The Very Best President That Kenyans Never Had. 

File picture of the late Tom Mboya

By Nelson Mwangi.

This day 93 years ago, Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was born in Kilima Mbogo in Kiambu county (Friday) 15th August 1930), where his parents were casual laborers in a white highland’s sisal plantation. Tom Mboya would later emerge to be an international icon in different capacities and a powerful and influential Minister in Jomo Kenyatta Government.

He was a trade unionist, an educator, a Pan Africanist, and an activist towards independent Kenya. At home, he served in three different ministries as a cabinet minister. 
In his mid-twenties, Tom Mboya had already managed to secure a scholarship which saw him graduate with an industrial management degree from Oxford University at 26 years of age. Two years later, he was elected conference chairman at the All-African Peoples’ Conference which was convened by the founding father of Ghana, President Kwame Nkrumah. He later helped to build Trade Union Movements across Africa.
In 1959, Tom Mboya was the African representative during the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) conference that was held in Brussels, Belgium. Still, in the same year, he called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, to form the first All-Africa ICFTU labor organization, where he profoundly talked about Africa Development Strategy.
As a true Pan-Africanist, he believed in independent Africa where moving from International aid to intra-African trade would liberate Africans from poverty. His long-term objective as a trade unionist was to see Africa minimize aid and maximize trade.

Even though it has been long overdue, one of Tom Mboya’s strategies of intra-African trade was recently realized on 1st January 2021 when African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) kicked off. Noting that it has been 62 years since Tom Mboya’s Lagos speech of 1959 on intra-African trade, we can all agree that; better late than never.
It’s inarguably true that 1959 was the best year of Tom Mboya’s life and the busiest. This is the year that he was invited to Washington, D.C. by American Committee on Africa, where he managed to secure scholarships for East African students through African-American Students Foundation. (AASF) This scholarship program saw 800 African students travel to the United States of America to advance their education between 1959 and 1963.
On Friday, 11th September 1959, eighty-one African students from East Africa arrived in New York City on a chartered flight to start their college education. Among them were the late Professor Wangari Mathai, who would later become the first African woman to win a Nobel prize, and also Barrack Obama senior, the father of the first black president of the United States of America.

In the same year, Howard University which is a predominantly African-American institute of higher learning, honored Tom Mboya with a Doctorate Degree.
Tom Mboya’s charisma on human dignity, political freedom, and economic opportunities for all, as stated in his 18th April 1959 speech while addressing the American civil rights movement gathering in Washington D.C., caught the attention of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), who was then the senator of Massachusetts and a 1960 US presidential aspirant. 
On Tuesday 26th July 1960, JFK who was now a Democrat presidential nominee met with Tom Mboya who had traveled back to the United States in a desperate need to secure traveling funds for more African students who were still waiting to travel to the United States on scholarships.

JFK agreed to help with the travel expenses and established the Kennedy Airlift Program, which saw more African students travel to the United States to further their education. 
The fact that Tom Mboya was a very close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. and had subsequently developed a close friendship with JFK is believed to be the reason behind JFK’s November 1960 presidential victory, where he garnered a lot of votes from African-Americans becoming the 35th president of United States of America. 
Although JFK raising to the presidency came with vast responsibilities, he continued to support Tom Mboya’s initiative through the Kennedy Foundation. Unfortunately, financial remittances were cut short after the November 22nd assassination of JFK in Dallas, Texas.
Five years and seven months later, on Saturday, 5th July 1969, just like his friend JFK, Tom Mboya, at the tender age of 38, was assassinated for political reasons.

it was a quiet Saturday afternoon in Nairobi, and Tom Mboya, Kenya’s Minister of Economic Planning and Development, was doing a little shopping downtown. He stepped into Chhani’s Pharmacy to buy a bottle of lotion. As he emerged, an assassin opened fire, escaping in the ensuing confusion.

Mboya was struck in the chest, blood soaking his suede jacket, and died in an ambulance on the way to Nairobi Hospital. Grieving Kenyans soon gathered in such numbers at the hospital that baton-wielding police were called out to keep the crowd at bay.

Only 38, the handsome, articulate Mboya embodied many of the qualities so urgently needed by the fledgling nations of black Africa. He was a member of Kenya’s second-largest tribe, the Luo. But he saw his real loyalties to Kenya’s detribalizing urban classes and made them his constituency. He was an early and fervent apostle for his country’s freedom, inspired by Jomo Kenyatta. But he deplored the violence and bloodshed of the Mau Mau uprisings against the British and refused to participate in them.

He became the architect of independent Kenya’s major documents, including its constitution. He also pleaded eloquently for a Marshall Plan for all of Africa, for creating an African economy, and “the brotherhood of the ‘extended family’ in the United States of Africa.”

Mboya thought of himself as an African socialist, that catchall for moderate African reformers who favored mixed economies. Thoroughly pro-Western, with close ties both to the U.S. and Britain (he spent a year at Oxford), Mboya had no use for Soviet and Chinese efforts to gain a foothold in Kenya. It was on that issue that Mboya and his principal political enemy, Oginga Odinga, collided. A Luo like Mboya, Odinga was an emotional, radical tribalist with Communist leanings and support. Mboya helped oust Odinga as Vice President in 1966.

Mboya had many political enemies on the right as well as the left. He also had personal enemies, for he could be arrogant, brittle, and ruthless in political infighting. As a Luo, Mboya was given only a scant chance to succeed Kenyatta, a member of the country’s dominant Kikuyu tribe.

His talents were such, however, that he might have been assassinated to head off any possibility of his presidency. Kenyatta described his death as “a loss to Kenya, to Africa and the world.”

To this day, most people believe that Tom Mboya was indeed the very best president that Kenyans never had. 

Excerpt from “Mboya the airlift pioneer.”/Nelson Mwangi.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here