Activist Politician Trade unionist

Tom Mboya

Quick Facts

IntroKenyan politician
Was Activist
Trade unionist
From Kenya
Type Activism
Birth 15 August 1930, Ol Donyo Sabuk
Death 5 July 1969, Nairobi, Nairobi County, Kenya
(aged 38 years)
PoliticsKenya African National Union, People’s Congress Party
Spouse:Pamela Mboya


Thomas Joseph Odhiambo “Tom” Mboya (15 August 1930 – 5 July 1969) was a Kenyan trade unionist, educationist, Pan Africanist, author, independence activist, Cabinet Minister and one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya. He spearheaded the negotiations for Independence at the Lancaster House Conferences and was instrumental in the formation of Kenya’s independence party, KANU, which he served as its first Secretary General. He laid the foundation for Kenya’s capitalist and mixed economy policies at the height of the Cold War and set up several of the country’s key labour institutions.

Mboya’s intelligence, charm, leadership and oratory skills won him admiration from all over the world. He gave speeches, debates and interviews across the world in favour of Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule and spoke at several rallies in favour of the civil rights movement in the United States. In 1958, at the age of 28, Mboya was elected Conference Chairman at the All-African Peoples’ Conference convened by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He helped build the Trade Union Movement in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and across Africa. At one time, he served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). In May 1959, Mboya called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria to form the first All-Africa ICFTU labour organisation.

He worked with then United States Senator John F. Kennedy (later president of the US) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to create education opportunities for African students; this effort resulted in African Airlifts of the 1950s – 60s, which enabled African students to study at US colleges. One of the beneficiaries of this airlift was Wangari Maathai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1960, Mboya was the first Kenyan to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine of the United States.

Early life and education

Thomas Joseph Odhiambo “Tom” Mboya was born in Kilima Mbogo in Central Kenya, to Leonardus Ndiege and Marcella Awour, who were low income sisal farmers. He studied at St.Marys school, Yala for A-level and later

sat for a Cambridge School Certificate in 1946 at Holy Ghost College (later Mangu High School). He attended Royal Sanitary Institute’s Medical Training School for Sanitary Inspectors at Nairobi, qualifying as an inspector in 1950.

Career and politics

Mboya started working for the city of Nairobi and became involved with the trade union. While still 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. In 1955 he went to Ruskin College, Oxford to study Industrial Management.

While employed by the Nairobi City Council as a sanitary inspector, Mboya was elected as chairman of the African Staff Association. He developed it into a trade union, which became known as The Kenya Local Government Workers Union. When the colonial government refused to recognize the union, Mboya sued for recognition and won. In 1953 during the Mau Mau War for Independence, Jomo Kenyatta and other leaders of the independence party, Kenya African Union (KAU), were arrested. They asked Mboya to take up leadership of the KAU and continue the struggle.

However, the government banned the KAU. Mboya turned to using the trade unions as a platform to fight for independence. He was elected as Secretary General of the Kenya Federation of Labour (KFL), the umbrella body for trade unions in Kenya. In that role, Mboya gave speeches in London and Washington against British atrocities in Kenya; he also organized several strikes seeking better working conditions for African workers. At that point, the colonial government nearly closed down the labour movement in the effort to suppress his activities. Mboya reached out to other labour leaders across the world, more so in the ICFTU, including American A. Philip Randolph, with whom he was close. Mboya raised funds to build a headquarters for the KFL.

In 1956, after Mboya had returned from the United Kingdom, the colonial government allowed black Africans to run for office and serve in the Legislative Assembly. Tom Mboya was elected from Nairobi. He was elected secretary of the African Caucus (Called African Elected Members Organization – AEMO) and continued a campaign for independence, as well as seeking freedom for Jomo Kenyatta and other political prisoners. He used his incredible diplomacy skills to get support for the independence movement from foreign countries.

In 1961, Jomo Kenyatta was released and together with Oginga Odinga and Mboya, they formed the Kenya African National Union. It negotiated with the UK and colonial government to set conditions for Kenya’s independence in 1964. Mboya was instrumental in the talks. He also designed the flag for the new republic.

Kenya gains independence

In the Independent Republic of Kenya, Mboya was appointed as first Cabinet Minister for Labour. He created the National Social Security Fund, Kenya’s social security scheme. He also established an Industrial Court to hear labour-management cases. He was later appointed to the Economic Planning Ministry. Together with Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki, he issued Sessional Paper 10, which defined Kenya’s form of economic policies. Mboya’s development plans at the Ministry were credited for Kenya’s development rate of 7%, which was sustained during his tenure as the Planning Minister.

Marriage and family

He married Pamela Mboya (née Odede) in 1960 at St. Peters Clavers Church, Nairobi. They had five children: Maureen Odero; Nairobi First Lady Dr. Susan Mboya; Luke Mboya; Peter Mboya; Patrick Mboya. After Tom Mboya’s death, his widow Pamela Mboya had another son, whom she named Tom Mboya, Jr. in his honour. She was appointed as an ambassador.

Death and legacy

Mboya was fatally shot by Nahashon Njoroge in a 1969 on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) as he was leaving a chemist; it was suspected to be a political assassination. Outrage and despair over his assassination led to riots in the major cities of Kenya. Mboya was buried in an emotional ceremony at his Rusinga Island ancestral home. President Jomo Kenyatta gave a eulogy at Mboya’s requiem mass, saying of his colleague, “Kenya’s independence would have been seriously compromised were it not for the courage and steadfastness of Tom Mboya.”

  • A statute of Mboya was installed on Moi Avenue, where he was killed.
  • The nearby busy Victoria Street was renamed Tom Mboya Street in his honour.


Thomas Odhiambo Mboya was born on 15 August 1930 in Kilima Mbogo, near Thika town in what was called the White Highlands of Kenya.


Mboya was educated at various Catholic mission schools. In 1942, he joined a Catholic Secondary School in Yala, in Nyanza province, St. Mary’s School Yala. In 1946, he went to the Holy Ghost College (later Mang’u High School), 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. In 1955, he received a scholarship from Britain’s Trades Union Congress to attend Ruskin College, Oxford, where he studied industrial management. Upon his graduation in 1956, he returned to Kenya and joined politics at a time when the British government was gaining control over the Kenya Land Freedom Army Mau Mau uprising.

Political life

Mboya’s political life started immediately after he was employed at Nairobi City Council as a sanitary inspector in 1950. A year after joining African Staff Association, he was elected its president and immediately embarked at molding the association into a trade union named the Kenya Local Government Workers’ Union. This made his employer suspicious, but before they could sack him, he resigned. However, he was able to continue working for the Kenya Labour Workers Union as secretary-general before embarking on his studies in Britain. Upon returning from Britain, he contested and won a seat against incumbent C.M.G. Argwings-Kodhek. In 1957, he became dissatisfied with the low number of African leaders (only eight out of fifty at the time) in the Legislative council and decided to form his own party, the People’s Congress Party.

At that time, Mboya developed a close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who, like Mboya, was a Pan-Africanist. In 1958, during the All-African Peoples’ Conference in Ghana, convened by Kwame Nkurumah, Mboya was elected as the Conference Chairman at the age of 28.

In 1959, together with the African-American Students Foundation in the United States, Mboya organized the Airlift Africa project, through which 81 Kenyan students were flown to the U.S. to study at U.S. universities. Barack Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a friend of Mboya’s and a fellow Luo; he received a scholarship through the AASF and occasional grants for books and expenses, although he was not on the first airlift plane in 1959, since he was headed for Hawaii, not the continental U.S.. In 1960, the Kennedy Foundation agreed to underwrite the airlift, after Mboya visited Senator Jack Kennedy to ask for assistance, and Airlift Africa was extended to Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now Tanzania), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Nyasaland (now Malawi). Some 230 African students received scholarships to study at Class I accredited colleges in the United States in 1960, and hundreds more in 1961–63.

In 1960, Mboya’s People’s Congress Party joined with Kenya African Union and Kenya Independence Movement to form the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in an attempt to form a party that would both transcend tribal politics and prepare for participation in the Lancaster House Conference (held at Lancaster House in London) where Kenya’s constitutional framework and independence were to be negotiated. As Secretary General of KANU, Mboya headed the Kenyan delegation.

After Kenya’s independence on 1 June 1963, Mboya was elected as an MP for Nairobi Central Constituency (today: Kamukunji Constituency) and became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and later Minister for Economic Planning and Development. In this role, he wrote the important “Sessional Paper 10” on Harambee and the Principles of African Socialism (adopted by Parliament in 1964), which provided a model of government based on African values.


He retained the portfolio as Minister for Economic Planning and Development until his death at age 38 when he was gunned down on 5 July 1969 on Government Road (now Moi Avenue), Nairobi CBD after visiting Chaani’s Pharmacy. Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge was convicted for the murder and later hanged. After his arrest, Njoroge asked: “Why don’t you go after the big man?” Who he meant by “the big man” was never divulged, but fed conspiracy theories since Mboya was seen as a possible contender for the presidency. The mostly tribal elite around Kenyatta has been blamed for his death, which has never been subject of a judicial inquiry. Others blame supporters of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who feared that Mboya was attracting too much support from members of the Luo tribe away from him. During Mboya’s burial, a mass demonstration against the attendance of President Jomo Kenyatta led to a big skirmish, with two people shot dead. The demonstrators believed that Kenyatta was involved in the death of Mboya, thus eliminating him as a threat to his political career, although this remains a disputed matter.

Mboya left a wife and five children. He is buried in a mausoleum on Rusinga Island which was built in 1970. A street in Nairobi is named after him.

Mboya’s role in Kenya’s politics and transformation is the subject of increasing interest, especially with the prominence of American politician Barack Obama. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a US-educated Kenyan who benefited from Mboya’s scholarship programme in the 1960s, and married during his stay there, siring the future Illinois Senator and President. Obama Sr. had seen Mboya shortly before the assassination, and testified at the ensuing trial. Obama Sr. believed he was later targeted in a hit-and-run incident as a result of this testimony.

Personal life

Mboya’s father Leonard Ndiege was an overseer at a sisal plantation in Kilima Mbogo. Mboya married Pamela Mboya in 1962 (a daughter of the politician Walter Odede). They had five children. Their daughters are Maureen Odero, a high court judge in Mombasa, and Susan Mboya, a Coca-Cola executive, who continues the education airlift program initiated by Tom Mboya, and is married to Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. Their sons included Lucas Mboya, and twin brothers Peter (died in a 2004 motorcycle accident) and Patrick (died aged four).

After Tom’s death, Pamela had one child, Tom Mboya Jr., with Alphonse Okuku, the brother of Tom Mboya. Pamela died of an illness in January 2009 while seeking treatment in South Africa.


Mboya is commemorated by the Tom Mboya Monument in Nairobi.