Ready or Not

It was the biggest African political rally in Nairobi’s history. Under the hot sun, 20,000 blacks packed into African Stadium, sang and chanted as they waited for the returning hero, just back from London.
Then a mighty roar went up, and there came Tom Mboya on the shoulders of his excited supporters. Around his shoulders was a black skin cape. The sleepy eyes danced with pleasure, and a grin split the gleaming, satin-smooth black face.

With a wave of his fly switch, Tom brought the throng to sudden silence. “My brothers,” he cried, “today is a great day for Kenya. When we left for London, the government was in the hands of the Europeans. Now it is we who can open or close the door. Kenya has become an African country!” With one voice, the crowd roared “Uhuru!” (Swahili for freedom).

“Whose Kenya is it?” shouted Tom. “Ours!” shrieked 20,000. Now the mob’s chant was in throbbing rhythm. “Are you tired of asking for freedom?” asked Tom. “No!” came the resounding answer.

As he left the stadium, thousands followed, pressing around his open Land Rover, which led the way toward the African locations. Alarmed, the police read the Riot Act through a loudspeaker, hurled tear-gas bombs, and advanced in a baton charge, finally dispersing the crowd in a hail of stones. But all that night in the dark streets of the African sections, the familiar cry echoed: “Uhuru!”
Sleepers Awake. In Nigeria, the cry was “FreeDOM!” and the Congolese yelled ” ‘depenDANCE!” Whatever its label, the spirit of self-rule was sweeping at gale force across Africa, last of the continents to awaken from the sleep of centuries.

On Africa’s broad western bulge facing the Atlantic, freedom is already established or imminent almost everywhere. There, independent Ghana, Guinea and Liberia will soon be joined by the rest of France’s fragmenting African empire. At least seven new sovereign African states will come into existence in 1960. First on the timetable was Cameroon; soon to come: Togoland, the sprawling, wealthy Belgian Congo, the Mali Federation of Senegal and French Sudan, little Somalia, and Madagascar. On Oct. 1, the 35 million people of Nigeria, most populous of all, will get formal independence. By year’s end, 180 million of the continent’s 240 million people will be under black rule.

For Africa’s 5,700,000 pioneering whites, it is a time of foreboding and doubts. “But are they ready for independence?” is the common question. A.D. 1960, the Africans have a quick and emphatic reply: Here we come, ready or not.

The Self-Assured. Many perils lie ahead as African colonialism gives way to the ferocity of raw new nationalism across a continent so large that the U.S., India, Pakistan and China together could fit within its boundaries. How it all turns out will depend largely on the new crop of young leaders rising to prominence in the peaceful revolution’s wake. They are a mixed lot: clerks, teachers, village firebrands, and bush politicians with considerable native talent but little background or experience for the task of nation-building. Yet they walk onto the world stage with uncommon self-assurance. A Patrice Lumumba, onetime postal clerk and jailbird in the Congo, debates Congolese independence on even terms with the skilled ministers of Belgium in Brussels’ Palais des Congrès. Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika enraptures sophisticated U.S. audiences on a coast-to-coast lecture tour. Kenya’s Tom Mboya, 29, who used to be courted only by English left-wingers, now holds forth suavely as honor guest in the private dining rooms of London’s largest banks and casually keeps a colonial governor waiting while he takes a shower.

Twenty years ago, handsome Tom Mboya was just another barefoot child in the untamed highlands of East Africa, where his people had only recently discovered the uses of the wheel. He was born to illiterate parents on the dried cow-dung floor of a grass-roofed hut on the sisal (hemp) estate of Sir William Northrup McMillan, who, a local yarn has it, won his 34,000 acres of Kenya highlands with a throw of the dice in Nairobi’s Norfolk Hotel bar.

Tom Mboya has come a long way from his origins, but he remembers them and their rigid social order: at the bottom were the African workers, earning $3 a month in the sisal fields; then came the Indian shopkeeper, who sold them kerchiefs, trinkets and tobacco; on top were the few whites around.

“Do not set yourself against the white man,” warned Tom Mboya’s father, a sober, hard-working Jaluo tribesman who was the African headman at the farm’s sisal-processing plant. “He is too powerful, and you cannot change him.” But Tom Mboya recalls how riled he was at the sight of the stern estate manager, whom the Africans in fear called Bwana Kiboko—the boss who carries the hippo-skin whip.

Scrawling in the Sand. Making the princely local sum of $7 a month as headman, his father could afford the luxury of school for Tom at Kabaa mission, 25 miles away, where Roman Catholic priests were Irish and the fees were $14 a year. There, at nine, Tom scrawled his lessons in the sand under a shade tree, for classrooms were crowded and blackboards nonexistent. At his next school, St. Mary’s, near Lake Victoria, the lessons for the first time were in English. He was no prodigious scholar, and no leader, but he liked singing, acting, and especially debating. His teachers noted another characteristic, a deep aversion to violence. No one recalls a single fist fight or angry argument; when the kids ribbed him about his soprano voice and his chubby figure, he laughed it away.

He barely passed in history, but he did absorb a few ideas: the American revolutionary slogan, “No Taxation Without Representation,” echoed in his mind, and he wrote an enthusiastic paper on Napoleon—”Here was a man who defied the whole world.” Later, at the Holy Ghost College (high school) at Mangu, he learned about Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington. But the missionaries discouraged his political questions and, irritated, he abandoned his plans to enter a seminary, forming a bitterness toward the church that he retains to this day, though he still considers himself Catholic (“My disagreements are not with the faith, but the church has been very weak in its position on the colonial question; it has tended to defend the status quo”).

The Voice of Kenyatta. Tom’s high school days ended when his father could no longer afford to help with the fees. But this shock was to give him his political start. He took a free, three-year public-health course in Nairobi to qualify as a sanitation inspector with the city government, and began slipping off to hear the fiery political speeches of Jomo (“Burning Spear”) Kenyatta, the famed Kikuyu leader. As a city official, Tom Mboya noted bitterly, his job paid $30 a month for work that brought white inspectors $140, and the whites drove official cars and wore street suits, while Tom was expected to go about his duties on a bicycle and dressed in uniform.

Nor was he pleased when one day a white woman walked into the health-office laboratory to have a bottle of milk examined. “Is nobody here?” she asked of Tom, who was alone in the lab. “Madam, something is wrong with your eyes,” replied Mboya. Stomping out, the woman huffed: “I must have my work done by Europeans. This boy is very rude.”

From then on, say his former official superiors, Mboya had little time for his job. Instead of going out on inspections, he held court in his office, taking up and then taking over the Africans’ municipal union. Jomo Kenyatta’s scowling photo hung in the most conspicuous place on Tom Mboya’s office wall.

Hard Work & Play. Dark storm clouds were gathering over Kenya’s lovely land of smoke-blue mountains, deep forests and lush green pastures. For the white landowners, some of them from England’s titled families, carving farms out of virgin bush had been hard but rewarding work, producing some modest fortunes. They lived well, and when the sun went down, they played hard. Upcountry, there was cricket, polo, and pink gins on the terrace for the retired military and naval officers, whose modest pensions stretched farther in Kenya than they did in the changing social order back home in England. In the free and easy atmosphere, few of the 30,000 whites (in a land of 6,000,000 Africans) made much note of the brooding hatred of the million-strong Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest tribe, who fiercely resented the white intrusion.

The Kikuyu are a people of dark and mystical dreams whose legend relates that when Ngai (God) first divided up the world, he held Kenya in such affection that he kept Mount Kenya as his favorite resting place. He told Gikuyu, the first Kikuyu, that if difficulty ever arose, Gikuyu should make a sacrifice and raise a hand toward Mount Kenya, and Ngai would help. Not far away, under a fig tree, Gikuyu found a beautiful woman, Moombi, to be mother of the Kikuyu race. Later, when their nine beautiful daughters needed husbands, Gikuyu sacrificed a lamb and a kid under a fig tree, smeared their blood on its bark, faced Mount Kenya, and saw his daughters’ wishes come true.

From this legend came the Kikuyu deep veneration of their mountain and the earth of its endless slopes. The Kikuyu looked with bitterness on the 12,700 sq. mi. of land especially reserved for European settlers, the rich “white highlands” whence comes most of Kenya’s lucrative coffee, tea, sisal and pyrethrum. The whites in rebuttal said that their highlands were never Kikuyu territory but a neglected no man’s land between contending tribes, and that the Kikuyu had badly farmed their own reserve north of Nairobi, leaving it poor and eroded.

Return of the Native. In 1929, fierce, bearded Jomo Kenyatta, wild-eyed Kikuyu spokesman and student of telepathy, magic spells and Kikuyu lore, journeyed to London to demand the white man’s land and political rights for his people. After 15 years in London and two in Moscow, he returned to Kenya to set up a network of bush schools, which spread antiwhite propaganda and upheld such barbaric Kikuyu rites as female circumcision,* which the missionaries and government officials had tried to stop. District officers stumbled onto fanatic ritual meetings in forest clearings. Later, word spread that tens of thousands of Kikuyu were taking fierce oaths of loyalty to a strange creed called Mau Mau, sealing the bond by drinking blood and waving cat corpses in the air as they sat facing the holy mountain.

In 1952, marauding Mau Mau gangs began darting out of the Aberdare hills to slaughter white farmers and hack their cattle to death, and the government declared a national emergency. It is generally agreed that Mboya played no part in the savage three-year revolt. But he had been an active member of Kenyatta’s Kenya African Union.

When Kenyatta, accused of fostering Mau Mau, was sent to serve a seven-year prison term in the Northern Frontier
Province, Tom Mboya volunteered to help out, and Kenyatta’s successor as K.A.U. president, Walter Odede, recognizing a talented propagandist, made him public-relations officer of the party. Odede, in turn, was locked up in March 1953, and Mboya became acting treasurer, despite an order from Kenyatta sent through clandestine channels: “He is a very young man and I’ve only met him once, so do not confirm the appointment.”

As K.A.U. treasurer Tom helped raise funds for Jomo’s defense, and still insists that Kenyatta was not guilty of engineering the Mau Mau terror, which before it ended took the lives of 84 whites, of more than 1,500 Kikuyu who fell under the Mau Mau pangas for failing to support the movement, and of 10,500 terrorists, killed by police and soldiers. Mboya himself had a close call when police raiders stormed into his office during a roundup and opened fire, wounding a colleague sitting next to him. The government’s ruthless countermeasures (including the arrest of 35,000 people in one day) disturbed Tom as much as did the revolt itself.

Moving Up. With so many Africans being arrested, Mboya rose to increasing prominence. “All of a sudden I was just in it,” he recalls. “People looked to persons like myself, for after all, we had no elected members in the government to speak up for the Africans.” Tom’s Luo tribal origins saved him from landing in jail—the police were scouring Nairobi for the Kikuyu, and their Embu and Meru allies.

Technically still on the city payroll, he spent most of his time expanding his local union to a Kenya-wide municipal workers’ organization and had a sharp eye on the big Kenya Federation of Labor, with which he affiliated his expanding group. When K.A.U. was finally banned in mid-1953, the federation became the ideal nationwide group for organizing African political ambitions. He elbowed his way to the top job, general secretary. He was 23.

Lesson in India. Tempers have cooled somewhat but many Kenya whites still agree with a crusty pioneer, Colonel Ewart Scott (“Grogs”) Grogan, 85, who thinks the government should have strung Mau Mau bandits from every lamppost in Nairobi. Some, like Kenya’s able, liberal ex-Minister of Finance Ernest A.

Vasey, believe that Mau Mauism is an ugly symptom of deeper illness. Industrious the white settlers may be, and hopelessly primitive the majority of Africans, but how long can the Africans be kept out of power in a land where they outnumber the Europeans 92 to one?
Under the new constitution for Kenya that British Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton introduced in 1954, one lone African was appointed to the Cabinet—but left out of important decisions and conferences. Young Tom Mboya rejected the new constitution, as did most Africans. Besides, he found himself being lionized by foreign labor leaders, who offered him encouragement, advice and, best of all, money. In 1954, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions paid Mboya’s expenses to a labor seminar in Calcutta. There, he was shocked by a poverty even worse than Kenya’s but much impressed by India’s development projects. “What I saw made me completely aware that independence must be looked upon as a means to an end but not an end itself.”

He liked the American trade unionists he met in Calcutta better than the British T.U.C. representatives, who considered him a cheeky, young know-it-all. Next year he won a year’s scholarship at Ruskin College at Oxford, where he sat at the feet of such eminents as G.D.H. Cole, Kenneth Robinson, and Margery Perham, and breathed the heady socialism of Harold Laski’s Grammar of Politics. “I still have the greatest feelings for Oxford,” Mboya says. “It was a very impressive year.” And, he adds, it impressed Europeans back in Kenya. With new confidence, he went to the U.S. for a lecture tour, met Walter Reuther, George Meany and David Dubinsky, and went home with a $35,000 A.F.L.-C.I.O. gift to build a new union headquarters in Nairobi.

He returned to find breathtaking changes under way. The government had just raised the number of Africans in the Legislative Council to eight out of a total of 58, and for the first time Africans were to be elected, not appointed. Restrictions against African political activities were relaxed slightly. In a free-swinging campaign, Mboya won a Nairobi seat against a rising young African hothead named C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek, a lawyer since disbarred.

Already Mboya was developing a tactic successful for him and infuriating for his opposition: haggling, reaching agreement, then rejecting what had been agreed upon as not enough. Soon he was in London demanding more: one man, one vote, on a common roll. Fearing violence, the Colonial Office agreed to bring African membership up to parity with elected Europeans on Legco (the legislative council). But appointed Europeans guaranteed a continued white majority, and Mboya led a boycott by the African members.

The Watershed. Mboya was forcing the pace. But probably not even he expected the overwhelming success that 1960 was to bring. Six weeks ago, Mboya and the entire African elected membership sat down at London’s Lancaster House for a round-table conference with British and Kenya government officials and delegates of white and Asian settlers. Last week they arose with the outline of a totally new Kenya. Its main terms:

  • A common voting roll and an expanded franchise that would raise the number of eligible African voters to perhaps a million in new elections next spring.
  • A 65-member legislature in which Africans seem certain of 37 seats, a clear majority.
    A new Cabinet in which Africans are promised several ministries.

A bill of rights, still to be drafted, guaranteeing equality and protection of property rights by judicial safeguard. But the old system of reserved lands for separate races (including the white highlands) would be swept away.

It is a crucial decision for Africa. Now, the certainty lies ahead that for the first time a large permanent white population will come under the rule of black men in Africa. “A death blow to the European community in Kenya,” cried stunned Llewellyn R. Briggs, sometime R.A.F. Group Captain, Kenya landowner, and leader of the extremists in the London talks. At his 8,000-ft.-high home near Limuru, blond Farmer David Simpson sat staring into the flickering fireplace. “A bloody shame. This lovely country, 90% developed by European capital and sweat, is being completely buggered up.”

Approximately 600 highland farms are up for sale, many of them at cut prices by owners who talk bitterly of leaving the country. Half a dozen of the angriest settlers were at Nairobi Airport to greet homecoming Michael Blundell (see box), the moderate who accepted the new plan in London and bravely agreed to try to sell it to his fellow whites. One kept booming through a bull horn: “Shame, shame; shame on you! We have been betrayed by you, Mr. Blundell!” Others cried, “You rat!,” and their leader, wiry little highlands farmer, Major Jim Hughes, 63, hurled a handful of coins at Blundell’s feet, shouting, “Here are 30 pieces of silver for you, Judas—go on, pick them up!” (Said Blundell later: “It’s due to his living at 8,300 feet.”)

Vote for Some. Tom Mboya was exultant: “We have exploded once and for all the myth of white supremacy.” Now it was his task to sell the plan to the doubters and the angry among his own Africans. There were some of both, for Mboya and his delegation were not returning with all they had promised. He had sworn to settle for nothing less than one man, one vote, but in London he accepted a franchise still limited to those who can read or write, or are over 40, or are earning at least $210 a year. He had promised “Uhtiru today!,” but he will not have full independence tomorrow, or perhaps for three or four years. Even the African majority will not take effect until early next year.

But Mboya had taken what he could get from Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod, and he proclaimed, at his own big welcome-home, that the agreement was just “an instrument to use” in getting more—and getting it more quickly. “As to the future of white settlers, there’s no room for anyone who does not believe in undiluted democracy. Those Europeans who hesitate have only one alternative, and that’s to sell out and leave.”

The violence of Mboya’s language, delivered with a pleased smile, reflected his own increased self-confidence and his shrewd tactical awareness that he dares not let any African leader grab a more extreme position for independence than his. To the crowd of 20,000 gathered in Nairobi’s African Stadium, Mboya pledged, to the biggest cheers of the day: “We will not rest until Kenyatta is back with us.”

The big challenge to Mboya’s leadership revolves around the famous exile in faraway Lodwar village. The legendary Kenyatta remains the idol of every Kenya African. If Kenyatta is angry with Mboya’s compromise, Tom is in for trouble, for, after all, he is a mere youngster in the eyes of some Kikuyu politicians, who were fighting for African rights before Mboya was born. Cautiously, Tom says: “I have never represented myself as a replacement for Kenyatta. When he comes back, we will all accept him as our leader,” and he adds: “It does not make much difference to me. I am not in this for personal gain.” One Kenyatta associate says that Jomo, a man of harsh action, “does not like Mboya’s talk-talk-talk way of doing things.”

But those who have seen Kenyatta recently say that in his 60s he is an alcoholic wreck. There are younger challengers to Mboya too, and his Luo origin remains a handicap among the Kikuyu, who resent the fact that the Luos stayed out of the Mau Mau troubles and inherited good jobs in Nairobi.

Westerns & Thrillers. In the hope that he will get practice in governing, Colonial Secretary Macleod is trying to persuade Mboya to take one of the three major Cabinet posts that will be handed over to Africans after next year’s elections. But Mboya will probably prefer to snipe from outside, from the security of the second-floor offices in Nairobi, which are the headquarters of his People’s Convention Party and of the Kenya Federation of Labor.

Bachelor Mboya lives with a younger brother, 15, in a rented yellow-stucco duplex, and is one of the few Africans in Kenya who has a houseboy and a telephone. He gets up between 5 and 6 and dictates his correspondence and orders for the day into the fancy new Dictaphone he keeps at home. By the time he arrives at the office, smartly dressed, each morning around 9, the dingy hall outside is filling with long lines of visitors, 200 or 300 a day, who want his attention on union matters, advice on jobs or marriages, or seek scholarships to American colleges under the Jackie Robinson-Harry Belafonte fund that he runs (to date it has sent 81 students to the U.S.). He tries to see all comers, and his office is usually swarming with people talking at the same time. He sits at his green metal desk, sleepy-eyed but taking it all in. Sometimes, to get away, he goes off to an afternoon movie (favorites: westerns and thrillers).

At night, after dinner, he often goes to work alone in a hideaway upstairs office, where he can hear the sounds of the best dance band in Africa, arising from the first-floor exclusive Equator Club, which is open to white hunters, rich settler types, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Ruark, and Hollywood visitors—but not to Africans. Except on trips, Mboya has little time these days for the nightclubs and dancing he loves (he once shook the maracas in a dance band), or for the many girl friends, not all of them African, whom Tom has always attracted. His current flame is Pamela Odede, 21, slender, poised, and graceful daughter of Tom’s former K.A.U. chief, Walter Odede (who after seven years is still being held without trial). They were secretly engaged long before she left last September for Western College in Oxford, Ohio, where she is a junior on a scholarship arranged by Tom.

Sensational in Swahili. By most who know him, Tom Mboya is respected but not loved, for the hard climb up the ladder has tempered his shy, modest personality with a clinically detached coldness and an occasional ruthlessness that angers enemies and saddens friends. He is courteous and correct, but a hard man to know. He lacks the warm, friendly charm of the African he admires most,
Tanganyika’s Nationalist Julius Nyerere (see box). But on Legco’s debating floor, few can match his organization of a case or his smooth command of English. And he is second only to Kenyatta as a Swahili orator, whipping African crowds into a frenzy of chants and shouts by the skillful rhythm of his speeches.

“Tom always acts as if he has a majority,” says one of his rivals, “and he gets away with it.” If he emerges as the head of an African-led Kenya, what then? In the new states of Africa, independence by no means brings a net gain in individual freedom, as the roughly handled opposition party in Ghana has come to realize. The one-party system is the predominant pattern so far in emerging Africa.

“Often there is no room at first for a ‘loyal opposition,’ for its sole aim after independence could only be overthrow of the independence movement itself,” says Tanganyika’s Nyerere. Mboya, too, is a professed democrat, but he does not guarantee that pure Western-style freedom can be achieved. “I am flattered by those who demand perfection from us,” he says. “The paraphernalia of Western democracy are not necessarily best suited for Africa . . . New nations are bound to experiment with the institutions they inherit.”

Mboya is firmly committed to a land-reform program that would split up the idle portions of large estates, but not to the wholesale expulsion of Europeans from the 12,700 sq. mi. of white highlands. “We must treat land as a national asset, encourage African ownership and cooperatives where necessary. We hope to acquire the land voluntarily—and pay fair value,” he says, but he opposes specific constitutional guarantees to protect the minority whites. A strong bill of rights, he insists, is all that is needed: “Either people trust us that we are sincere or there is very little that can be done.”

Future Republic? He sees the Kenya of the future as a republic (within the British Commonwealth “unless something very drastic happens”), committed politically to neither East nor West but guided by the Western principles of freedom, which have molded his own rise to influence. For all his forays into British socialistic thinking, he knows the need for Kenya to attract capital investment.

When he is off the platform and not being demagogic, he seems well aware of the lack of trained Africans to run the country, the need for the good will, the energy and skill of the European settlers, and the necessity to deserve, in order to get, large injections of foreign aid. Tom Mboya hopes the Europeans will stay in an African-run Kenya, developing a Kenya loyalty (why should they remain Europeans, he asks, when in Canada they become Canadians?).

Mboya speaks as a man of good intentions. But even if Mboya’s intentions are to be trusted, there is no assurance that wilder men like Argwings-Kodhek, or Kenyatta’s fierce activists, will not rise to power, hurling democratic principles out the window. As Michael Blundell puts it: “It requires a lot of faith.”

But the uncertainty is, in many ways, the white man’s own fault. Everywhere in Africa, the European has waited too long before giving a share of responsibility to the black man. In the Congo, the Belgians have trained not one single African lawyer or administrator who might move into high office with skill and confidence; yet the Congolese become completely independent on June 30. There, and in other areas, the danger of bloodshed, violence, and retrogression is great as the scramble for leadership and power begins. But Africa no longer will accept such doubts as a valid reason for putting off independence. From millions of throats came the over whelming message—here we come, ready or not.

*Actually clitoridectomy, practiced for generations to reduce tribal maidens’ sex urges in order to promote chastity before marriage.

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