, Kenya Colony
Died 5 July 1969(1969-07-05) (aged 38)
Nairobi, Kenya
Political party Kenya African National Union
Spouse(s) Pamela Mboya
Alma mater Ruskin College, Oxford
Occupation Politician
Cabinet Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Minister for Labour
Minister for Economic Planning and Development
Religion Christian

Thomas Joseph Odhiambo "Tom" Mboya (15 August 1930 – 5 July 1969) was a prominent Kenyan trade unionist, educationist, Pan Africanist, author, freedom fighter, Cabinet Minister and 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, KANU, which 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]

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 favour of Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule and spoke at several rallies in favour 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 across Africa, at one time, serving 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 organisation.[6] He worked with then Senator John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to create education opportunities for African students which resulted in African Airlifts of the 1950s - 60s. One of the beneficiaries of this airlift was Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai. In 1960, he became the first Kenyan to grace the cover of Time Magazine.[7]

Tom Mboya was born in KilimaMbogo in Central Kenya to Leonardus Ndiege and Marcella Awour, who were low income sisal farmers. He was educated at Catholic Mission Schools and sat for Cambridge School Certificate in 1946 at Holy Ghost College (later Mangu High School). He attended Royal Sanitary Institute's Medical Training School for Sanitary Inspectors at Nairobi, qualifying as an inspector in 1950.[5] While still working as a trade union official, Tom Mboya enrolled for a Matriculation Exemption Certificate with the Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa, majoring in Economics.[5] In 1955 he went to Ruskin College, Oxford to study Industrial Management.[8] Mboya started his trade union activities when he was employed by the Nairobi City Council as a sanitary inspector in 1951.[5] He was elected the chairman of the African Staff Association which he transformed into a trade union, The Kenya Local Government Workers Union.[1] The colonial government refused to recognize the union and Mboya sued for recognition and won. In 1953, when the independence party, Kenya African Union (KAU) leaders including Jomo Kenyatta were arrested during the Mau Mau War for Independence, they requested the young leader to take Mboya to take up leadership of KAU. However, KAU was banned and Mboya turned to using the trade unions as a platform to fight for independence as well. This led the colonial government to almost ban the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL), the then umbrella body for trade unions in Kenya (where he had been elected Secretary General) after he gave speeches in London and Washington against British atrocities in Kenya and he organized several strikes seeking better working conditions for African workers.[1] He reached out to other labour leaders across the world, more so in the ICFTU, including A. Philip Randolph with whom he was close, and raised funds to build a headquarters for the KFL.

When the colonial government opened up the Legislative Assembly to Africans in 1956, Tom Mboya was elected to represent Nairobi in the body.[9] He was elected secretary of the African Caucus (Called African Elected Members Organization - AEMO) and continued a campaign for independence and freedom for Jomo Kenyatta and other leaders.[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 which negotiated independence for Kenya. Mboya was instrumental in the talks and designed the flag for the new republic.[1] In Independent Kenya, Mboya was first Cabinet Minister for Labour. He created the National Social Security Fund, Kenya’ social security scheme and set up an Industrial Court.[1] He was later moved to the Economic Planning Ministry where together with Mwai Kibaki then Finance Minister, they issued Sessional Paper 10, which defined Kenya’s form of economic policies. His development plans at the Ministry were credited as being responsible for Kenya's development rate of 7% which was sustained during his tenure as the Planning Minister.[1]

Tom married Pamela Mboya (nee Odede) in 1960 is a colourful wedding at St. Peters Clavers Church, Nairobi.[10] They had five children: Maureen Odero; Nairobi First Lady Dr. Susan Mboya; Luke Mboya; Peter Mboya; Patrick Mboya. Ambassador Pamela Mboya would later have another child, Tom Mboya, Jr.
Mboya was gunned down in a 1969 on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) as he was leaving a chemist by Nahashon Njoroge in what was suspected to be a political assassination. Moi Avenue now hosts a statute of Mboya and the nearby busy Victoria Street was renamed Tom Mboya Street in his honour. His assassination led to riots in the major cities of Kenya and he was buried in an emotional ceremony at his Rusinga Island Ancestral Home. In a eulogy by President Jomo Kenyatta at Mboya’s requiem mass, "Kenya's independence would have been seriously compromised were it not for the courage and steadfastness of Tom Mboya."[1]


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

Thomas Odhiambo Mboya was born on 15 August 1930 in Kilima Mbogo, near Thika town in what was called the White Highlands of Kenya.[11][5]


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. In 1955, he received a scholarship from Britain's Trades Union Congress to attend Ruskin College, Oxford, where he studied industrial management. 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 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 People's Congress 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.[12]

In 1960, Mboya's People's Congress Party joined with Kenya African Union and Kenya Independent 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)[13] and became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs,[14] 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 a pharmacy.[15] 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?"[16] Who he meant by "the big man" was never divulged, but fed conspiracy theories since Mboya was seen as a possible contender for the presidency. The mostly tribal elite around Kenyatta has been blamed for his death, which has never been subject of a judicial inquiry. Others blame supporters of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who feared that Mboya was attracting too much support from members of the Luo tribe away from him. During Mboya's burial, a mass demonstration against the attendance of President Jomo Kenyatta led to a big skirmish, with two people shot dead. The demonstrators believed that Kenyatta was involved in the death of Mboya, thus eliminating him as a threat to his political career, although this remains a disputed matter.

Mboya left a wife and five children. He is buried in a mausoleum on Rusinga Island which was built in 1970.[17] A street in Nairobi is named after him.

Mboya's role in Kenya's politics and transformation is the subject of increasing interest, especially with the prominence of American politician Barack Obama II. 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.[18]

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 (herself 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 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.[15]


Mboya is commemorated by the Tom Mboya Monument in Nairobi.


  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. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e
  6. ^
  7. ^,16641,19600307,00.html
  8. ^ David Goldsworthy, Tom Mboya The Man Kenya wanted to Forget, Heinnemann, 1982 at Page 34
  9. ^ Bethwell A. Ogot, William Ochieng, Decolonization and Independence in Kenya: 1940 – 1963, East African Publishers, 1995, Page 58
  10. ^ David Goldsworthy, Tom Mboya The Man Kenya wanted to Forget, Heinnemann, 1982 at Page 191
  11. ^ "Tom Mboya — Biography". Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Center for Multiparty Democracy: Politics and Paliamenterians in Kenya 1944–2007
  14. ^ Tom Mboya (1970). The challenge of nationhood. Heinemann Eduycational Books ltd. p. 39. ISBN 0-435-90081-1. 
  15. ^ a b Kiplagat, Sam (26 January 2009). "Mboya widow dies in SA after illness". Daily Nation (Nairobi: Nation Media Group). Retrieved 2011-07-23. 
  16. ^ "Kenya: Unanswered Questions". Time (New York City: Time Warner). 5 December 1969. Retrieved 2011-07-24. 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?" 
  17. ^ Joe Ombour, "Tombs where great men lie", Daily Nation, Weekend Magazine, 5 September 2003
  18. ^ "A father's charm, absence", Boston Globe 21 September 2008
  19. ^ Ombuor, Joe (4 July 2009). "Mboya’s legacy still alive, 40 years later". The Standard (Nairobi, Kenya: Standard Group Limited). Retrieved 2011-07-23. 
  20. ^ Ombuor, Joe (4 February 2009). "Final journey of an icon, tribute to Pamela Mboya". The Standard (Nairobi, Kenya: Standard Group Limited). Retrieved 2011-07-23. 

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