Tom Mboya was born on April 15, 1930 in Kilimanbogo on a Sisal Estate near Thika town in what was called the ‘White Highlands’ of Kenya . His father Leonardus Ndiege was a sisal cutter. His mother, Marcella Awour, named him Odhiambo, a Luo name signifying birth in the evening. He was baptised Thomas and was later called Joseph at his confirmation as a catholic. He was later to be better known as Tom Mboya.
Tom Mboya, started school in 1939 at the Kabaa Catholic Mission School in what was then the Ukamba District of Kenya. In 1942 he joined a Catholic Secondary School in Yala, in Nyanza province. In 1946 he went to the Holy Ghost College, Mangu, 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.
Tom Mboya’s trade union activities started when he joined the Nairobi City Council in 1951. By 1952, he had been elected President of the African Staff Association, where he developed the association into a trade union. In 1953, Mboya ran into trouble with his employers, who were concerned about his trade union activities and was given notice of dismissal, which subsequently led him to give the City Council his notice of resignation. However, before his notice had expired, the authorities sacked him.
By this time he had helped found and register the Kenya Local Government Worker’s Union , serving as its Treasurer. Later the Union became affiliated with the Kenya Federation of Labour, and in October 1953, he was elected General Secretary of the Federation, which was a full time trade union post (Mboya, 1959). While working as a trade union official, Tom Mboya enrolled for a Matriculation Exemption Certificate with the Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa, majoring in Economics, which was aimed at improving his education (ibid, 1959). In 1955 he went to Ruskin College , Oxford to pursue further studies, returning to Kenya in 1956.
Tom Mboya joined active politics in 1957, when he successfully contested and won a seat in the then colonial Legislative Council and later in 1958, founded the Nairobi People’s Congress Party, which became one of the strongest parties in Kenya in the late 1950’s. He was able to use his trade union links across the country to rally supporters to join the party.
In 1958, during the All-Africa Peoples Conference, convened by Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana , Mboya was elected the Conference Chairman at the early age of 28. While in Ghana he gained greater insights into nationalist and anti colonial organisational struggles that was to prove a vital asset in his struggle for his own country’s independence. He was later instrumental in forming the Kenya African National Union (KANU), becoming its first Secretary General when it was founded in 1960.
When Kenya attained self-government rule on June 1st 1963, Tom Mboya became the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, a position he was able to utilise in shaping a future independent Kenya. In December 1964, Kenya became a Republic, with Mboya being appointed the Minister of Economic Planning and Development. He was later instrumental in putting together the famous Sessional Paper No.10: “African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya “, which continued to be the ‘guiding philosophy of the KANU government decades after Mboya’ (Gimode, 1996).
Tom Mboya was gunned down outside a pharmacy on a Nairobi street on 5th July 1969, which to many observers was seen to be the result of ethnic tensions (between the predominant Gikuyu and Luo tribes) that had gripped the nation and become a common phenomenon in post independent Kenya. He was a rising star in the Kenyan political landscape and his contribution to the independence struggle and post independent era was remarkable for a man who truly had a passion for nationalism and development.