Where Mboya Went Wrong

By Kennedy Gitau

In 1956, Tom Mboya wrote a pamphlet titled The Kenya Question: An African Answer ?which has largely remained unknown to many. It was published by the infamous Fabian Society and can be found here. The pamphlet is short and expresses the grievances this young idealist had against the mistreatment of the indigenous population at the hands of the Settlers and British Government.

The pamphlet reveals the thought any educated, young man tend to have: radical in tone, futuristic, and impatient for change. One can imagine the nights Mboya spent writing and rewriting, trying to avoid being verbose without losing that strong mellow voice calling for a revolution. One can imagine a dimly lit dorm room at LSE, where he would pace from one end to another trying to put his thoughts together, looking for the best mix of vocabulary that would emanate positive reaction from his editors and publishers. Probably, he would take a shower, put on his best suit with a thin tie out of sheer belief that good apparel opens the mind into the world of best ideas.

However, upon reading, one cannot help but see Mboyas intellectual muscle was still nascent. He was twenty-six. Roughly the age most Kenyans achieve their undergrad. Mboya in a haste could not conceal his Marxist leaning. He saw the struggle in Kenya as that of classes: elite white minority, middle class Indians, and underclass blacks. The elite fighting to keep their positions of privilege by working the British government, the Indian seeking right to own land, and a mass of indigenous wanting to overturn the system and bring about the rule of the proletarians. The article itself, though, is dull, despite positive review from Megham who writes its forward has positive view of Mboya.

Mboya believed in principles of equality before the law for all. He also viewed society as an aggregation that owed its existence to allowing individuals pursue their own good. Government was a tool for society?a kind of guarantor; it was to be organized in such a way as to ensure individual maximum freedom consistent with the equal freedom of others. These precepts, he claimed, would only be implemented by each individual participating in his own government on the terms of equality with all other individuals in the society. In other words, it had to be a government of equals the rights the government had could not exceed those of the individuals, an anarchist view by implication.

But in a sudden twist, in a later paragraph, Mboya declared his acceptance of democracy, In which each individual [had] an equal voice in the choice of his government and an equal opportunity to express his opinion on its actions. Whether or not these opinions were to be heeded is left unmentioned, but I believe this where his intellectual seeds of confusion were sown. Had he stuck to his line of reasoning, Tom Mboya would have been led to advocate for a decentralized secessionist political system.

Oft, men of good intentions err. This occurs in the selection of the means to their sought ends. While one may excuse people of little influence from the errors of thought, those who hold premiere positions as public intellectuals? persons whose ideas have a bearing on public opinion must and should always severely be held to account. Kenya Federation of Labour while he began by identifying the end and means, he faltered on how the means establishment of government were to be employed, and thus by appealing to democracy he ended up conflating both the means and ends.

It takes little imagination to see how bankrupt democracy is: the postulate that comes with democracy is that we the people are the government. This useful term we the collectivist epithet tend to blur the reality of political life, for if we are the government, then anything that the government does is not only just and untyrannical, but also voluntary on the part of the individual concerned. To borrow an example from our present day, if Jubilee administration defied any sense of fiscal responsibility (of which it does) by taking up huge debt which will be repaid by taxing the individual more and thus restricting his consumption, one is to believe that the individual owes it to himself.

If a government agent, the police, for instance, extorted one, it is to be taken as if one robbed oneself, since one is part of the many the government thus one is government too. When the government pursued and jailed bloggers whose victimless crime is saying unkind words about the president or revealing the level corruption in government agencies, one is to believe it is they [the bloggers] who pursued and jailed themselves. When clerics were assassinated for practicing their freedom of speech, then they were to be regarded as having committed suicide. If government waged an illegal proxy war on Somalia on behalf of Western powers, one is to believe one waged it. Or could Mboya have regarded the Jews who were murdered by Nazis as committed suicide, since the Nazis were democratically elected.

Had young Mboya stuck to his stated principles, without naively accepting democratic propositions, the history of post independent Kenya would have been drastically altered. I believe had he kept consistency, he could left a different legacy: not that of a democratic nationalist, but champion of principles of subsidiarity and local self-determination, the best means to achieving a society of equality and justice for all.

Kennedy Gitau is a historian and a part-time Austrian School economist.