It is agreed by all in Kenya that Tom Mboya was the best President Kenya never had. He was a politician that gained worldwide recognition during his rather short career that ended rather prematurely in his assassination in 1969.
Thomas Joseph Mboya was born on 15th August 1930, at Kilimambogo, a few kilometres Northeast of Nairobi. He belonged to the Luo ethnic group. Although not a gifted student, he was charismatic and very articulate, two very important attributes in a leader’s career. From his early days he had great political potential.
Tom Mboya got into Kenyan politics when he founded the Kenya Labour Workers Union (KLWU) and served as its Secretary-General till 1963 a few years after the declaration of a state of emergency in 1952 by the British colonial government in Kenya during its struggle for independence. This period saw the appearance of new Kenyan leaders as Jomo Kenyatta was in detention and the Mau Mau movement banned. He also served in a similar capacity at the Kenya Federation of Registered Labour Unions (KFRLU).
Tom Mboya was elected as a member of the Legislative Council (LEGCO) to occupy one of the eight seats reserved for Africans. He defeated the incumbent, the eminent C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek. His political career took-off and he founded and presided over the National People’s Convention Party (NPCP) in 1957 -with a strong resemblance to Ghana’s Convention People’s Party- of K. Nkrumah, his good friend. Both shared the idea of a unified African continent believing that the borders were European creations that needed to be dealt with. Their vision, rather difficult to implement, never came to fruition.
Kenyatta’s release from prison became the fighting flag of the times and this facilitated the amalgamation of the major political parties in May 1960 when the Kenya African National Union (KANU) emerged as a new nationwide political party after Kenyatta’s Kenya African Union (KAU), Oginga Odinga’s Kenya Independent Movement (KIM) and Tom Mboya’s NPCP. The creation of KANU was a result of the independence talks at the Lancaster House Conference where Tom Mboya was the Head of the Kenyan contingent. The Conference set the milestones for Kenya’s independence, the latter did not include Kenyatta’s release. In the latter’s absence Tom Mboya was the most powerful politician of the time and it is believed that this was the beginning of a movement within KANU to limit his influence and to stop him from rising to power.
Kenyatta was freed in August 1961, and became KANU’s President while Tom Mboya became the party’s Secretary-General. When Kenya became independent in 1963, Tom Mboya became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in Kenyatta’s first government. In 1964 he became Minister of Economic Planning and Development, a post he held until he was gunned down in Nairobi in July 1969. His death is generally believed to have had tribal reasons and it was never really clarified.