Tom Mboya, the first among equals in Kenya’s independence cabinet 1930 – 1969

Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya (15 August 1930 – 5 July 1969) was a Kenyan trade unionist. Educator, Pan-Africanist, author, independence activist, and statesman.

He was one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya. He led the negotiations for independence at the Lancaster House Conferences.

And was instrumental in the formation of Kenya’s independence party – the Kenya African National Union (KANU).

First KANU Secretary General

He served KANU as its first Secretary-General. He laid the foundation for Kenya’s capitalist and mixed economy policies.

This was at the height of the Cold War and set up several of the country’s key labor institutions.

Mboya’s intelligence, charm, leadership, and oratory skills won him admiration from all over the world.

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Mboya’s Global Activities

He gave speeches, participated in debates and interviews across the world, in favor of Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule.

He also spoke at several rallies in the goodwill of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Mboya was elected Conference Chairman in 1958 at the age of 28 at the All-African Peoples’ Conference, convened by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Mboya the Trade Unionist

He helped build the Trade Union Movement in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. As well as across Africa.

He also served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

In 1959, Mboya called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, to form the first All-Africa ICFTU labor organization.

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Engagements with US Presidents

Mboya worked with both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to create educational opportunities for African students.

An effort that resulted in the Kennedy Airlifts of the 1960s enabling East African students to study at American colleges. Notable beneficiaries of this airlift include Wangari Maathai.

The other beneficiary is Barack Obama Sr. Mboya was the first Kenyan to be featured on the front page cover of Time magazine in a painting by Bernard Safran in 1960.


His parents were Leonardus Ndiege from the Suba ethnic group of Kenya. He hailed from Rusinga Island and Marcella Onyango from the Luo ethnic group of Kenya.

Both of whom were low-income sisal cutters working on the colonial farm of Sir William Northrup McMillan, at today’s Juja Farm Area.

Thomas (“Tom”) Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was born at this colonial sisal farm on 15 August 1930, near the town of Thika, in what was called the White Highlands of Kenya.

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His father’s career

Mboya’s father Leonard Ndiege was later promoted as an overseer at this sisal plantation and worked for 25 years.

Eventually Leonard and Marcella had seven children, five sons and two daughters. When Mboya was 9 years old, his father sent him to a mission school in Kamba region.

Mboya was educated at various Catholic mission schools. In 1942, he joined St. Mary’s School Yala – a Catholic secondary school in Yala.

Mboya’s Education

His secondary school is located in Nyanza province where Mboya began his education in English and History.

In 1946, he attended 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.

Expertise in Economics

He also enrolled in a certificate course in economics at Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa.

In 1955, he received a scholarship from Britain’s Trades Union Congress to attend Ruskin College, University of Oxford, where he studied industrial management.

After 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 and Freedom Army, Mau Mau uprising.

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Time in Politics

In the newly independent country, Mboya, who was a pre-independence Minister of Labour since 1962, was appointed by the New Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta.

He became the MP for Nairobi Central Constituency (today, Kamukunji Constituency). And became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

A post he held from 1 June 1963, until December 1964. He created the National Social Security Fund, Kenya’s social security scheme.

Proactiveness in Cabinet

He also established an Industrial Court to hear labour-management cases.

When Kenya became a republic on 12 December 1964, the new President Kenyatta appointed Tom Mboya to the Economic Planning and Development Ministry.

And transferred all functions of his former Justice ministry to the office of Attorney General under Charles Mugane Njonjo.

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Sessional Paper 10

Together with his deputy then Mwai Kibaki, he issued Sessional Paper 10, which defined Kenya’s form of economic policies, when it was debated and passed by parliament in 1965.

Mboya presented the Sessional Paper No. 10 for debate in parliament in April 1965 covering the period of 1964 – 1970.

Under the title African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya. Kenyatta and Mboya were known advocates of a non-aligned international policy.

Position on Capitalism

Not wanting blanket application of capitalism, while completely abhorring scientific socialism. In 1966,Tom Mboya was removed from the economic planning ministry.

And Kibaki was appointed for the first time as full Minister for Commerce and Industry.

Mboya’s development plans at the Economic Planning Ministry were credited for Kenya’s development rate of 7%. Which was sustained during his tenure as the Planning Minister.

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He retained the portfolio as Minister for Economic Planning and Development until his death at the age of 38.

When he was gunned down on 5 July 1969 on Government Road (now Moi Avenue), Nairobi CBD. After visiting Chaani’s Pharmacy.

Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge was convicted for the murder and later hanged. After his arrest, Njoroge asked:

Big man behind Mboya’s death

“Why don’t you go after the big man?” Due to such statements, suspicions arose that Mboya’s shooting was a political assassination.

Outrage over his assassination led to riots in the major cities of Kenya. President Jomo Kenyatta gave a eulogy at Mboya’s requiem mass.

Saying of his colleague, “Kenya’s independence would have been seriously compromised were it not for the courage and steadfastness of Tom Mboya.”

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Mboya’s remembrance

A statue of Mboya was installed on Moi Avenue, where he was killed, and the nearby busy Victoria Street was renamed Tom Mboya Street in his honor.

Mboya left a wife and five children. He is buried in a mausoleum on Rusinga Island, which was built in 1970.

Mboya’s role in Kenya’s politics and transformation is the subject of increasing interest, especially with the prominence of American politician Barack Obama.

Links to Barack Obama Senior

Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a US-educated Kenyan who benefited from Mboya’s scholarship program in the 1960s.

Going on to get 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.

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Marriage and Family

Tom Mboya married Pamela Odede on Saturday, 20 January 1962 at St. Peter Claver’s Catholic Church on Racecourse Road, in Nairobi.

Pamela, a graduate of the University of Makerere, was the daughter of politician Walter Odede. They had five children.

Their daughters are 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.

Links to Evans Kidero

And is married to former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. Their sons included Lucas Mboya, and twin brothers Peter (died in a 2004 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.