Tom Mboya, then Kenya’s minister of Economic Planning and Development, stepped into Chhani’s Pharmacy to buy a bottle of lotion. When he emerged from the pharmacy, he was shot with a single bullet to the chest and died shortly after at Nairobi hospital on Saturday afternoon, July 5, 1969.
Mboya was only 38 when he was killed and was part of Kenya’s second largest tribe, the Luo. But he was foremost a Kenyan nationalist and pan-Africanist who sought the brotherhood of the extended family in a United States of Africa. Philip Matogo spoke to his son Lucas ‘Rateng’ Mboya about Mboya the man, his politics and future of Africa.
It has been 52 years since your father died. Do you have any fond memories of him?
Unfortunately, my father died in July 1967, when I was just one-and-half years old. So I have no recollection of him. But while growing up, that caused me considerable discomfort. I knew I had a famous father, but no recollection. However, I’ve learnt so much from other family members, especially my late mum and some of our older relatives, uncle’s, aunties.
What do you think makes your father different from current crop of politicians?
There is no politician today in Kenya and there has never been one who could hold a candle to my dad. He was streets ahead. That’s why so many of his peers in the Executive of that first administration feared him.
I believe he genuinely saw what I also see today. There is a way to make this a great nation, but it can’t be achieved as long as the presidency remains the bedrock of corruption. In so far as the presidency in Kenya is a position fought over so those who win it can enrich themselves, their families, sycophants and proxies, Kenya will fall deeper and deeper into ruin.
My dad saw this a long time ago. Those around him realised that should he get the presidency, their corrupt ways would be exposed, but most of all, he would not tolerate the continued corruption, and land grabbing that was going on. My dad saw that Kenya has the resources to lift its citizens out of poverty and allow us all to live in dignity. That’s what he was after, but greed killed his plans.
How would you describe his politics?
His politics was politic of inclusion. He saw beyond tribal, ethnic blocks. He understood what nationhood was. He understood that independence in and of itself, did not make a nation. While many were thinking that now that Kenya was independent, we had won the battle, he knew that the greater battle had not even began. It was a battle for our national identity that is still not achieved today. That’s why a number of his speeches were compiled into the book, The Challenge of Nationhood.
The politics today in Kenya is the politics of exclusion. Kenyans have been conditioned over the last five decades to support those from their community, tribe over and above everything else. The system has been so corrupted that having one from your tribe as president is the real prize in any election, instead of someone who is capable of propelling the country to greater heights, irrespective of ethnicity. This is the bane of Kenya and indeed many African countries.
My dad was different. Had he become president, Kenya would be a very different place. As it were, his killing derailed the chance for Kenya to become a nation. Right now, our country is just a mess!
Do you think his legacy could inspire a better Africa?
Yes. His legacy does inspire some to see a better way for Kenya. It certainly inspires me. Unfortunately, our history as taught in schools has been distorted. Many who made tremendous efforts in the independence struggle have been forgotten, while some who were collaborators have reaped the greatest rewards.
Many, who fought in the Mau Mau [independence] struggle, were cast aside and left to wallow in poverty. To date, we don’t even know where [Kenya’s foremost freedom fighter] Dedan Kimathis’ body is buried by the British. No president has stood up to Britain to reveal where his remains are, or get out of Kenya!
That’s how bad our intellectual poverty is. How can Kimathis’ family get closure? Do successive governments even care? The struggle for independence is wrongly focused on the Kikuyu. They were part of the struggle for sure, but they were also fighting to save their lands, which the British coveted more than any other part of the country.
There were thousands of other freedom fighters all over the country from all different ethnic backgrounds. My maternal grandfather, Walter Odede, was Kenyattas’ deputy in the Kenya African Union (KAU) and was imprisoned for seven years in Samburu. His name is nowhere in the history books, so what kind of history has Kenya got?
You look a lot like your late father. Are there any other features or qualities you share with him?
Yes. I share his sense of justice. I also can’t bring myself to partner with people who are corrupt, neither can I respect them. I believe just as he did that Kenya can be the shining star of not just Africa, but the entire world!
But we will not make any progress until we weed out this cancer called corruption and those who practice it.
Nepotism and corruption go have in hand. It’s a vicious downward spiral that no latter day politician I know of in Kenya has the integrity to stop let alone reverse. There is a TJRC [Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission] report gatherings dust on the shelves as we speak!
Do you have any plans for a Tom Mboya library?
There are plans for a Tom Mboya library. These are being spearheaded by the National Museums, who have been renovating the mausoleum (which is now National Monument) and their next phase is to construct a library. We are very grateful for their efforts.
With the East African federation taking shape, any plans to relocate to Uganda?
Hold that though, for more reasons than you know….
Apart from your father, who are the political leaders you admire the most?
I’d say, the late Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama, the late [Kenyan foreign minister] Dr Robert Ouko, late Julius Nyerere, and Bill Clinton, to mention a few. In Kenya, there are none that I admire; not a single one that is worthy of emulating or upholding.
None that are an example for our youth, none that I would look up to. Certainly not politicians. But I do look up to Eliud Kipchoge. He’s a man. An inspiration. He has a depth of character that is non-existent in the political domain.
Finally, and we had to ask, do you plan to throw a hat in the ring and join politics?
No point going into politics. I’ll be killed. I speak my mind and call things as I see them. Not good for Kenya. My father has already paid with his life for wanting the best for his country. My children won’t lose their father as well. There are 45 million Kenyans. It’s not a Mboya fight alone.
In Kenya, I’d be killed and nothing will happen, the investigation would go nowhere because the State is itself, murderous.
Kenya is steeped in corruption. If I felt I was fighting together with others, like-minded, yes, I’d throw my hat in the ring. But Kenyans are the kings of betrayal. We want change, but who is prepared to fight for it?