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 was assassinated on July 5, 1969 in Nairobi.
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‘s Trades 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.
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.
At that time, Mboya developed a close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who, like Mboya, was a Pan-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 on 1 June 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 Harambee and 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’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 II Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a US-educated Kenyan who benefited from Mboya’s scholarship programme in the 1960s, 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.