Thomas Joseph Mboya

The Kenyan political leader Thomas Joseph Mboya (1930-1969) was one of the principal leaders of Kenya's independence movement. His tragic death undoubtedly prevented him from fulfilling a career as one of the great East Africans of the 20th century.

Tom Mboya was born about Aug. 15, 1930, at Kilima Mbogu, near Nairobi, where his father, a Luo tribesman from Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, was employed on a European sisal estate. Since his parents were Roman Catholics, he attended a series of mission schools, completing this phase of education at Holy Ghost College, a secondary school located near his birthplace. Mboya then left school so that the family's limited funds could be used to educate his siblings. He next enrolled in a program of the Kenya Medical Department for training as a sanitary inspector (1948-1950).

Here Mboya's first political inclinations became apparent when he was elected president of the student council. On successfully completing the course he accepted employment in Nairobi (1951-1953), devoting his abundant energies to union work. He helped to found the Kenya Local Government Workers Union, comprising employees of the Nairobi City Council, and became its general secretary (1953-1957).

Mboya's increasing involvement in union affairs led to difficulties with his employers, and he soon resigned his position as sanitary inspector to participate fully in union work; by 1954 he had developed his organization into one of Africa's most successful unions. The European-dominated society of Kenya had been struck by the Mau Mau resistance movement in 1952, and Mboya, already much impressed by the leadership qualities of Jomo Kenyatta, whom the British had sent into detention, gradually moved into politics. He was one of the few African leaders not to be detained during the years of the Mau Mau.

Mboya joined Kenyatta's party, the Kenya Africa Union, and served as its acting treasurer until the organization was banned by the British in 1953. With open political action made virtually impossible, Mboya worked for the same ends through the labor movement, especially through the Kenya Federation of Labour; he was its secretary general from 1953 to 1963. This work brought him into the orbit of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. In 1958 Mboya was elected to its board, and he became an increasingly well-known member to the European and American supporters of the confederation. Within Kenya he gained his first general fame for his role in the Mombasa dock strike of 1955, where his involvement helped the workers to gain a 33 percent pay raise. Realizing his need for more education, Mboya attended Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1955 for a year's study.

On returning to Kenya, Mboya entered directly into politics; he was elected to the Legislative Council in 1957. He rose in importance as Kenya went on to independence. When it was achieved in 1963, he gained Cabinet rank as minister of economic planning and development, continuing to exercise a predominant role in the affairs of his country until his assassination in July 1969.

Further Reading on Thomas Joseph Mboya

Alan Rake, Tom Mboya (1962), offers a very personal biography. B. A. Ogot and J. A. Kieran, eds., Zamani (1968), places his career in historical perspective.

Additional Biography Sources

Goldsworthy, David, Tom Mboya, the man Kenya wanted to forget, Nairobi: Heinemann; New York: Africana Pub. Co., 1982.