Rigathi Gachagua
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What Ndindi Nyoro should learn from Tom Mboya’s ambitions

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Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (left) and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Tom Mboya was 36 years old when he was used to dethrone Vice-President Oginga Odinga. The Kiambu mafia was happy after a frustrated Jaramogi threw in the towel in 1966, and the doyen of Pan-African politics started a long journey into political oblivion.

At 38, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro has been harbouring similar ambitions of outsmarting Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua – the Johnny-come-lately politician. But unlike Mboya, whose dreams of succeeding Jomo Kenyatta were hidden, Nyoro has shown his presidential ambition, nay tail, too early. It is neither safe, politically, nor wise. Let me educate my Kiharu man.

Last January, with the hindsight of political naivety, he brought together 15 MPs to Murang’a’s Mumbi Grounds, and they endorsed him to succeed William Ruto in 2032. At his age, Nyoro has done remarkably well, and you only need to look at the Kiharu school infrastructure to get an idea of what he does with public money. Nyoro has embarked on a television campaign to showcase his development record – and there is nothing wrong with that. If you ask me, the ongoing advertising on national TV to showcase Kiharu Masomo Bora is politically destructive. Mboya was there when he used the American education airlifts to construct a Vesuvian ego which later consumed him. One hopes that Nyoro is not using the National Government- Constituency Development Fund money to build this image, for that can later be his Waterloo. 

Political ambitions in a sea with traps and sharks should be carried out with lots of caution. Our history has a lot of lessons, and the best we can do is learn. First, Nyoro should be wary of individuals who would like to construct a Mboya personality out of him as he develops his presidential ambitions. He should remember that Mboya’s personality was constructed early by the British for obvious reasons, and they used the black propaganda machinery to do so. It was deliberate and well-calculated.  As Odinga noted in his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, he was “being nurtured as the rising star of Kenya”. On the other hand, the American and British media hailed Mboya as an African genius as he filled the void left by the detention of radicals Fred Kubai and Makhan Singh. Mboya was young, and power and hubris got into his brain. Odinga was right and had seen Mboya’s ambitions and character way before independence. He described him as a “rabid black dog that barked furiously and bit all in his path”.

Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua shakes hands with Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro during a fundraiser in Kigumo, Murang’a County on February 10, 2024.

Photo credit: DPCS

In the Mt Kenya region, Nyoro has been ferocious. He has been lethal in the reconstruction of Mt Kenya politics. Many expected him to be in the William Ruto Cabinet, but he didn’t. Like Mboya, he has been left with an important docket within Parliament. The “Riggy G” men have not hidden their disdain for Nyoro – and there is no love lost. It is making the UDA party look like a troubled barn due to Nyoro’s ambitions. In 1960, Odinga noted, their work within the Legislative Council was made “difficult” due to Mboya’s ambitions, and as he wrote, it was also “caused by the concerted world press campaign to elevate Tom Mboya to the unchallenged leadership of Kenya Africans”. Again, go back to the media campaign, which should be tied to Ruto’s succession, though it looks like a Kiharu Masomo Bora program.

This can lead to resentment from political colleagues who have no ambitions, and they can plot against Nyoro. Listen to the wisdom of Jaramogi on Mboya: “In the early days, he was much victim as a culprit, in the interests of a British-United States strategy to build a leader who would overshadow and make the people forget Kenyatta. His political colleagues resented this imposed promotion and held against him the honours which outsiders seemed ready to bestow on him and the alacrity with which credit for leadership was given him instead of the group.” That means that ambitions, driven from elsewhere, can be destructive. According to Odinga, the Kanu leadership of James Gichuru and Mboya had even plotted with Colonial Secretary Ian Macleod to form the government without Kenyatta. Thus, Mboya, without his knowledge, was being used to sideline Kenyatta. If there are forces that want to sideline Gachagua, they will no doubt take advantage of Nyoro’s ambition as their entry point.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, President William Ruto, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (left) and President William Ruto. Inset: Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.

Photo credit: | Nation Media Group

There are many ways to sabotage an ambition. If you remember, Odinga launched the release Kenyatta campaign to box Gichuru and Mboya into a corner where they could not denounce Kenyatta. He demanded that No Kenyatta, no government. Mboya never forgave Odinga, and that battle was fought later. In one Kanu meeting, Odinga proposed that “anyone who had the ambition to be Chief Minister of Kenya in place of Jomo Kenyatta would wreck the unity of the party”. The target was Mboya.

When the elections were called, Odinga supported Dr Munyua Waiyaki to run against Mboya – but Mboya won with an overwhelming majority. It would not be surprising that Nyoro finds himself in a similar position. Dr Njoroge Mungai, who had presidential ambitions in the 1970s, lost the Dagoretti seat to a neophyte, Dr Johnstone Muthiora, after Charles Njonjo campaigned to stop him. Dr Mungai never recovered from that fall. It is a lesson that Nyoro should learn early enough.

Nyoro should read Alan Rake’s book, Tom Mboya: Young Man of Africa, and will learn how “elected African leaders were jealous of Mboya’s abilities …. his colleagues were not prepared to accept him in the role of leader.” That led to sabotage. According to Rake, Mboya’s “international reputation did not help him in his relations with his colleagues. It only made them jealous and more determined to keep him in his collective place…the African members found his dominating character difficult.”

Opinion polls have been showing that Nyoro is the best MP – or something like that. Indeed, he has done well.   In the first opinion poll in East Africa conducted by the Daily Nation in the early 1960s, Mboya was put ahead of Kenyatta in terms of popularity with 41 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Politicos do not love that. And Mboya did not judge the political mood correctly, as he made enemies. “I have neither the time not the wish to enter a frivolous press war with Odinga. I have a public life and duty that extends over the last six years and believe that it is the right of my people to judge my sincerity and honesty of purpose,” Mboya said.

Mboya would later pick a campaign that branded Odinga as a “communist stooge” for his frequent visits to China and started to destroy the man. While Mboya had organised his airlifts to the US, he would lead in the sabotage of students sent to Eastern Europe by Odinga. Later, he would lead Parliament in seeking the closure of Odinga’s Lumumba Institute, a flagship project to train party adherents. Those who encouraged Mboya on the destructive path reasoned: “Mboya could not be expected to like specially elected members, but his personal opposition to them was determined by his own psychology; his impatience with people who hinder the cause he holds so dearly.” That was his biographer Alan Rake.

Ndindi Nyoro

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro addresses residents at Kariara village in Nyeri County on August 7.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Finally, Mboya was the mastermind behind the Limuru conference that saw the creation of eight Kanu vice presidents to remove Odinga as the sole vice president of the Kanu party. UDA has yet to reach that stage and Nyoro should trend with care as he seeks a top political seat. Thanks to Mboya, and according to Odinga, the 1966 “Limuru Conference whipped up as much ‘anti-Communist’ feeling as possible. This was a preparation for my demotion in the Party,  and final exclusion from the Party. To lend weight to the rumours and whispered allegations that I was a stooge of the ‘Communists’.”

With Odinga out of the way, Kenyatta succession was wide open. It was also deadly. The first victim was Mboya himself, and Jaramogi was too weakened to offer him support. Jaramogi fell in 1966, and Mboya died in 1969. He had shown his tail too early, and there were many interests that converged. I hope Nyoro, my MP, does not make the Mboya mistakes. Succession struggles are bitter, brutal, and deadly. In 1975, another ambitious character, JM Kariuki, was brought down.