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Mboya As A Minister

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Pamela Mboya and family, relatives, and friends, Honourable Ministers, Fellow Panellists, ladies and gentlemen.

I am truly honoured to be among this distinguished panel of speakers in honour of the memory of one of the greatest sons of Africa and one of the foremost architects of modern Kenya.  At a young age of 39, Tom Mboya had accomplished more than most human beings ever hope to attain in their life time.  He had built one of the most effective trade union movements in Africa and had effectively used the movement as a tool for independence.  In his mid-twenties, he was the youngest Member of Parliament (Legislative Council) representing a multi-ethnic constituency.  He was an eloquent spokesman of the interests of the downtrodden.  In the words of eulogy of President Jomo Kenyatta, at his Requiem Mass, Kenya’s independence would have been seriously compromised were it not for the courage and steadfastness of tom Mboya.

But to Tom Mboya, independence was not an end in itself.  Unlike Kwame Nkrumah, who exhorted his followers to “seek the political kingdom first, and all the other things will be added to them”, to Tom Mboya, independence was a means to creating a modern, sovereign nation state, giving Kenyans a sense of nationhood, and of engendering prosperity with equity so as to fight the scourges of ignorance, poverty, and disease.  This comes out very clearly in his book, Freedom and After.  In his capacity as the Minister for Labour, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and most notably, Minister for Economic planning and Development, Tom Mboya strove tirelessly, selflessly, and courageously to achieve this dream.

It is in the above context that we should look at Tom Mboya as a Minister.  And in doing so, we should look at his multiple roles as a man with a vision for Kenya, a policy maker, an institution builder, and a manager.

Tom Mboya was a man with a vision for Kenya.  I have already alluded to his conviction that independence was a means to other ends.  His vision is best captured in the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965, on African Socialism and Its Application to Planning in Kenya.  This paper visualized Kenya as a nation with a growing economy and citizens enjoying higher and growing per capita incomes equitably distributed.  It was vision of a nation of healthy and educated individuals productively employed to better their lot and those of their families and the nation as a whole.  It envisaged emergence of modern and vibrant nation firmly founded on the best of the traditions and cultures of African society.  It saw a nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.

To achieve that vision, policies had to be put in place in relation to ideology, international relations, economic structure, ownership of property, and systems of economic sanctions and rewards.  The hottest debate then was on ideology.  The world was raven by isms: capitalism, communism, scientific socialism, Fabian socialism, African socialism, and many other isms.  Tom Mboya pushed for a variant of African socialism, which advocated for a mixed economy, a mixed ownership of productive assets, an economy open to international trade and capital, and an economy guided by principles of efficiency, equity, and fairness.  By sheer force of personality, persuasiveness, and political astuteness, Tom Mboya carried the day.  And this document has served Kenya well.  It was, and still remains, a masterpiece of ideological architecture.  It provided flexible guidelines in charting the economic future of the country, and spared the country the ideological turbulence which has been the fate of many countries in Africa and beyond during the last 15 years.

Tom Mboya was policy maker par excellence.  Policy making is about making choices.  And the choices are always difficult.  To many policy makers, it is tempting to opt for short-term political gains at the expense of long term national benefits.  Tom Mboya always opted for the policy choice, which will confer long-term benefits to the greatest number of Kenyans, and to the nation as a whole.  A few examples will illustrate this point:

In formulating the first National Development plan, 1964 – 1970, hard choices had to be made between public consumption by way of free education, free health, and housing or public investment in agriculture, infrastructure, and the enterprises sector.  Although clearly desirable, at that time, the economy could not afford provision of free social services.  Tom Mboya, therefore, pushed for free education at tertiary level, i.e. Forms V and VI and university because at that level it was affordable and met the immediate manpower needs.  Public investment was directed towards in the productive sectors.

The results were impressive.  Gross Domestic Product grew at more than 7 per cent annually in real terms and more than 10 per cent in nominal terms.  Government revenues grew by more than 20 per cent annually in nominal terms.  With a growing economy and government revenues, the government and household could afford paying for education, and other social services and by early 70s, primary school enrolment was more than 100 per cent.

A second example was on housing.  Tom Mboya represented Kamukunji Constituency, which then had the biggest slums in Kenya.  He was under pressure to demolish the slums and replace them with modern high-rise apartments.  This was politically appealing but financially unaffordable.  Urban housing problem is first and foremost an income problem.  There is no point in building good houses if the poor cannot afford to own, rent, or maintain them.  Instead of pushing for unaffordable houses, Tom Mboya opted for site and service scheme, which provided the poor with, serviced plots and encouraged them to build decent houses for themselves.  Perhaps the biggest policy challenge to Tom Mboya was on family planning.  Kenya’s population was growing at 3.2 per cent annually in 1960s.  it was clear that the economy could not provide a decent standard of living with that rate of population growth.  But as a practising Catholic, family planning posed an ethical dilemma to Tom Mboya.  He asked the economists in the Ministry to prepare a concept paper on family planning outlining clearly its rationale and its pros and cons.  He pondered over it, was convinced of its merits, and discussed it with Cardinal Otunga.  His intention was not to persuade the Cardinal to accept family planning, but rather for the Cardinal to at least understand the reasons why Tom Mboya would be pushing for family planning.  Despite his faith, Tom Mboya was one of the few voices promoting family planning in 1960s.  The examples just enumerated are illustrative of Tom Mboya’s approach to policy making.  An approach informed by political courage, rationality, analysis, and long term well being of the majority.

Tom Mboya was equally aware that policies do not operate in a vacuum.  Policies are formulated and implemented within and institutional framework.  He was therefore an institution builder.  As the Minister for Labour, Tom Mboya fashioned the industrial relations institutions, including COTU and the Industrial Court, which have served this country well.  As the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, he domesticated the Lancaster Conference Constitution, which, despite its subsequent amputations, has served this country over the last forty years.  And as a Minister for economic Planning and Development, he created a vibrant institution, which has stood the test of time as evidenced by the presence of the Minister for Planning and National Development with us here today.

Finally, Tom Mboya was the ultimate economic manager.  He brought to bear all his intellectual brilliance, capacity for hard work, and political skills and clout in translating policy decisions into action.  He was accessible to his staff, no matter how lowly.  I recollect that in mid 1960s, I was a mere economist, which in civil service hierarchy, is seven grades below a Minister.  In a normal bureaucracy, it is rare for such a junior officer to have access to a Permanent Secretary, let alone a Minister.  But with Tom Mboya, we all had free access to him as long as we had something useful to say.

He was a good listener.  He read all the memos, briefs, and policy documents very carefully, asked searching questions, internalised the information, and acted on it.  He took a maximum of three days to react to any memo from any officer.  But one had to do his homework.  Tom Mboya did not tolerate mediocrity.  If one did not perform, he had no place in Tom Mboya’s team.

Despite his pro-active management style, Tom Mboya respected separation of civil service from politics.  The job of a civil servant was to provide accurate and timely information and professional advice.  It was up to him to assess its political feasibility.  And if the advice was professionally sound, technically feasible, and economically viable, Tom Mboya invariably accepted it and ensured that it was implemented.  For a young professional, this was an exhilarating experience.  There is nothing more satisfying to anyone than seeing his ideas translated into national development agenda.

And Tom Mboya rewarded merit and hard work.  One of the major shortcomings of Kenya’s civil service is its tendency to under-reward the professionals.  This was still the case in 1960s.  In order to motivate his professional staff, the first thing Tom Mboya did as a Minister for economic Planning and Development was to ensure that an attractive Scheme of Service for Economists and Statisticians was put in place.  He also ensured that those among his staff who were competent and dedicated were rewarded with accelerated promotions.  By the same token, the lazy and incompetent were weeded out.

Above all, Tom Mboya was a true Kenyan.  During his tenure as the Minister for Economic planning and Development, four Permanent Secretaries served under him – a Mkamba, two Luhyas and a Kikuyu.  His Chief Planning Officer was a Kikuyu.  The Chief Economist was a Mkamba.  And the Chief Statistician was an Indian.  Of the eight economists in the Planning Department of his Ministry, three were Kikuyu, two were Luo, two were Luhya, and one was Indian.  Tom Mboya created a working environment in which the guiding principle was professionalism and not one’s ethnic background.  Talking to Tom Mboya, it never occurred to me that I was a Mkamba talking to a Luo.  I was an economist talking to a brilliant Minister.  To me, this was one of the greatest joys of working with Tom Mboya.

And as we celebrate this evening with Tom Mboya, let us recollect a few highlights of his life as a Minister.  Let us remember about his commitment to nation building, his passion for promoting dignity of the African and improving the well being of all Kenyans, his many talents, and his willingness to put them to the service of his country, his political courage and willingness to take hard economic choices in the face of opposition by vested interests, and his capacity for hard work.

Tom Mboya, development was nothing other than intelligent and efficient application of effort.  In his eulogy during Tom Mboya’s requiem mass, Samuel Ayodo extolled Tom Mboya’s capacity for hard work.  That is a befitting legacy of Tom Mboya to all of us today.

Tom Mboya would have been 75 years had his life not been cut short so cruelly 36 years ago.  Those responsible for that dastardly act were cowards.  They were incapable of competing with tom Mboya in the political arena.  Had he lived, he would have contributed enormously to this country.  But even in the short span of seven years that he served as a Minister, his contribution to Kenya, then and now, is unequalled.  As a nation, we are still living off the legacy of policies and institutions that tom Mboya bequeathed us.  For that we should be grateful.

Thank you.