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Mboya, gifted politician who was always out to get his way.

On May 8, 1969, Mr Tom Mboya, Kenya's Minister for Economic Planning who was assassinated exactly 50 years ago, arrived at the US State Department to confer with Vice-President Richard Nixon. Those present thought the meeting would last only 30 minutes, since Mboya was scheduled to give an address and also receive an honorary doctorate degree at Howard University, where students and dignitaries were already waiting for him.

CLEAREST THINKERS Instead, the meeting took an hour, with Mr Mboya strongly criticising America's policy towards Africa. According to a transcript of the meeting, after finishing his harsh criticism he apologised to Mr Nixon saying, "I trust that I have not spoken too frankly and too candidly with regard to my criticism of your policies.

" Nixon replied by wondering whether he would have been "as dispassionate, as moderate, and as reasonable" as Mboya, were he to find himself in a similar situation. At that point Mr George Hauser, who had accompanied Mr Mboya to the meeting, interrupted Mr Nixon, telling him that they were late and had no means of getting to Howard University.

"That's alright. I am late for an appointment too.

I'll drive you to Howard," Mr Nixon replied. And that is how Mboya and his friends, Mr William Scheinman, and Mr Hauser, found themselves driving with Mr Nixon to Howard in the VP's official limo.

Three days later, while addressing the President's Committee on Government Contracts at the Sheraton Hotel in Washington DC. Mr Nixon referred to his meeting with Mr Mboya saying, "On Saturday, I had a very important visitor from Africa.

Of the various leaders of the world who have come to my office, and whom I have met in other countries in the last five or six years, he is one of the ablest, one of the clearest thinkers of any it has been my privilege to meet." Mr Nixon's remarks were just among the many accolades Mr Mboya received throughout his life as a politician and trade unionist.

From the time he became conscious of African nationalism in 1952, Mr Mboya greatly influenced African politics such that, and at the time of his death, he was lauded as one of Africa's six most outstanding leaders. Mr Mboya's rise from a sanitary inspector to such an acclaimed figure at the age of 29 is remarkable, even by today's standards.

He started in the trade union movement, which was still in its infancy in East Africa, before later joining the Kenya African Union (KAU), then the only African political organisation. LEADERSHIP VACUUM The arrest of senior trade unionists and KAU leaders in 1952 on allegations of having connections with the Mau Mau rebellion, created a leadership vacuum, which Mr Mboya filled perfectly.

With his charisma and organisational ability, he quickly established himself as the dominant African nationalist. He took charge of the Kenya Federation of Registered Trade Unions (KFRTU), which he later transformed into the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL).

With all African political parties having been banned, KFL became the only channel through which Mr Mboya could agitate for the freedom of Africans. In his fight for African causes, he applied one rule of thumb which he stated as: "Always stay on the offence.

Never on the defence. When you make a mistake, say yes we made a mistake.

Never allow yourself to be put in a position with your back against the wall trying to fight." He would set targets and pursue them with unrelenting brashness until he succeeded.

In 1956, while studying in England, he made his first major public expression of his political goals in a pamphlet, The Kenya Question: An African Answer" which was published by the Fabian Bureau. In it he demanded "self government on a basis of undiluted democracy with universal suffrage on a common roll.

" By 1958, he had pinned a notice on his office door stating his targets as "Common roll by 1960, complete independence by 1964." He did achieve this, for a common roll was introduced in 1960, and Kenya became a republic in 1964. In 1957, he joined the Legislative Council as the representative for Nairobi after defeating Mr Argwings Kodhek. As a legislator, his easy wit and repartee against the white establishment during debates, his ability to use the elegant put-down, and his willingness to do his homework well, all indicated that he was a natural parliamentarian.

His good looks, good command of English and polished social behaviour also made him a ladies' man. At one point the Director of Intelligence wrote, "One of the most striking things about his personality is that he has been able to maintain so many European girlfriends.

" DEFEATING TRIBALISM The period leading to the February 1961 General Elections presented the biggest threat to Mboya's political position in pre-independence Kenya. He described it as the most difficult struggle of his political life.

His greatest threat lay in his own Nairobi constituency, where a clique of Kikuyu leaders led by Dr Njoroge Mungai had mounted a smear campaign against him. Nevertheless he expressed optimism in defeating tribalism saying, "I think we are going to give it quite a shock.

" Although he could have vied for a seat in his South Nyanza home district, this would have meant surrendering to tribalism. So he vied in Nairobi.

On February 27, 1961, there were scenes of jubilation in Nairobi when it emerged that Mboya was the one leading with 28,739 votes. As well as being a Kanu victory, it was his personal triumph over tribalism.

But despite the win, Mr Mboya could not look forward to an easy time as there was a new political storm gathering in the horizon. The old guards, among them Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who had been detained during the emergency, were slowly returning to reclaim their positions.

Mr Mboya really resented the possibility of Kenyatta returning as the leader of Africans. This he did express in a question-and-answer session recorded by the MI5 in Ethiopia in 1958. Responding to a question from the audience after giving a talk in the Addis Ababa National Library on October 8, 1958, he said, "Kenyatta will always be revered, but there will be no position of political responsibility for him.

" Although he later jumped onto the "No Kenyatta, no government" bandwagon for fear of being called a traitor, he believed that Mzee Kenyatta was an idol whose feet were embedded in the clay of outdated tribal agitation and, therefore, even if he was to be released, he couldn't compare with the younger, more modern African politicians who were emerging on the international stage. But he was wrong, for Kenyatta began to consolidate his political position as soon as he came from detention.

SERIOUS TENSION This, and other factors, resulted in a power tussle which led to serious tension between them in 1962. While Kenyatta viewed Mr Mboya as a young man who was not ready to accord him the respect he deserved, Mr Mboya thought, Kenyatta was a complete failure as a politician and as a leader. He expressed his frustrations of Kenyatta's incompetence in a private interview in 1962, which was later revealed in 1969, by Stanley Meisler, "I am faced with a dilemma.

I know what must be done. I know the organisation that is needed But I cannot do anything.

If I try to do what is needed, everyone will say that I am usurping his role." Some misunderstanding also arose on how foreign money sent to KANU was being spent.

In one instance, according to correspondences intercepted by Special Branch in June 1962, when Kenyatta requested money from Liberia, Mr Ernest Eastman of the Bureau of African Affairs in Monrovia informed Mboya who replied that the money should be sent to KANU and not to specific individuals who were using the money for their own purposes. With time Mboya realised that his conflicts with Kenyatta could only turn the Kikuyu against him.

He therefore dedicated himself to the service of Kenyatta in the hope that he would one day anoint him a successor. The only person he had to eliminate from the line of succession was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who still enjoyed Kenyatta's confidence.

PRIMARY CONCERN Kenyatta's relationship with Mboya during this period could be described as that of convenience. Even though he mistrusted Mboya, he was aware of his brilliance, and always appointed him to positions of great responsibility.

In 1962, he appointed him to the position of Labour, to address unemployment among Africans. In 1963 he appointed him minister of Justice of Constitutional Affairs, to lay the groundwork for independence, and in 1964 he made him the minister for Economic Planning, to steer the new republic's economy.

These positions effectively made Mboya the architect of the new Kenya. He was young but had achieved a lot for Kenya.

In the words of Ugandan leader, Apollo Milton Obote, "Mboya was a symbol of the capability of youthful and regenerating Africa For so long as he lived the youth of Africa, irrespective of political ideology, saw in him achievements of the past, the facts of the present and the promise of the future." His vision for the future was expressed in sessional paper no.

10 of 1965, which he presented under the label of African Socialism. In it he hoped to develop a society in which primary concern would be the welfare of the people.

But because he was too smart, too ambitious and less tribalistic, he didn't live long enough to implement his vision. The oligarchs in Kenyatta's government nicknamed him the "rabbit" for they never knew where he would jump when they tried catching him.

But on July 5, 1969, they finally caught him. The writer is a journalist and researcher based in London.
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Jul 5, 2019
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