Tom Mboya will always be remembered as a great trade unionist and as a great son of Africa. Mboya was a self made man, he worked hard, was generous to the poor and a strong Pan-Africanist who was committed to total liberation of Africans in Africa and Africans in Diaspora. He presided over the 1st all African peoples conference and was in touch with the African Leaders in Diaspora like A. Philip Randolph of USA trade unions Michael Manely of Jamaica.
I met the mate Mboya in 1952, he was working with the City Council, but he was still in touch with the Medical Training Centre and his school of hygiene. We were taking part in a debate at the Mbagathi postal Training Centre.
We remained in touch, and until in 1953, when he the late W. W. Awori and the late Water Odede took over the leadership of Kenya African Union, when Mzee Kenyatta and his colleagues were detained, they invited active students leaders. We remained in touch until KAU was banned and Odede detained in Kwale.
When Mboya finished his training as health Inspector he joined the City Council. Council workers were allowed only to form a staff Association. Mboya joined the Association and changed it to a trade union (local government workers union). The mayor and who was Reggie Alexander and city authorities refused to recognise the union. Mboya took them to tribunal and won the case. One of his colleagues during this local government struggle the late James Karebe remained his friend for life.
In 1952, his union joined the Kenya Federation of Registered trade unions and he took over as Secretary General in place of Aggrey Minya. He and his group changed the national unions name to Kenya Federation of Labour. Mboya expanded the international platform, which Minya has built, attaching colonialism and the state of emergency.
Kenya Federation of Labour became the Kenya Africans Voice, during emergency when all political parties were banned. KFL lead the struggle for the release of detainees and for liberty.
In 1956 when Mboya was in Europe he made a speech, which attacked detention and how Africans were being treated. The settlers in the Legislative Council moved a motion to ban KFL and it took Mr. Arthur Ochwada who was Ag. Secretary General of the KFL, sometimes to negotiate a compromise to save KFL.
Mboya settled the Dock Workers major strike and arranged with international plantation Union to support the late Japhet Gaya and Jesse Mwangi Gachago to organize plantation workers. He was very keen on this he told us because he was brought up in the plantation, where his father was a plantation worker at Kilimambogo.
What are Mboya’s legacy in Kenya?
Mboya built the present COTU (K) headquarters. It is from that building in 1961, where Mzee Kenyatta left to go and address his first public rally on 20 October 1961 at City Stadium.
Mboya introduced and left for Ngala Mwendwa to finalize the present NSSF.
Mboya worked on Tripartite Agreement, which has been used as a guideline not just in Kenya but in Africa.
In East Africa, Mboya visited Tanzania and helped Hon. Kawawa to form the Tanganyika Federation of Labour and in Uganda worked with Lwande to create Uganda Trade Union Congress.
Mboya was also for a while Africa’s Regional Representative of the International Confederation of Free Trade unions at that level he was able to help the movement in the whole Africa.
Early 1958 Mboya sent Gideon Mutiso and me to Accra, to attend a preparatory committee of the All African Peoples Conference. Later that year 1958 Nkrumah invited Mboya and Dr. Kiano to All African Peoples Conference, which brought Pan-Africanism home. Before that time all Pan-African meetings were held outside Africa.
Mboya had a great commitment to Pan-Africanism. It must be remembered that he had just returned to Kenya from Addis Ababa, where he was attending a meeting of the Economic Commission for Africa, when he was brutally assassinated.
There are many questions still unanswered, why was he assassinated at that time. Others have said that it was the succession battle, between Mboya and his group and what was known as Kiambu Mafia.
If there was a free and fair contest, was it possible for him to lead Kenya? Many people believe he would have won. Then another question is would Kenya be better under?
Yes, he hated corruption and was against individual massive wealth. He believed in fighting poverty and unemployment. We in the trade union movement have remembered him by building TOM MBOYA LABOUR COLLEGE. I am glad the present COTU (K) Secretary General Mr. Francis Atwoli is renovating it and trying to elevate to a workers centre for high education.
I am surprised that other Kenyans, including hundreds who benefited from Tom Mboya airlift to America have not thought of a proper memorial for this great son of Kenya.
Tom and I argued and at times disagreed ideologically, but we remained friends and we indeed recognized and appreciated each other’s points of view.
I want to thank Chief Maina Kiai, of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights for arranging this function. I hope you can do it to others as well.