By Joe Ombuor
The Tom Mboya monument in downtown Nairobi first erected in 2011, 42 years after his assassination is undergoing a facelift to restore its lost attraction and grandeur.
What a pity that the only public image anywhere in the country of such an iconic son of Kenya was left to dilapidate for so long, even as his own son in law, former Governor Dr Evans Kidero called the shots in the capital city between 2013 and 2017!
His statue invokes many things about a man many Kenyans living today never got to know. Miffed pundits wonder how he managed to pull off so much so early in life. Mboya was Minister for Economic Planning and Development when a mad bullet stopped him in his tracks at just 39.
Here is a fleeting glance of the man whose bones repose under a bullet shaped mausoleum on Rusinga Island of Lake Victoria after a life that impacted greatly on his motherland and Africa as a whole.
At only 28, Mboya was elected to chair the first All African Peoples Conference (AAPC) in Accra, Ghana in 1958. Five years earlier, in 1953, he became the first Secretary General of the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL) now COTU at 23. He was independent Kenya’s first Cabinet Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs in 1963 aged 33 and until his death, was the Secretary General of independence party, KANU from 1960.
I recently met two senior Kenyans, 76 year old Ambrose Ahono Obadha, a retired telecommunications engineer who was a Commonwealth Scholarship student in London at the time of Mboya’s death and 79 year old Walter Hongo Koriwa, a retired Professor of geology and anthropology then studying at the University of Technology, Zurich in Switzerland. The duo wowed me with their singular insights into Mboya’s life and tragic death.
“Among the many things reflected in Mboya’s statue are the phases of the struggle that gave birth to Kenya as the sovereign nation that it is today,” states Obadha, his face brightening up with reminiscences of the man he considers Africa’s Martin Luther King.
“It customizes the enduring disharmony between his Luo community and the Kikuyu that spawned at independence for purely myopic and selfish reasons, reaching a frightening crescendo at his death,” he says grimly.
“Mboya was the quintessence of intelligence, charm, leadership and oratory who spearheaded the negotiations for Kenya’s independence at Lancaster House Conferences, set up the country’s key labour institutions and laid the foundation for Kenya’s capitalist and mixed economy at the height of the cold war,” narrates Obadha.
Barges in Koriwa: “His statue symbolizes the post independence political intrigues anchored deeply in the cold war era and ensuing maneuvers that have lingered on to date.”
Koriwa adds after a pensive pause: “ The so called Kiambu mafia could have been the face of the cold blooded killing brazenly executed on July 5, 1969 by one Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, but truth be told; the actual brains behind the brash murder were elsewhere”.
He conjures up a veiled link of Mboya’s death to that of Argwings Kodhek earlier that year, another Luo politician who at the time was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Kodhek died in a mysterious motor accident in Nairobi on January 29, 1969 along the road later named after him.
He says the plot to eliminate Mboya was part of a bigger scheme hatched by the Western powers soon after independence ostensibly to contain the spread of communism in Africa.
“The elimination of Patrice Lumumba in Congo Leopoldville (DRC) in 1961, the overthrow of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 and Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella in 1965 were part of that elaborate scheme,” deems Koriwa.
He says Kenya was targeted with the aim of finishing the Kikuyu led regime for fear that Mau Mau war veterans who hailed largely from that community would influence the Government to adopt communist policies as revenge for what they went through. “To that end, United States Ambassador to Guinea Mr William Attwood who had efficiently neutralized Soviet influence in that country and secured rich bauxite deposits for the US was posted to Kenya in 1964 as first US ambassador ‘to watch over the new nation that had just become a republic,’” relates Koriwa.
According to Koriwa, Attwood reached out to first British High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald who had served as Kenya’s last Governor and knew much about the fledgling nation for advice on how to go about his covert assignment only to learn that Jomo Kenyatta and his Kikuyu people posed no significant threat to Western powers in the cold war as initially perceived.
Obadha chips in at this juncture citing Attwood’s book titled ‘The Reds and The Blacks’ banned in Kenya in 1966 after it caused a huge diplomatic row between Kenya and the US by its ‘tell it all’ contents.
“I read the book in the United Kingdom in 1968 while studying at the College of Engineering and Science in London. The bits that irked the government included a section on skullduggery between Kenyatta and his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga,” he recollects.
Obadha says Attwood in his book divulges how MacDonald told him to forget about the Kikuyu and concentrate his energies on the Luo, a people known for their organizational prowess and charisma whose undisputed leader, Vice President Odinga had an obvious soft spot for communist Soviet Union.
“MacDonald told Attwood according to the book that these were the people whose rank and file must be stopped by all means from ascending to power in Kenya or else the entire East Africa would be fodder for communists.
Obadha says the British at the time believed that both Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Dr Milton Obote of Uganda were members of the larger Nilotic Luo ethnic outfit with ancient roots in the Sudan and Egypt.
A strategy to nip the Kenyan Luo clout in the bud starting with those in the cabinet was agreed on, says Obadha quoting from Attwood’s book.
But Kodhek had to be taken out of the scene first before the prime quarry, Mboya who was fast positioning himself as Kenyatta’s likely successor was brought down, Obadha claims in reference to Attwood’s book.
He says Attwood portrayed the man who was Kenya’s first African lawyer as a darling of the Kikuyu for the way his law firm defended Mau Mau freedom fighters gratis, a personality deeply trusted by Kenyatta. As such, removing him violently was deemed inopportune; hence an arranged motor accident was settled on as the easier option in view of the fact that the minister always drove himself unaccompanied from a watering hole he frequented in the city.
”With Kodhek out of the scene without much furore, the Western powers went full throttle for Mboya, hiding behind the Kiambu mafia that dreaded and envied in equal measure his intellectual agility and nimbleness to assume power,” reflects Koriwa.
Obadha recalls that he was at the Kenya High Commission in London shortly before Mboya’s death. “The High Commissioner Dr Josephat Karanja had welcomed a Kenyan delegation that included Minister for Commerce and Industry, Mwai Kibaki, Minister for Agriculture Bruce McKenzie, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Njoroge Mungai and Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia for food and drinks. It was a Thursday.
“They had a closed door meeting after which he walked to the switch board and instructed the telephone operator to dispatch a telegram message to Mboya in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he was attending an Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) meeting to the effect that the President urgently needed him back in Nairobi,” states Obadha.
The Minister together with his brother Alphonce Okuku who worked in Addis Ababa at the time and his Permanent Secretary, Phillip Ndegwa flew back to Kenya on Friday, July 4, 1969 and was gunned down in broad daylight the following day, Saturday, July 5 inside a pharmacy on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) about 20 metres away from where the statue now stands. Unprecedented chaos and turmoil that erupted left a nation shaken to the core.
Obadha observes that curiously, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) carried news of the death before Voice of Kenya (VoK), later KBC.