The Mboyas: Joy and burden of having the famous name

Tom Mboya statue on Tom Mboya street, Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • I have no idea if my parents had considered any other names because I was born hours before the assassination.
  • Much as I wouldn’t say the name has influenced the decisions I have made in life, I will contend that my analysis of Mboya’s thinking has influenced me a lot.
  • As we mark Mboya’s 50th anniversary, I would like to tell the political class that the late didn’t fight for the Luos.

“Tom Mboya” was not just a name they were given. They believe it was a responsibility bestowed upon them from an early age; a lifelong assignment.

The more these men matured in physique and intellect, the more they felt the urge to emulate Mboya, the famed politician-cum-trade unionist they were named after.

Having been born on or after July 5, 1969, the day Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was assassinated in Nairobi, most of them are now in their fifties.

This is the age theorists say opens windows to mid-life crisis, where individuals suddenly see the grave drawing closer as they take a dim view of what they have accomplished in life. Has the crisis hit them? Most of them do not think so.


Lifestyle’s search for some of the people named after the former Cabinet minister was a study in the naming traditions across Kenyan tribes.

There are areas in Kenya where no child could likely have been named Mboya because of the rigid naming traditions that prioritise naming children after relatives. Then there are those regions where naming is more liberal, and that is where most Mboyas come from. The Mboyas narrate how the name has impacted their lives.


Former TV anchor, currently a motivational speaker and a life coach

Former TV anchor Thomas Joseph Mboya Ogunde. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I was born at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi just a couple of hours before Mboya was gunned down by the assassin.

Normally when a child is born, the parents are the ones who name him or her. But because of the circumstances around my birth, I was not given a name by my father or my mother.

Let me explain. My late grandfather was a judge during the pre-colonial days. He was a judge who never studied law — the latter-day alternative dispute resolution arbitrators.

So, in those days, the man was a ker; an elder, revered in my rural home in Kendu Bay and beyond.

When I was born in Nairobi, I was the grandson of a ker. It means I was born in royalty. So, when Mboya was killed, they said it was the community that was going to give me a name. And the community assigned me the name.


Also, the late Mboya and my father Nickodemo Were Ogunde were very close. At that time, my father was a top civil servant, working in the President’s office as a PS.

I have no idea if my parents had considered any other names because I was born hours before the assassination. That is something that happens privately in somebody’s mind. Being named Tom Mboya by the community felt like an assignment was given to me, because I was named after a family man whose influence, charm, intellect wowed not just the continent but also the whole world.

So, I’ve always walked through my life knowing that I am on an assignment.

When I look at Mboya, how he was intelligent, how he charmed people, the kind of influence that he had not only in the country but even Africa and even in the US, I count on three things to ensure I live up to the expectation of the name that was given to me by the community.

They are a passion for duty, unconditional love, and a deep sense of curiosity. Those three things have made me walk around with this Tom Mboya name like a general.

If you look at Tom, he wasn’t a Luo and he wasn’t just a nationalist but also a Pan-Africanist. And he was also a global figure.


There are times I look at my journey, for example the one I had in the media. In 2012, I won a continental journalism prize, the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Award, and that mirrors the icon. In 2013, I won a global award. That also mirrors the icon, because he was a global figure.

Right now, as I’m speaking to you, I’ve just been nominated for the Diaspora Entertainment Awards and Recognition (Dear Awards) in Dallas in the US for motivational speaking. I’m supposed to travel before August 31. There, I am going to give a motivational talk and I’ve also been nominated.

If you look at the trajectory of my life and all these milestones, they mirror the expectation that society had on me. And so, every step I make — including this interview I’m having with you — I’m always working in those dimensions of my life that will open me up to bigger possibilities.

That is how Tom lived, a great guy who didn’t even have a college degree. But look at how much he was able to accomplish.


Tom’s life history is well-documented, and there are lots of books, lots of narratives. I have had the benefit of not only reading but even listening to great brains like Prof Ojwang who is a lecturer of history at the University of Nairobi.

And I’ve had a sit-down with people who have told me Tom’s story one-on-one: What he was, what he stood for, how he lived. Some of those people are Mboya’s family members. Remember, we are also very good family friends with the Mboyas.

In fact, as I’m speaking to you, there’s a memorial service which I’ll be emceeing (which happened on Friday). So, we have kept those connections.

There is a lot of information about Tom. But one thing that he said that has stayed and touched me and helped me even today is a quote that he made that there is no superman; it’s all up to us. That was a very profound quote. It means that we should not sit and wait for somebody to come from somewhere to resolve the problems of the society. We should fix those problems ourselves; it’s entirely up to us.

Having been born in 1969, the fifth floor is here with me. It is a transition, and not in terms of mortality. It is now moving from success. Because when I look at my career, I think I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m happy.

I’m at a stage in my life where giving back is more important. And I can summarise it by one quote: Career is what you are paid for; calling is what you’re made for. It’s what God created you for. It’s something that you can even do for free. Like now, I’ve been involved in a lot of mentorship programmes.

I do lot of motivational talks. I’m going big on moral advocacy.”


Activist and coordinator at Kenya Community Media Network

Activist and coordinator at Kenya Community Media Network Tom Mboya Odhiambo. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I was born in 1972, three years after the assassination of Mboya. To date, my parents have not told me exactly why they named me Tom Mboya, but what my grandmother and even my grandfather often told me is that I was named after ‘Ja Rusinga’, to refer to Tom Mboya who came from Rusinga.

Always, my grandparents would refer to me as ‘Ja Nam’ (Man from the Lake) or ‘Ja Rusinga’.

My father George Odhiambo, a carpenter who has been running a workshop in Nairobi’s Korogocho, was not a very politically active man unlike me who is an activist. But lately he has been taking his passion a notch higher by taking part in mobilisation.

But I believe my father, who hails from Rachuonyo in Homa Bay County, was conscious of who Tom Mboya was and probably what he contributed to Kenya’s development.

Having the name ‘Mboya’ is an assignment. Even before I started engaging in this kind of advocacy, whenever I introduced yourself as Tom Mboya, people would be like, ‘Oh, you are related to the late?’


This got me some inspiration to find out who Tom Mboya was: A trade unionist, also a politician, also an activist. So, I think the name in itself somehow has some driving factor to do what I do.

I currently work as a coordinator at the Kenya Community Media Network, whose headquarters are at Shalom House along Ngong Road in Nairobi. I came from the Korogocho Community Centre where we have a radio station called Koch FM. I am one of the founders of the station that started in 2003.

As far as activism is concerned, I was among the human rights defenders who got paralegal training in the early 1990s. This was a time when the country was at the height of political issues because people were advocating for the repealing of Section 2A. People were really agitating for multi-party democracy.

I was among the first slot that were trained by Kituo cha Sheria courtesy of former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga who ensured that we received training as people of Korogocho, the paralegals, and therefore championing rights of the people of Korogocho against the atrocities and human rights violations that were happening within Korogocho.


After that, I took part in a number of protests. Twice when retired cleric Timothy Njoya was clobbered, I was present and was among those who shouted at his assailants. So, the activism in me is still alive.

When people know your name is ‘Mboya’, they see you as somebody who should be active politically; who should take some position of leadership. So, that perception in itself comes with some pressure. It also comes with some need to hold some responsibility.

Now that the 50s are beckoning, I won’t say I have achieved all my life goals. But I think I have done a lot of contributions in terms of even making the people within Korogocho to be aware of their rights. Also, I have been championing the rights of community radio practitioners. To that extent, I am happy with what I have achieved, but again there is still room to do more.”


Political science lecturer at Maseno University

Tom Mboya. He is a political science lecturer at Maseno University. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“My father Jotham Onyango Adongo and the late Mboya were friends. They were neighbours in Kaloleni, Nairobi, where our family house still stands.

I was born on July 15, 1969, just ten days after Mboya’s assassination and my father, a businessman, decided to name me after the leader.

Growing up, there were many things that my dad used to share with me. One was that Mboya was very sharp and that he believed in education and this is what informed his flying of people from Kenya to the US. And that in itself informed my dad’s passion for education and making sure that he took his children to school. He, in particular, implored upon me to read and learn.

Number two, he told me that the man after whom I was named after was an astute economic planner; that were it not for the sudden demise, his economic thoughts could have propelled this country to greater heights.

Three, is that this guy believed in Kenya; not being a tribal person. So, my dad — who died in 2002 — told me I need to look at this country; that I should not take myself as a Luo per se but to look from Lamu to Turkana; from Busia to Isebania.


Much as I wouldn’t say the name has influenced the decisions I have made in life, I will contend that my analysis of Mboya’s thinking has influenced me a lot.
What my dad used to tell me dawned on me when I went to the university for my undergraduate studies.

That time in the early 90s, there was clamour for multi-party system and since I was doing political science, I got attracted to the people behind the clamour for independence and one of them, of course, was TJ Mboya. And it is through that that I began listening to some of his eloquent speeches. I reckoned that this guy was good.

So, I began the quest to look at some of his contributions and of those contributions that caught my attention was the Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965: African Socialism and Its Application to Planning.


What my dad used to tell me is that if Mboya could have just lived for even 10 more years, then he could have fulfilled his wishes that were documented in that document.

In as much as the document was met with certain criticisms from other scholars, the issues it intended to address are the ones we are still grappling with.

As we mark Mboya’s 50th anniversary, I would like to tell the political class that the late didn’t fight for the Luos. He was fighting for the entire people of the republic of Kenya.

That, then, resonates with the initiative of Building Bridges of the President and the former Prime Minister. My prayer is that Kenyans rally behind the Building Bridges Initiative and, most importantly, to seek accountability from their leaders.”


Journalist Tom Joseph Mboya.

My name is Tom Joseph Mboya, named after the political genius from Rusinga Island. I was born with a serious defect — one badly damaged rib — which forced doctors at the then Nyanza General Hospital to operate on me as an infant. It is because of this that some of my close family members formed the belief that I was the reincarnation of the departed politician. See, the damaged rib was at one of the points where Mboya was shot.

I know we are in our hundreds named after the man, but I am confident to say that I am probably the one Tom that Mboya has impacted the most, all from the grave. So, my editors asked me to write this piece about my life carrying the great man’s name.

Well, growing up, there were circumstances where people expected some greatness in me because of the name. Then there were those who felt kind of disappointed that I had not achieved the greatness of Mboya.

However, I believe that as someone who has been a teacher, a team manager of boys and girls teams numbering more than 50 and now as a national and international journalist, I must have touched many.

One thing is that if you are Luo and bear the name Tom, you will most likely be called Ja Rusinga (man from Rusinga). It doesn’t matter which part of Luo Nyanza you come from. Some also prefer to call me “Chuor Pamela” (Pamela’s husband). I will come back to Pamela’s story later.


Growing up, I read any article I would come across on the man. So much so that I felt like I knew him personally. Incredible as it might sound, Mboya played a role in my choice of journalism career. It happened that one day, as a high school student, I ran into a stranger in a Dandora-bound matatu. The stranger was reading David Goldsworthy’s Tom Mboya: The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget.

If I was not a prayerful man who does not believe in coincidences, I would have attributed the stranger’s kind act of lending me the book to coincidence. But I believe it was a divine appointment. Immediately I finished reading that book, I knew where my career path would take — journalism.

It was a roundabout way which started from County High School in Garissa where I taught briefly but I finally ended up in journalism. It is through this that I would become friends with Mboya’s son, Luke or simply Lukie.

Luke gave me one of my big breaks in my writing career when he tipped me about a church based in Nairobi, but which he believed was a cult. I managed to interview the Nigerian pastor heading the church and it ran as a big story. The Nigerian sent threats and curses my way, saying how I was going to die soon.

Here I am, 20 years later, hale and hearty. Did I mention that the government finally cracked the whip? The church was closed and the man deported. Now he is probably spreading his cultist gospel on the streets of Lagos or Ibadan.

One time I worked at The People newspaper when the late George Mbuguss was the Editor-in-Chief.

Now George and the late Mboya had been tight friends, or as Mbuguss put it, they painted the town red when they were young. Mbuguss took an extra liking to me because he said I reminded him of his departed friend.


My path and Tom Mboya’s would cross years later, this time in Nzaui village in Makueni County. I do write a column that runs on Mondays about Gor Mahia football club. One day, we were visiting my friend Solomon Kyenze’s mother in Nzaui when I ran into his village mate, a sassy character going by the name Mwanamboka.

When he heard that I write about Gor Mahia, the man was excited because he was present on the day the club was formed. See, Gor Mahia was formed in Tom Mboya’s house and Mwanamboka was a domestic worker there and was eavesdropping on the discussions. Talking of the column, about two years ago I sat down and said it was time for Gor Mahia to have a woman chairman. I argued that there was none better placed than Mboya’s daughter, Susan Mboya-Kidero to take up the role.

Still on Susan, I kicked off a major storm on Facebook on Wednesday when I wrote my preferred list of those Kenyans I believed should succeed the late Bob Collymore at Safaricom. My list was thus: Nancy Oginde, Ann Mutahi, Susan Mboya-Kidero, Martin Luke Oduor Otieno and Joshua Oigara.

Back to Mrs Mboya. Some years before her demise, she was appointed Kenya’s Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat. When she passed on, the organisation tasked me with writing the condolence message that was to be handed over to the family. Now if you remember, I am “Chuor Pamela”. So, this is one condolence message I put all my heart into. I was writing my widow’s condolence, in a manner of speaking.

So as you can see folks, the man’s path and mine have been crossing for years. My dream is that if I achieve even a quarter of what the man achieved in his life, I would be accomplished.

One thing I have promised myself is that one day I will take a trip to his mausoleum to pay my respect.

Continue resting in peace, Ja Rusinga.