As early as 1960, colonial intelligence reports had marked out Tom Mboya as a future political star and quietly nudged him to claim the void left by the incarceration of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
“He has had to contend with colleagues and assistants whose lack of principle, unreliability, dishonesty and narrow outlook make his achievements all the more remarkable,” Director of Intelligence and Security M.C Manby wrote in November of 1960.
So long as Kenya’s destiny continued to run parallel to his own ambition, Manby concluded, “there is no one on the prevailing political scene more ruthlessly competent to direct its course than Tom Mboya.”
But that was before the drums to release Kenyatta peaked. Jaramogi Odinga made it his business to expose the man, accusing him of holding “furtive meetings” with colonial bosses to groom him into a Chief Minister.
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It is said Mboya did not protest much nor did the circumstances favour him. While British secretary of state for colonies Iain Macleod had already ruled as unthinkable the idea of making Kenyatta the Chief Minister, Mboya was not so keen to fill the void upon reading the national mood that placed the next leader in Central.
Officials of the colonial administration added swell to the pressure, quietly admonishing him for lack of moral courage in refusing to seize up the opportunity that was lain before him, Keith Kyle writes in The Politics of the Independence of Kenya.
He was caught in between the two sides, and none gave him respite.
In the ensuing melee Odinga teamed up with Kenyatta’s daughter Margaret to openly fight Mboya. A few months before, they had almost succeeded in dislodging Mboya from the General Secretary post of Kanu when it was being formed, but he won with just one vote.
During the January 1961 primaries to qualify candidates for reserved seats, the anti-Mboya gang featuring Kenyatta’s daughter fronted Dr. Munyua Waiyaki as an independent candidate to oust him from Legco.
In reaction, Mboya’s wing led by party President James Gichuru suspended Odinga as Vice President of the party claiming they were determined not to allow another Congo to replay in Kenya.
The governing council of the party sat to listen to the grievances and in the end reinstated Odinga and warned Gichuru and Mboya. The Kabaa-educated man then set out to win the people, and prevailed in the end, beating Waiyaki like a drum.
He scored 31,407 against Waiyaki’s 2,668. But the pressure and isolation against him was unrelenting, so much so that on the day Kenyatta was released on August 13, 1961, the claim was that wandering around and out of place in Ichaweri while Odinga and his group were at the centre of things:
“It is particularly fitting that Kenyatta should have come back on the eve of my 31st birthday,” Mboya is said to have oddly remarked to a British journalist as he watched over Odinga getting lost in the dance of ululating women.
By the time Kenyatta formed the government, Mboya was already a marked man within his inner circle.