Mboya, Njonjo and their unbridled ambition to gain political power

Courteous of Daily Nation By FITZ DE SOUZA

President Jomo Kenyatta in a cheerful mood with his Vice President Daniel arap Moi, Tom Mboya
Founding President Jomo Kenyatta in a cheerful mood with his Vice President Daniel arap Moi, Tom Mboya and Mr Charles Njonjo at the Nairobi Airport turn-off. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

In Summary

  • Kenyatta, I think, never really liked Tom, but as always, it was a question of who was using whom, and how far Kenyatta would allow it to go.
  • While Tom might be losing friends in Parliament, he was still a force to reckon with, aligned with Kenyatta and very much at the centre of government.
  • He was, however, a Luo, and here lay his second problem, tribalism: The more he pushed himself forward, the more determined were the Kikuyu that he should not take over.
  • The question now was would he give up trying or would he have to be stopped somehow?

As Mboya’s star had risen, others, jealous of his youth and appeal, saw the power he was wielding  within the government and feared that Kenyatta had become too dependent on him

The student airlifts to America had also raised his international profile, and since 1960, when he became the first Kenyan to appear on the cover of Time magazine, there was an image around the world of Tom Mboya as a charming, dynamic and progressive young statesman, destined for great things.

CHARM

He was certainly ambitious. Anyone entering politics at that level, given the intelligence, would want the top job, and though he never said so, it seemed to me that everyone was aware of his desire to take over from Kenyatta at the first opportunity. He knew he would need a lot of Kikuyu support, though, and he had virtually none.

One man who did back him was James Gichuru, to whom he would often give drinks. Gichuru owned a bar on Campos Ribeiro Avenue and one night he invited Tom to meet him there. Also present was Charles Njonjo. I had known Charles in England, where, referred to as ‘the senior chief’s son’, which he was, he was regarded as a kind of monarch in waiting, a ‘prince of Kenya’ who would one day be king. Those who held this impression knew little about Kenya. Charles had an upper-class air and spoke like an English aristocrat, with tremendous charm and self-assurance – “Lord Charles of Kabeteshire” as the young Africans called him.

In London in 1948, when we started the East African Students Association with myself as Literary Secretary, we had only one African and were taken in by Charles’s charisma. The British members appointed him president, but he never took part in debates or our visits to the House of Commons, except on one occasion when he told off a Conservative MP quite strongly.

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