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How Mboya fought back but lost the battle

Posted by African Press International on July 4, 2008

By Peter OrengoIn this second installation on the life and times of Tom Mboya, we revisits the intrigues in the first post-colonial Cabinet that primed the former minister for an early grave.

A serious ethnic power game and a premature Kenyatta succession battle erupted towards the close of the 1960s, providing a fertile ground anyone could use to hatch an assassination plot, The Standard can reveal.

This played out beneath the popularity and growing stature of Thomas Joseph Mboya, who was shot dead by a lone gunman on July 5, 1969, 39 years tomorrow. The killing bore all the hallmarks of a political assassination.

On June 4 1964, Kenyatta received a letter from the Office of the President minister Mbiyu Koinange about an East Africa Federation meeting that the minister did not attend in Kampala, Uganda.

Koinange was responding to an earlier letter by Mboya, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

President Kenyatta (front row, fourth from right) with some of the members of the first post-colonial Cabinet.

In the two-paragraph letter, Koinange pledged and reiterated his personal loyalty to Kenyatta and questioned Mboyas intention in questioning his absence from the meeting.

Koinange wrote: “Sir, you know of my loyalty to you personally, to our Kanu party; of my long loyalty to Kenya and latterly my loyalty for our new independence Council of Ministers.

“I frankly feel there is no need for me to reply to Mr Mboyas letter. It is unfortunate, ill-timed, egoistic and, if I may say so, an irresponsible letter skilfully designed by one of my colleagues to endanger the good working spirit among us.”

Mboya responded 10 days later: “It is with reluctance that I feel I must write in response to Mr Koinanges letter to you dated June 4 on the subject of the working party meeting held recently in Kampala, which he failed to attend.”

He went ahead and derided Koinange: “We waited for Mr Koinange for more than three hours, but he made no effort to send a message about his illness.

“With regard to Mr Koinanges loyalty and his attitude to federation, this is really his own problem and has nothing to do with me, or the letter I wrote you.”

Mboya went on to say Koinange should contact him for discussion instead of reporting the matter to Kenyatta.

Two years later, the two leaders traded accusations, this time corresponding between themselves, on protocol and consultation. A December 16 1967 letter by Koinange reads in part: “His Excellency the President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, appointed the Hon Joseph Murumbi, the Vice-President, to preside over meetings of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Protocol wars

“It is out of place for you to have suggested that our colleague, the Minister for Finance, the Hon JS Gichuru, should arrange for a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee members to be held in (his) Conference Room And that he should convene a meeting of all ministers under (his) chairmanship. This definitely interferes with the appointment made by the President and should, therefore, be void.”

Mboyas reply was strong and full of innuendos: “I must confess that I am a bit at a loss as regards the comments that you made. I never intended to suggest that he (Gichuru) should take over the management of the Foreign Affairs Committee All I said was that he should facilitate the convening of such a meeting so that these matters (ministers conditions of service) can be resolved.”

Mboya said his personal feeling and duty were to communicate to his colleagues ideas he came across in his travels outside or inside Kenya.

To him, this did not mean interfering with the portfolio of another minister.

“I regret that you should have read anything in my letter which should in any way mean that I thought that Mr Murumbi was no longer responsible for his duties.” He added: “Interpretations which you somehow manage to read into the letters! Perhaps the best thing in communicating with fellow ministers is not through letters, but by discussing problems together.”

The Odinga factor

While the Mboya-Koinage wars were raging on, Jaramogi Oginga Odingas Kenya Peoples Union (KPU) was plotting how to cut down his popularity. This came in the form of a Motion in July 1967 by Mr Oduya Oprong to censure Mboya for allegedly being a CIA agent.

Oprong, born in 1936 and a former Assistant minister and MP for Amagoro, was among politicians who joined Odinga to press for the release of Kenyatta and others from detention before independence.

The Motion was overwhelmingly defeated, and Mboya wrote two letters, one to the Press and another to Kanu members. Mboya termed the evidence tabled in the House as “a discredited attempt at reviving forgeries of 1959”, which he had fought in 1960.

He said it was a poor attempt by the opposition (KPU) to use a book, CIA and American Labour, which merely quoted from another document to smear him.

He said: “This is a case of one being declared guilty by association. The fact that some American trade unionists may be proved to have been associated with the CIA does not lead to the conclusion that anyone or an organisation from Africa who had any contact with American trade unions is a CIA agent.”

Mboya wondered why the Motion was tabled weeks after a Chinese paper attacked his character. To him, this was a campaign designed to sow seeds of suspicion and confusion among MPs and Kenyans.

He called on everyone to be vigilant, since masters behind these activities do not give up easily. He also added that “during Kenyas struggle for independence, we had to seek many friends and assistance from countries around the world”.

Mboya probably made things worse for himself by the clinical and ruthless methods to consign his nemesis, Odinga, to political oblivion. Mboya played a key part in watering down the Independence Constitution to concentrate powers in the presidency.

The manoeuvres did not stop with the Constitution. For instance, Mboya proposed a new Kanu structure in which the party would have eight vice-presidents, one from each of the countrys eight province.

This amendment sailed through and effectively wiped out the power base of Odinga, then the party vice-president. Jaramogi resigned. But Mboyas craftiness did not end there.

Rogue tactics

He led the first-ever delegation of Luo elders, businessmen and intellectuals to visit Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi. A memorandum was presented to the president assuring him of their loyalty to his leadership.

“There are too many careless and reckless statements abroad and here, branding all Luos supporters of KPU and hence anti-Government. What you see here, your Excellency, are the true leaders of the Luo,” Mboya said.

Another constitutional amendment, this time in Parliament, requiring that any candidate who changed political parties seek fresh mandate from the people, swiftly sailed through.

Many people believed that Mboya was being groomed by Kenyatta as a potential successor, a possibility that worried the ruling elite. When Mboya suggested in Parliament that a number of Kikuyu politicians, including members of Kenyattas extended family, were enriching themselves at the expense of other Kenyans, the situation became highly charged.

On July 5 1969, Mboya was slain and the assassin was Kikuyu. This pushed animosity between the Kikuyu and Luo to a new high.

Allegations linking the assassin to prominent Government officials were dismissed, and in the ensuing political turmoil, Kenyatta banned the opposition party, KPU, and arrested Odinga, the leader.




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