For most Americans, one dynamic young man, Tom Mboya of Kenya, symbolizes the onrush of African nationalism in the last few years. On his several trips to the United States, he has been publicized in rallies, television shows, and newspaper interviews. He is, for America, the magazine cover boy of Africa. But despite all the American cheers, Mboya is in deep political trouble at home, and some of the trouble stems from those very cheers.
Mboya has qualities that appeal to western taste. He is vigorous. He is efficient. He is moderate, though always frank and direct, in his speech. He seems to combine the shrewdness of a politician with the honor of a statesman.
Even the British settlers in Kenya, long displeased with the American encouragement of Mboya, have now come to regard him as a main hope for their survival when the colony becomes independent, perhaps some time this year or next. They trust him and would help him. The vision of an independent Kenya led by Mboya has replaced their shattered dream of a white man's Kenya.
But Mboya, now thirty-two, will not be at the helm when Kenya becomes independent. Kenya's first prime minister will be Jomo Kenyatta, convicted ten years ago of charges of managing the Mau Mau rebellion. Kenyatta, however, is now past seventy, and most observers expect that the country's leadership will pass to a younger man not long after he has savored the honor of leading his country to independence.
There are many forces in Kenya now maneuvering to make certain Mboya is not Kenyatta's successor. The power of these forces should reach a head in the next election, the final one before independence. No date has been set either for the election or for independence, but the British Colonial Office removed Sir Patrick Renison as governor last November 17 and named Malcolm MacDonald, known as a colonial trouble shooter, to take his place. Some observers interpret the switch as a step toward speeding independence, and the critical election that could decide the fate of Mboya may be just a few months away.
Mboya, long a trade-union official, now is Kenya's minister of labor and general secretary of KANU (the Kenya African National Union), the colony's majority party. After years on the outside, he entered the government early in 1962 when his party formed a coalition with KADU (the Kenya African Democratic Union). He immediately faced difficult trials of his patience and skill. With Mboya in the government, the trade unions, possibly egged on by his opponents, suddenly choked Kenya with a series of strikes. Mboya's opponents gleefully watched the discomfort of the former union leader as he set about getting the men back to work. Mboya warned them that no country as poor as Kenya could afford to let its economy be crippled by strikes. If need be, he said, the government would abolish the right to strike. At the same time, he put pressure on the employers, mostly Britons, to stop living in their colonial past and begin recognizing the rights and dignity of their African workers. A series of impartial commissions were appointed to judge the disputes, and most of the unions went back to work.
Mboya's warning to the unions was typical of the kind of blunt and realistic talk he has employed more and more frequently as Kenya moves closer to independence. Many African nationalists, jockeying for power, often have been guilty of wild and sometimes harmful promises in the last stretch before independence. But Mboya continues to talk sense and reality. ". . . If we are going to build this country, it is going to call for sacrifices from all of us," he has said in the legislative council. "And these sacrifices must be forthcoming now, or by independence time it will be too late to recover."
His critics consider such statements a mere grandstand play for the non-African world. The Kenya press, mainly run by Britons and Asians, prints these statesmanlike orations and gilds them with glittering headlines. But, say the critics, his lofty appeals for sacrifice do more for his ego than his politics: few Africans heed or hear his words.
Critics view his statesmanlike words as no more important than his statesmanlike appearance. Since he accepted the post of minister of labor, his appearance has changed. His eyes often seem heavy and tired. Although he sometimes can be caught joking with fellow members of the legislative council, his usual public manner now is terse and reserved. In the eyes of his critics, these changes are part of a studied attempt by the young Mboya to make himself seem like a mature western statesman.
A Ban That Boomeranged
In short, Mboya, the symbol of African nationalism to the West, has become the symbol of western influence to some Africans. Neither image reveals his true role in Kenya today. His position is both complex and vital. Only a short excursion into recent Kenya history can help explain it.
Mboya was a young health inspector in Nairobi when the Mau Mau outburst rocked Kenya in 1952. This rebellion, steeped in blood and terrorizing rites, arose among the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest and most politically conscious tribe, making up a fifth of the population. The rebellion was nourished by the refusal of the British settlers to make any concession at all to Africans demanding some elected voice in the government. The British declared a state of emergency and jailed nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu. To the white settlers, Kenyatta was the evil force that had inspired and managed Mau Mau. At the cost of $155 million and 13,547 dead - all but 124 of them African, and many of them killed by the Mau Mau - the British destroyed Mau Mau in four years.
During the emergency, the British barred all Kikuyu from taking part in politics. African political leadership had to fall to members of other tribes. Mboya, a Luo, was one of the new men who filled the breach left by the jailing and restriction of the Kikuyu leaders. In 1953, Mboya won leadership of the Kenya Federation of Labor. Since the British had banned African parties after Mau Mau, union leadership gave Mboya one of the few avenues to political power in the colony.
But the British did not want to see men like Mboya attain the political power once held by Kenyatta. Convinced that the Mau Mau was fathered by Kenyatta's Kenya African Union, the dominant political movement of Africans at the time, the British permitted only district political organizations when they let Africans form political associations again in 1955. No colony-wide organization could be formed. This prohibition restricted Mboya's overt politics to bossing a district party in Nairobi, the capital. He did, of course, gain some national fame: in 1957, Nairobi Africans elected him as their representative on the colony's legislative council. He also won some prominence throughout the colony by his leadership of the Kenya Federation of Labor. But the British watched his activities closely to make sure he did not turn the labor movement into a national political party.
Mboya began making his international contacts less than five years ago. At the age of twenty-eight, he was elected chairman of the All African People's Conference in Ghana. The election at so early an age brought him notice in the United States. He also decided to link his labor movement with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the non-Communist organization supported by the AFL-CIO. This contact brought him American money to build up the Kenya Federation of Labor. He further used his contacts in America to collect university scholarships for Kenya students. Without doubt, the admiration in America, when translated into money for unions and scholarships, helped Mboya at first to build up some national support at home despite the restrictions of the British.
This American aid angered the British settlers. Mboya was considered a radical nationalist, continually crying "one man, one vote." He aimed to destroy the system that allowed sixty-seven thousand European settlers more representation in the legislative council than six million Africans. Today his slogans seem almost clichés, conforming to the mainstream of nationalism that has carried most of Africa to independence in the last few years.
By 1960, the British government and the white settlers yielded to the onrush and agreed to a constitution that would give Africans control of the legislative council. Although many observers assumed that Mboya would dominate the African majority, he never had a chance. Neither did any of the other active African politicians. The British ban on national parties had made most of them local bosses instead of national leaders. Although Mboya had broken through this confinement somewhat, it had crippled him enough to make national command impossible. The only man who could command a national following was the imprisoned Jomo Kenyatta.
A strange election followed. While Kenyatta was under guard in the northern wastelands of Kenya, all the African politicians, including Mboya, campaigned in late 1960 and early 1961 on a platform pledging loyalty to Kenyatta. His release and eventual leadership were the only issues. Mboya's enemies tried to defeat him by accusing him of betraying Kenyatta and seeking power for himself. Mboya had to counter with new pledges of loyalty to Kenyatta.
The election eventually led to Kenyatta's freedom. KANU won the election but refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released. The British then allowed the minority KADU to govern, but this solution did not work. Kenyatta finally was freed, and became president of KANU. Mboya, as general secretary, became one of his lieutenants. No one doubted that Kenyatta, named a minister of state, would become prime minister of Kenya at independence. His lieutenants soon began a struggle for the succession. At first, Mboya seemed the likely winner. Perhaps this persuaded all the other strugglers to concentrate their energy on destroying him.
The Old Guard Grumbles
In the past few months it has become clear that Mboya's path to power in Kenya is blocked by many forces. First, he faces the opposition of the nationalists jailed with Kenyatta during Mau Mau. They resent the young upstart who assumed leadership while they languished in jail. They feel that the British stole ten years of their lives, and they mean to make that up as soon as possible. These bitter men look on Mboya as a usurper.
None of these men took part in the last election. But the British now have released them all, and they are using their martyrdom to attract votes and gain control of the governing KANU Party. One of them, Paul Ngei, recently marched into the party headquarters in Machakos, shut it down, and then reopened it with himself as chairman.
Kenyatta, who seems to be a weak, ambivalent party president, has not made it clear whether he sides with the old guard or with Mboya. Without doubt he has a sentimental attachment to the men jailed with him. But they have never had the responsibility of participating in government. Kenyatta knows that he needs the skills and experience of Mboya and other young men like him.
Kenyatta has attempted to placate both factions of his party, for he feels he needs a united party to ensure his election as the first prime minister of Kenya. But the unity has been shaky. The battle between old and young within the party should come to a head in the next election, expected some time this year.
Mboya also faces opposition from a young element in the party - the Kikuyu intellectuals. These are the young men who spent the emergency years studying in universities and have returned only recently to Kenya. Their opposition is difficult to analyze, for on the surface it would seem that the hard and straightforward thinking of Mboya would attract them.
Part of their opposition simply stems from tribalism, although each one would deny this vehemently. But Mboya is a Luo, and they are Kikuyu. The Kikuyu, besides being the largest Kenyan tribe, are the most progressive. These young Kikuyu intellectuals should be the lieutenants of Kenyatta. Mboya, they think, has taken their place.
Another aspect of their opposition simply stems from snobbism. They have a university education; Mboya has not. This snobbism may be a reaction to the chip on Mboya's shoulder. On occasion Mboya has indicated his distaste for all intellectuals - a strange distaste, for he ranks among the most intellectual of African politicians. Some Kenyans attribute his attitude to an unwarranted feeling of inferiority.
A third force opposing Mboya comprises a group of personal enemies. Mboya can be arrogant and ruthless, and he has aroused jealousy by his conquest of the world press. "We all would get angry," said one Kenyan who studied in America, "when he would come to the United States, make speeches, and get credit for everything." Many Kenya politicians have a strong personal dislike for him or feel that he has hurt them in some way. Despite his moderate and statesmanlike tones, Mboya can, if he sees fit, call out his young followers to smash an opponent's political rally.
His most vociferous enemy in Kenya is Oginga Odinga, the vice-president of KANU. Although Odinga often attacks Mboya on ideological grounds, almost every politician agrees that the quarrel is personal. Odinga, an older Luo, evidently feels he is due more respect from his fellow tribesman. Some observers believe he always has felt that the spotlight on Mboya was stolen from him.
Finally, Mboya faces opposition from anti-western elements in Kenya. Communist money has filtered into the colony, and almost all of it goes to Mboya's enemies. Most of the financing of Odinga's political campaigns comes from Moscow.
Communist ideology has made less headway than Communist money. Although Odinga issues rabid antiwestern statements from time to time, few observers believe he is a Communist. He simply is an enemy of Mboya, using help from any source. In fact, there is a tendency in Kenya to accept this Communist interference as a part of the political game. Many Kenyans believe that Mboya's political power is based on American money. Thus it seems only fair to them that Mboya's enemy, Odinga, should derive his own power from Russia, the enemy of America.
Mboya denies that he receives any money for himself from America. He states he has seen American funds only in the form of aid to the Kenya Federation of Labor and of scholarships to students. But almost every politician in Kenya believes Mboya's pockets are stuffed with American money; and in Kenya politics, belief usually is more important than fact.
Kenya's awareness of the admiration for Mboya in America contributes to this image of him as a puppet of the West. Communist money would be less tolerated in Kenya if Mboya seemed less western.
The extent of the opposition, most of it in his own party, poses a dilemma for Mboya. He may feel that KANU suffers under the vacillation of Kenyatta, but he can make no attempt to step in and tighten the organization. Such a step would provoke cries from his opponents that he was betraying the leadership of Kenyatta, the national hero. And Mboya, as a result of the British restrictions on parties after Mau Mau, does not have the national organization and following to buck Kenyatta.
Mboya is marked as an ambitious young man. His opponents do not have the same problem. Mboya has tried to brand his opponents as usurpers. At a recent press conference he attacked the "opportunists who hang onto Kenyatta's coattails." "To win their point," he said, "they wave Kenyatta's flag and pretend to be his only supporters while their true motive is to build their own personal positions and entrench themselves, and win his favor and the favor of the people." Without doubt, Mboya's analysis fits the Kenyatta situation, but he has difficulty convincing Kenyans that his opponents are more self-seeking than he. Any move made by Mboya seems generated by ambition; and ambition, in the context of Kenya politics, means betrayal of Kenyatta.
One answer might be for Mboya and his supporters to leave Kenyatta's party and join the minority KADU. If this realignment could attract other elements in Kenya, KADU might then become the colony's majority party. But the majority would be a hollow one. No party could rule Kenya against the opposition of Kenyatta and the skilled, nationalistic Kikuyu tribe.
Mboya will probably continue serving as a lieutenant of Kenyatta's while trying to strengthen his position behind the facade. In a sense, this means Mboya will have to continue fighting with one hand shackled. His chances for attaining full power in independent Kenya some day are far from bright. But Mboya is a tough, resourceful political fighter. Although he has no national following, he has demonstrated often that he is a powerful vote-getter in Nairobi, even among members of other tribes. (He won ninety per cent of his district's vote in the last election.) No one should count Mboya out. But he has a tough struggle ahead, and American cheers will be of no use to him in the fight.