Tom Mboya Was A Semi-machiavellian Novice In The Art Of Power

By Alexander Opicho - Lodwar, Kenya
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Tom Mboya
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This is a rejoinder to the feature story anchored by Paul Nabiswa on the Kenya Television Network (KTN) on 31st August 2020. The feature story was carried out under the traditional prescription in Kenya to have some Media out-let to run a ritual-like commemoration of Thomas Joseph Mboya each year in the month of August. However, in spite of the august nature of this annual ritual, it is so unfortunate that this tradition has always been missing very informative and educative facts about Thomas Joseph Mboya. It has been so Perhaps due to poor level of research usually taken in relation to feature development, scanty training in investigative journalism among the media practitioners or poverty of intellectual audacity as well as objectivity on the hand of the media owners. Yes, it is factually true that Tom Mboya was a political phenomenon of his time; hence, facts about him must be fully explained to those that want to learn about him. This tradition of skewing all the presentations about Mboya to make him look like as if he was a saint of politics can be nothing else other deliberate act of refusing to work with facts of history. Mboya was not a perfect saint of politics as it is always made to look; he had a flip side that is more important to the lovers of political inquiry. Indeed, overlooking the flip side of Mboya makes the entire discourse on Mboya historiography a jejune.

V. S. Naipaul told Paul Theroux that he doesn’t like politics of Mboya because Mboya killed his own son, Naipaul narrated that Mboya and his wife Pamela were very close friends to the American ambassador to Kenya. The Ambassador was a white American, Mboya and Pamela were pure Africans without any history of white blood in their family. It was snobbery that drove them into intimate friendship with the ambassador. It also happened that this was the time Pamela became pregnant, only to give birth to a baby boy that was pure white with blue eyes like a white man, the baby was having all the features in its face, legs and hands like those of their family friend, the American ambassador to Kenya. The baby lived for something like five months, then Mboya become intolerant and murdered the baby only to secretly dumb it way at the city garbage. No funeral was held. All this happened scot-free because Tom Mboya was in government, he was never arrested, and Pamela was forced into silence. Paul Theroux recorded this Naipaul’s story later on in his book Sir Vidia’s Shadow. When I read the story I soul searched myself, my concern was if there is any law in Kenya that justifies extra-judicial killing of bastards? No, it is not there, even Mboya’s traditional Luo customary laws and rituals don’t justify killing of a bastard, whatsoever the colour of his or her skin. Some Mboya scholars have always wanted to link this incident to the earlier experience of Mboya divorcing his first wife, to get freedom for luring another lady by the name Pamela Odede into marriage, by then Pamela was still a callow minded student at Makerere University. Personally, I have never seen the point of connection between this story and Mboya’s political behaviour other than an inkling that Mboya’s personality was in bondage with materialist dualities just like any other person that is not yet self-realized.

The above episode looks farfetched, but it’s important to those in the likes of Francis Atwoli, the current Kenya’s trade Union president, that are ever fondly admiring and praising Tom Mboya for having had clean vehicles, clean design suits and well groomed physique, to pause and think in a liberated manner by appreciating the sense that it is better for a public leader and any other man or woman to have a clear conscience other than having physical cleanliness but with a hole in the heart, the Tom Mboya like morally punctured heart which have always motivated Baraka Muluka to describe him as a hireling of Jomo Kenyatta, the description which implies sycophancy, attention seeking, passion for honour, and sale-out indisposition kind of relationship that Tom Mboya had with the government of Jomo Kenyatta. Muluka also wrote in the Management Magazine of October 2009 that Tom Mboya as the key man in Jomo Kenyatta’s government knew one or two things about the 1966 brutal murder of the out-spoken Nyandarua politician, Josua Mwangi Kariuki.

Most of Naïve political historians like Dr. Opondo of Moi University see a lot of intellectual brilliance in Tom Mboya’s political career for coming up with Sessional Paper No 10 on African socialism as an ideology for Kenya’s organization of government. The truth is that it was Mwai Kibaki, the Makerere and Oxford trained economist who formulated the paper but Mboya usurped it only to edit and make it fit his political interests, Mboya edited this semi-constitutional paper to make Kenya a single party dictatorship with a unicameral parliament operating under the sympathy of the all powerful life President. This was the African socialism which Mboya designed in the paper that was adopted and implemented life-size by the government of Jomo Kenyatta. Mboya did all these on the basis of mistaken thinking that he was setting a trap for President Jomo Kenyatta, an evident octogenarian that was to die soon and leave power vacuum for Tom Mboya to fill. Unfortunately, things did not work the way Mboya thought, his Machiavellian logic was half-baked. It goofed like humpty-dumpty. It is under this context of the Sessional Paper No 10 that the chroniclers of history of Pan-Africanism note that this was the time Kwame Nkurumah lost trust he had initially had in Tom Mboya and began working with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga on the matters of ideology and Pan-Africanism movement. According to some sources, Nkrumah loved Jaramogi for being mature, visionary, elderly, honesty and ideologically reliable. But Nkrumah dismissed Mboya as an overt CIA agent that was only out to spy on the leaders of Socialist Movement in Africa.

How Nkrumah was right cannot be disputed, but Mboya was too selfish to be a socialist. He loved power and ostentation with his body, soul and spirit. It was this passionate love for honour that made Mboya to hustle for friendship with the Aga Khan and John F. Kennedy. Also his scant patience when it came to education could not enable him to subscribe to revolutionary culture in politics as the one enticed by Jaramogi and Nkrumah. Thus, Mboya was only perfecting some incompetent dissembling and dissolubility by hiding behind what looked like communism in the Sessional Paper no 10. However, Mboya was very gifted in the art of hypocrisy and betrayal, especially in the art of using the most powerful to frustrate the least powerful; using Kenyatta’s political power to frustrate Jaramogi’s flame of ideological honesty. For no other reason other than to have himself shine-out as a Luo spokesperson but not Jaramogi. Professor Simiyu Wandiba wrote in the Biography of Masinde Muliro that Mboya was a natural betrayer of the post-colonial era. He had nothing for the country, but wanted everything for himself. He never respected colleagues or his elders, he was always working on how to conspire and successfully undermine political careers of Masinde Muliro , Daniel Moi and as well as working very hard to muffle the legacy of Markham Singh, the father of trade-unionism in Kenya . These are the same sentiments hinted at by Joe Khamis in Politics of Betrayal. Why Mboya chose to be a betrayer can be psychologically attributed to his personality typology, he was a mesomorphic-very handsome and athletic in physique. People with this type of personality are always in state of megalomania and grandiose disposition, usually very selfish, envious and prone to be overtaken by a momentous fit to perfect betrayal against any perceived competitor. But Raila Odinga in his book Flame of Freedom took a different approach to explain the spirituality behind fate and fortune in life of Tom Mboya. Raila depicted through some historical allegory which adduced and established Tom Mboya as a descendant of generations of betrayal that started in 1700 as deathly feuds between Kabaka Junju and Kabaka Ssemogere of Buganda Kingdom.

No one can fail to accept that Mboya was eloquent in spoken English. His eloquence coincided with historical phenomenon that Mboya was politically alive when Africa was not yet decolonized mentally. During that time any African who spoke fluent English would easily win public admiration. This state of being mentally colonized prevented most people in Africa from differentiating facts from sham; even the intellectually towering Ali A. Mazrui seriously flawed in his book Of the Elites and the Educated Class in Africa to go unguarded his intellectual demeanor only to become neurotic in his manner of praising Tom Mboya for making political speeches in fluent English. In the book, Mazrui declared Tom Mboya an immortal son of Kenya because Mboya had used colorful words like; ‘Kenyanization’ ‘Africanization’ and ‘Democratization’ in his political speech on a campaign spree. I don’t know why Mazrui did not praise Mboya for speaking good Kiswahili and Dholuo. It is unlucky that Mazrui is not here to answer for himself; however some little political psychology can assist us to read some bigotry and malice in Professor Mazrui’s neurotic happiness in relation to Tom Mboya’s philosophy of ‘Africanization’ and ‘Kenyanization’. Professor Mazrui was a Kenyan Arab, and Kenyan Arabs usually feel that they are more Africanized Kenyans, and hence Kenyanization and Africanization policy would only make the Southern Asian Indians in Kenya to lose their business but Kenyans of Arabic descend. This was a non intellectual but religious score for Professor Ali Mazrui given that Southern Asians are enemies to Muslims, Professor Mazrui was a Muslim. Future history of intellectual speculation will also fault Professor Ali Mazrui for admiring Tom Mboya for speaking foreign words in English but not Mboya’s written work. Professor Mazrui as a political writer was supposed to allude to Mboya in terms of political literary work of Mboya but not demagoguery that Mboya perfected in his gallivanting around Nairobi. Professor Ali Mazrui was morally duty-bound to look at Mboya through Mboya’s published three books, the three books of selected essays which Mboya published with the Heinemann Publishers under the African Writers Series, the books are On Challenge of Nationhood, Freedom and Beyond, and then his last book was On the Guestion of Nation Confidence. It is easily conjectured that it was through Mboya’s political maneuvers that made these three books to be published. For example, in spite high level of intellectual mediocrity in Mboya’s last book, still the book had the preface written by President Jomo Kenyatta. But if those books were manuscripts today, no publisher would accept them, not for any reason but they are seriously defective in structure, thematic consistence, syntax, grammar and depth of content.

Above all else, the great mistake that Mboya committed in his life was to develop an inflated ego by believing that his eloquence and shrewd witticism will enable him to get political power after Jomo Kenyatta, this type of self-congratulation made Mboya to under-estimate the wisdom of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and as well as underrate intelligence of Jomo Kenyatta. Mboya was wrong to mistake Jomo Kenyatta’s nature of being old, sickly, slow, and very thorough in everything as well as being very trusting to be a weakness that motivated him (Mboya) to begin working on building the logistics that will make him take over the Presidency as soon as Jomo Kenyatta dies. It was so taxing in terms of emotional stretching for Mboya to realize that Jomo Kenyatta was not going to die soon as Mboya was expecting. Daniel Branch in Between Hope and Despair narrates that this was then when Mboya became impatient and began working on how he would have Kenyatta dead. He thought it was so Machiavellian enough to use money to influence a hired gun-man in the name of Nahashon Njenga who was also a clansman of Jomo Kenyatta, to assassinate Jomo Kenyatta. Little did Mboya know that Gikuyu’s don’t love money, but they love themselves, they enjoy being a Gikuyu than they enjoy owning having money. Mboya’s blurred judgment could not allow him to know that Njenga enjoys being a fellow Gikuyu clansman to Jomo Kenyatta than having money. Poor was counter-betrayed, Njenga went ahead to divulge to Jomo Kenyatta what Mboya conspiring , Kenyatta turned the tables by ordering Njenga to go shoot Mboya with the same gun Mboya had given Njenga to Shot Jomo Kenyatta with . These are the facts that preceded the broad daylight shooting of Tom Mboya at Chemist near the present day Chania Bookshop along Moi Avenue. If at all these facts are as true as Daniel Branch Narrates and as very many other oral historians have narrated then it is wrong to say that Mboya was assassinated, Mboya committed suicide, courtesy of his semi-Machiavellian stature that maintained him in a novice station when it comes to the art of getting and maintaining power.

Now, when you operate under some light like the one shed above, and then you happen to see some Luo elites like Phillip Ochieng, Gerry Kungu, and Professor Anyang Nyong’o saying that Tom Mboya was larger than life, then you have to know that this is not any fact from history but deliberate failure to see facts, an act which comes as an overtone of emotional ignorance fuelled by Luo Chauvinism and impaired intellect emanating from thrasonical nature of Luo men and women. It is this Luo chauvinism that has always been working against young Luo scholars maturing into freethinking intellectuals, this is the same psychological force that have made very well trained Luo intellectuals in the likes of Anyang Nyong’o to fail from behaving intellectually as liberal thinker only to chose the cultic path of passionate apotheosification of personalities from the Oginga Odinga family. This is also the same psychological force that has always put most of young Luo politicians on the costly path of politics of betrayal. The politics of betrayal that in one way or another happened to conspire against Daniel Moi, Masinde Muliro, Wamalwa Kijana, Mwai Kibaki, or currently eating into the stem of the political ambitions of William Ruto. Sometimes the practice of political betrayal also explodes as a boomerang which culminates into the violent deaths of illustrious politicians like Robert Ouko and many others. This is the same path of betrayal on which stands the political ambitions of those pretending to be having initiatives to building bridges among the previously feuding Kenyan communities or pretending to be fighting corruption in Kenya of today, it is a costly path.

Alexander Opicho writes from, Lodwar, Kenya [email protected]