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Final journey of an icon, tribute to Pamela Mboya

When Pamela Arwa Mboya is finally laid to rest, Kenyans will have said farewell to one of its most elegant girls.

It was Mrs Mboya who was hardly 30 when an assassin’s bullet took away her charismatic husband on July 5 1969, who made the name Pamela popular with Kenyan parents. Many a girl have been so named, courtesy of her.

Mr and Mrs Tom Mboya at their wedding in 1961.

The mother of six breathed her last in a South African hospital on Monday, last week. She had just finished working on memoirs about her brief but eventful life with Tom Mboya.

"Apart from working on the memoirs, Pamela together with celebrated journalist Hillary Ng’weno were working on a Mboya documentary to be released on the 40th anniversary of his death in July," says Mr Peter Kenya, a lecturer at Kenyatta University.

"I have known Pamela since I was 17," says Kenya, a fellow native of Rusinga Island.

Polished and courteous

"I was startled by her sheer height, beauty, charm and eloquence. She was equally polished and courteous," he reminisces.

After surrendering Mboya’s documents to the national archives, she strived to have them included in a digital form at the Tom Mboya Foundation.

"In spite of her education and modern lifestyle, Pamela embraced the Luo culture as epitomised by her acceptance to be inherited by her brother-in-law, Alphonse Okuku with whom she had one child after her husband’s demise," says Kenya.

Unfortunately, the relationship was a fleeting one after which Pamela led a single but dignified life until her death.

Pamela when she was Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

Why had she to shift from the site of Mboya’s burial in Rusinga to Lambwe Valley?

Kenya: "Lambwe was a home to the Mboyas even when Tom was alive. They had a farmhouse there where they lived from time to time. Pamela shifted only in the early 1990s."Pamela when she was Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

Kenya also terms the claims that Pamela neglected her husband’s mausoleum as malicious and unfounded sentiments.

"If anything, the Government was to blame for delaying the acquisition of the premises by the National Museums of Kenya. And even after moving in, little has been done to improve it. Mboya’s mementos and other exhibits are still exposed to the elements," he says.

To prepare Pamela for the woman he intended to marry, Mboya plucked her from Makerere University to include her in the first airlift organised with the assistance of the Kennedy family where, among the beneficiaries was Barack Obama Sr.

On Tom Mboya’s assassination, Kenya says it was initially to be executed two weeks earlier at then Embakasi Airport.

"I had a week earlier overheard one Mr Clement Were tell Mboya’s bodyguard Joseph Ouma and his personal secretary, Otieno Nundu, that Mboya’s blood would be on their hands if he got killed."

Meet with fire

The two had refused to let him see Mboya with the damning report of his imminent assassination. Kenya says that after confirming the man’s information was not a rumour, he decided not to go to the airport.

"We were shocked at the airport when the chief of security, a Mr Nzioki said ‘if they think they can get him at the airport, they will meet with fire’ after they lied to him that Mboya was on his way to the airport.

Kenya says that in her latter years, Pamela was pushing for the truth on her husband’s murder to the extent of writing to the Kofi Annan mediation team. She requested to meet him in private to throw more light on the assassination.

She was keen on the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address historical injustices including her husband’s death, says Kenya.

The Mboya’s had five children including Ms Maureen Odero the Kibera Chief Magistrate and Ms Susan Mboya who has revived her father’s education airlift initiative with her Zawadi Africa Education Fund. Others are Luke Mboya, the late Peter Mboya and his twin brother, Patrick, who died at age four. With Okuku, Pamela had Tom Mboya Jr.

Her early education

Her father, the late Walter Odede who died in 1974, was a freedom fighter and among the first Kenyans to earn a university degree in veterinary science.

Born in Maseno, Pamela attended the prestigious Alliance Girls High School and then Makerere University where she studied sociology before proceeding to the USA for further education.

Her requiem Mass will be held at 10am this morning at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi.

She will be buried on Saturday at the Mboya home in Lambwe Valley.