Thomas Joseph Odhiambo ‘Tom’ Mboya was a Kenyan trade unionist, educationalist, activist, and cabinet minister who was one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya. He spearheaded the negotiations for Kenyan independence and was instrumental in the formation of Kenya’s independence party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which he served as Secretary-General.
Born in 1930 in Nairobi, Tom would go on to train as a sanitary inspector at the Kenya Medical Department, where he was elected president of the student council. Tom devoted his energies to union work, helping to found the Kenya Local Government Workers Union. He gradually moved into politics, joining the Kenya Africa Union as Acting Treasurer, and would become the General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour. Tom helped secure a 33 percent pay rise for dock workers in 1955.
In 1955 Tom attended Ruskin to study Industrial Management and, on returning to Kenya, he went into politics and was elected to the Legislative Council in 1957. In 1958, at the age of just 28, Tom was elected Conference Chairman at the All-African Peoples’ Conference. He helped build the Trade Union Movement across Africa, and served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). In 1959, he formed the first All-Africa ICFTU labour organisation.
Mboya worked with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to create educational opportunities for African students. This enabled East African students to study at American colleges and notable beneficiaries of this cultural shift included Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and Barack Obama Sr., the father of Barack Obama. Tome became the first Kenyan to appear on the front page cover of Time magazine.
Tom was instrumental in the talks with the UK and colonial government to negotiate Kenya’s independence in 1964. In the Independent Republic of Kenya, he was appointed as Cabinet Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. He created Kenya’s social security scheme and established a court to hear labour-management cases. Tom was later appointed Minister of Economic Planning and Development. In this role, he wrote a key paper on the Principles of African Socialism, which would be adopted by Parliament in 1964 and provided a model of government based on African values.
Tom was one of the most prominent personalities in Kenyan history, with an illustrious career as a brilliant and charismatic leader and a hugely influential force in the development of modern-day Africa. He was considered a genuine contender for the presidency of Kenya, before he was assassinated on the streets of Nairobi in July 1969.