By Nelson Mwangi
This week on 5th July 2021, Kenyans marked 52 years since the gruesome assassination of Tom Mboya. Born as Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya on Friday 15th August 1930 in Kilima Mbogo in Kiambu county where his parents were casual laborers in a white highlands sisal plantation, Tom Mboya would later emerge to be an International icon on different capacities. 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 that 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 Africa 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 labour 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 a 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 most busy of not the busiest. This is the year that he was invited in 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 honoured Tom Mboya with a Doctorate Degree.
Tom Mboya’s charisma on human dignity, political freedom and economic opportunities for all as stated on his 18th April 1959 speech while addressing 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 travelling 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 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 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 a tender age of 38 years was assassinated for political reasons while leaving a pharmacy on government road which is today Moi avenue. To this day, most people believe that Tom Mboya was indeed the very best president that Kenyans never had.