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When Tom Mboya sought to dismantle unpopular constitution

President Jomo Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting at his Gatundu home following the murder of Tom Mboya in July 1969. [File]

When the mechanics of structuring the country into a modern State reached the penultimate stage, one of Kenya’s polished politicians, Tom Mboya, who was a member of the Legislative Council, tried to dismantle oppressive sections of the colonial constitution.

In his characteristic rabble-rousing manner, Mboya penned his proposal to Downing Street in London on June 28, 1958, seeking to have the number of African constituencies in the Legislative Council of Kenya increased, and scrapping of the multi-racial council of State ministers.

Pricked to the quick by Mboya’s suggestion, which the colonial government thought was unconstitutional and unreasonable, Secretary of State Allan Lennox-Boyd responded in style in a letter published in the Kenya Gazette three months later. “The proposals that the number of African constituency elected members in Legislative Council should be increased and that the specially elected seats and the Council of State should be abolished run directly contrary to the principles underlying the present constitutional arrangements which were put into force as recently as April of this year.”

The colonial secretary was at pains to explain his stand, arguing that he was safeguarding democratic principles that respected the protection of the minority in government. ”In forming my judgment of what I considered to be a fair solution of current political problems in Kenya, the concept of democracy relates as much to the type of society to be found in any country as to the particular features of the machinery of government.”  

According to Lennox-Boyd, “It has been the experience of countries like the United Kingdom that the evolving machinery of government has kept pace with the changing features of the social scene and the development of a homogeneous population, where geographical unity and corporate nationhood have superseded through a process taking centuries to complete the cultural, racial and religious cleavages which for long divided the country.”

Despite the colonial secretary’s misgivings, the Constitution, which had been named after him, was later dismantled in three constitutional conferences in Lancaster between 1960 to 1963, culminating in the independent constitution where the interests of Africans triumphed over those of the minority white settlers.

Mboya had the last laugh as he and other pioneers crafted the independence constitution that birthed the first republic. He rose to be the first minister for Economic Planning and Development who shaped Kenya’s economic foundation with his Sessional paper on African Socialism.

The life of this illustrious politician was, however, cut short by an assassin’s bullet on July 5, 1969, when he was only 39 years old. His name is immortalised for he played a key role in liberating the country and laying its political and constitutional foundations.