Tom Mboya: Late Kenyan Leader

Kibaki unveils Tom Mboya statue in Nairobi


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Tom Mboya Funeral (1969)


Tom MboyaTom Mboya Aharon Becker 1962.jpg
In office
1963 – 5 July 1969
President Jomo Kenyatta
Personal details
Born 15 June 1930
Kilima Mbogo, near Thika, Kenya
Died July 5, 1969 (aged 39)
Nationality Kenyan
Political party Kenya African National Union
Spouse(s) Pamela Mboya
Children Maureen Odero
Susan Mboya
Luke Mboya
Peter Mboya
Patrick Mboya
Alma mater Ruskin College, Oxford
Occupation Politician
Cabinet Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Minister for Economic Planning and Development
Religion Christian


Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya (August 15, 1930 – July 5, 1969) was a prominent Kenyan politician during Jomo Kenyatta’s government. He was founder of the Nairobi People’s Congress Party, a key figure in the formation of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), and the Minister of Economic Planning and Development at the time of his death. Mboya wasassassinated on July 5, 1969 in Nairobi.


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



Thomas Odhiambo Mboya was born on August 15, 1930 inKilima Mbogo, near Thika town in what was called the White Highlands of Kenya.


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’sTrades 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

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.

  • On the low number of African leaders, it is of interest to note that history has now indicated that Argwings-Kodhek’s death earlier in the same year, attributed to a road accident, may not have been such. An exhumation of the body of C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek, who was later to become a powerful minister in the Kenyatta cabinet and a close confidant of Kenyatta’s, suggested that his death was actually the result of a gunshot fired from a police-issued rifle. Many close to the family actually believe that this was President Kenyatta’s first political assassination. Closely held family records indicate that former cabinet minister Paul Ngei actually identified the police vehicle that carried the assassins to the ambush point on Hurlingham Road (now Argwings-Kodhek Road). The vehicle in question was part of Vice-President Moi’s Vice-Presidential Escort detail. The testimony of former cabinet minister Andrew Omanga, then C.M.G.’s Permanent Secretary indicate that when Omanga met him lying in the road shortly after the ‘accident’ C.M.G. stated that he had a ‘shock’ and that he heard a ‘gun shot’. Formerly powerful Attorney-GeneralCharles Njonjo confirmed as C.M.G. lay dying the next morning that the ‘wounds are consistent with gun shot wounds’. It is commonly known that Kenyatta, frustrated with Oginga Odinga, had already notified Argwings-Kodhek that he was going to be appointed Vice-President—a position C.M.G. had turned down and suggested that it be given to Moi, instead of Mboya—to become the first African to join the colonial Legislative Council.

At that time, Mboya developed a close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who, like Mboya, was aPan-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 Mboya organized the Airlift Africa project, together with the African-American Students Foundation in the United States, 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; although he was not on the first airlift plane in 1959, since he was headed for Hawaii, not the continental U.S., he received a scholarship through the AASF and occasional grants for books and expenses. 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.

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 in 1963, Mboya was elected as an MP for Nairobi Central Constituency (today:Kamukunji Constituency)  and became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and later Minister for Economic Planning and Development. In this role, he wrote the important “Sessional Paper 10” on Harambeeand 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 July 5, 1969 on Moi Avenue, Nairobi CBD after visiting a pharmacy. 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?.  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. 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 is still a disputed matter.

Mboya left a wife and five children. He is buried in a mausoleum located in Rusinga Island which was built in 1970. 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 coming into scene of American politician Barack Obama, Jr. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a US-educated Kenyan who benefited from Mboya’s scholarship programme in the 60s, 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.

Personal life

Mboya’s father Leonard Ndiege was an overseer at a sisal plantation in Kilima Mbogo. Mboya married Pamela Mboya in 1962 (herself a daughter of the politician Walter Odede). They had five children, including daughters 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. Their sons are Luke and twin brothers Peter (died in 2004 in a 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  Pamela died of an illness in January 2009 while seeking treatment in South Africa.

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