I am pleased to join you in celebrating the short but highly eventful life of Thomas Joseph Mboya.
Some have called him the man Kenya wanted to forget. I am not convinced that is the case.
A few individuals may have wanted Mboya out; but Kenya certainly had and still has time for him.
Mboya’s life, like his death, changed Kenya remarkably.
On his death, the multi-ethnic alliance he meticulously cobbled and championed evaporated, tribal tensions rose, peace collapsed; patronage and favouritism took over and the once upbeat and forward looking Kenya took a gloomy turn that we are yet to fully overcome.
We are still caught up in the things Mboya caused to happen and that changed the day he died.
His sessional Paper Number 10 of 1969 continues to generate as much debate as it did the day it was published.
How great or otherwise the Sessional Paper remained the subject of intense debate, which is healthy.
Healthy nations vigorously review and debate their past as well as their future. Kenya must be no exception.
Two things stick out in Mboya’s life and career that should be of interest to the current generation.
One; it is not how long we live that counts for our nations and our people. It is what we do with the years, short or long, that we live.
Mboya lived for only 39 years. But he was able to pack an amazing array of heavy responsibilities and achievements into that short life.
Into those 39 years, he packed being a freedom fighter, Pan-Africanist, a Trade Unionist, a party leader, Kanu Secretary General, a Cabinet Minister and, more importantly, one of the founding fathers of the Kenyan nation.
Secondly, it is not where we begin in life but the path we choose to travel and the things and values we choose to stand for that matter.
With focus, discipline, honesty and patriotism, we can pick ourselves up and build our nations.
Mboya was the son of a sisal cutter. For long he lived in a two-roomed house in Ziwani Estate in the Eastlands.
He was never an overnight millionaire. We know he borrowed money from a bank to build his first house in Convent Drive.
But at no time did he consider himself a hustler. And he never wore his humble beginnings as some badge of honour, a bargaining chip, a promissory note that Kenyans had to honour or a road map to power and excuse to amass riches.
Through honesty and hard work, Mboya built himself and his country up, to the level that his name remains synonymous with Kenya.
Mboya’s life, therefore, remains an exemplification of what his friend J.F. Kennedy later immortalized in the words; “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Mboya did not believe that Kenya owed him because of what he had been through both in his private and public lives. Instead, he believed he owed Kenya and sought to pay his debt to the nation.
He believed he had a responsibility to contribute in some way to the good of his country and that of humanity. He believed in making a difference.
He had the ability to gaze into the horizon and internalize what his people and his country would need in the years ahead.
As Mboya fought for Kenya’s liberation from stubborn colonialists, he knew that the wazungu would certainly leave at some stage and there would be a gap that would need young Kenyans to fill for the nation to continue running.
Mboya knew Kenya and all African nations fighting for liberation needed to prepare the future workforce while the colonialists were still around.
That was certainly the reason and vision behind the student airlifts of the 1960s. He wanted Africans to study abroad then come back to manage their newly independent states.
That was also an indication of his belief in sound education and proper training as keys to sound management of the affairs of the state, not patronage, tribalism and favouritism.
Throughout his public career, he chose to see Kenyans as Kenyans and not representatives of tribes. When he had opportunities, he dished them out to the best qualified and the most deserving regardless of ethnicity.
Mboya’s life, therefore, exemplifies the Kenya that was and the Kenya that might have been.
In his book Freedom and After, he writes of “how harmful to Kenya was the man who saw only good in his own people and only evil in those of the other tribes.” Unbelievably, that is where we began as a country. We began as a nation that was blind to tribe and ethnicity and keen on ability and policies.
And Kenyans loved that kind of ideal and rewarded it. That is why Mboya was able to win the Nairobi Constituency parliamentary elections in 1957 and 1961 despite the fact that Nairobi was cosmopolitan.
So our fall from being a united, tribeless nation driven by merit and ability has been dramatic indeed.
It may well be the second fall of man, after the first fall as narrated in the Bible.
What we are today is not what we were or what we intended to be in the beginning.
But it is not doom and gloom and all is not lost.
Kenya still has men, women and young people who remain keen on the vision and mission of the founding fathers who included Mboya and they are keen to help our country retrace its steps.
It is also encouraging that as a nation, we have collectively taken notice of our fallen state and we are taking steps, however minimal or contested, to get back to that original vision.
On this 50th anniversary of Tom Mboya, we all need to rededicate ourselves to the vision of one indivisible nation driven by selflessness, honesty and hard work; a nation that works to safeguard the future of all its citizens.
We have outlined what is missing, using Tom Mboya life as a yardstick.
If Kenya is to survive the next 50 years, it will have to be reborn and the rebirth will have to entail a radical recommitment to our original high principles and ideals.
As the author and businessman Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar said. “It’s not where you start or even what happens to you along the way that’s important. What is important is that you persevere and never give up on yourself.” Kenya can’t give up on itself.
Nations that lived to achieve greatness are those that noted they had deviated, retraced their steps and started over again.
The rebirth of Kenya is therefore not optional.
It is a requirement. It is a must do. And we are on it. On this anniversary, my prayer is that we all get on board.