“HIS” TORY – TOM MBOYA AS A PIONEER OF KENYA’S ECONOMY
Tom Mboya was one of the most prominent personalities in Kenyan history. He was born Thomas Joseph Mboya on 15th August 1930 and was assassinated at the tender age of 39 on 5th July 1969. It is widely believed that his profile and illustrious career as a brilliant and charismatic leader, which was seen as a challenge to the then political establishment, led to his assassination.
As a renowned trade unionist, politician and statesman, Tom Mboya joined active politics in 1957 when he successfully contested and won a seat in the Legislative Council, and later in 1958 when he founded the Nairobi People’s Congress Party. He was later instrumental in forming the Kenya African National Union (KANU) that formed the government upon independence, and became its first Secretary General. At the time of his assassination, he held the Cabinet portfolio of Minister of Economic Planning and Development.
Minister for Economic Planning and Development aged 36 years.
He entered public life in 1951 by joining the Nairobi African City Council Staff Association, and met Mzee Jomo Kenyatta several times at the K. A. U. headquarters in the ensuing months.
In early 1953 during the initial days of the state of emergency he became acting treasurer of the K.A.U and organized finance for the legal defence of Mzee Kenyatta and others detained in Kapenguria. He founded the Kenya Local Government workers Union, and after resigning from the city council he was appointed National General Secretary in 1963.
He then joined the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (a fore runner to the Kenya Federation of Labour). When his KLGCU became an affiliate member the same year, he was soon elected Secretary General.
Soon after this the K. A. U was banned and he concentrated all his efforts to develop the trade union movement under difficult emergency conditions. No meetings were allowed and trade union members were victimized. The KFL became the only voice of the Kenya people filling the vacuum left by the banning of KAU. Thus it was became a political as well as a trade union organization.
Tom Mboya joined active politics in 1957, when he successfully contested and won a seat in the then colonial Legislative Council and later in 1958, founded the Nairobi People’s Congress Party, which became one of the strongest parties in Kenya in the late 1950’s. He was able to use his trade union links across the country to rally supporters to join the party.
In 1958, during the All-Africa Peoples Conference, convened by Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana , Mboya was elected the Conference Chairman at the early age of 28. While in Ghana he gained greater insights into nationalist and anti colonial organisational struggles that was to prove a vital asset in his struggle for his own country’s independence. He was later instrumental in forming the Kenya African National Union (KANU), becoming its first Secretary General when it was founded in 1960.
When Kenya attained self-government rule on June 1st 1963, Tom Mboya became the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, a position he was able to utilise in shaping a future independent Kenya. In December 1964, Kenya became a Republic, with Mboya being appointed the Minister of Economic Planning and Development. He was later instrumental in putting together the famous Sessional Paper No.10: “African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya “, which continued to be the ‘guiding philosophy of the KANU government decades after Mboya’ (Gimode, 1996).
Tom Mboya was gunned down outside a pharmacy on a Nairobi street on 5th July 1969, which to many observers was seen to be the result of ethnic tensions (between the predominant Gikuyu and Luo tribes) that had gripped the nation and become a common phenomenon in post independent Kenya. He was a rising star in the Kenyan political landscape and his contribution to the independence struggle and post independent era was remarkable for a man who truly had a passion for nationalism and development.
Between late 1953 and 56, Mboya visited Europe several times to educate external opinion on the case of the African people. To this end he petitioned the Colonial office and the British TUC. Members of the House of Commons, the I.L.O, and the I.C.F.T.U, and invited British Mp’s to visit Kenya. He also visited India and spent a year at Ruskin College, Oxford studying industrial relations and economics (1955/56).
He addressed several meetings during his stay in Britain and on the continent, and published the first African written exposition of the Kenya situation under the state of emergency under the title ‘The Kenya Question – an African Answer’. He also established worldwide contacts through trade unions and other bodies in many countries laying foundations for the independence struggle.
He addressed many meetings in the United States and Canada in 1956 before returning to Kenya in the days of the state of emergency. He intervened (throught the KFL) with the Government regarding the condition of detainees and secured a revision of the screening process. In 1957 Mboya was first elected to Parliament as a member for Nairobi area and became secretary of the African Elected Members Organisation which declared the ‘Lyttelton Plan’ null and void and began the constitutional struggle for Uhuru. He also became chairman of the East and Central Africa Coordinating Committee of Trade Unions in the same year.
For this and his earlier political work as well as his trade union organisation, he was awarded an Honorary Doctrate in law by Howard University. He also became a member of the I.C.F.T.U executive board and declared in Legislative Council (before the year ended) that there was no point in ending the emergency in Kenya unless Mzee Kenyatta was released.