Tom Mboya remembered on 50th anniversary

Through his air lift programme, he enabled hundreds to access higher education in the US

In Summary

•Uhuru describes him as intelligent man whose hard work opened doors for man

• Raila hails Mboya as a self-made success story who left an indelible mark

ODM leader Raila Odinga.
ODM leader Raila Odinga.

When Prof Leah Marangu was pursuing higher education, she did not have the money to fly out to the United States where she had secured a place for her bachelor's degree. 

Fortunately, her husband John Marangu who was already in the US, sent her money for the air ticket. However, this did not solve her predicament as she could still miss her booked flight to New York. 

Determined not to miss her place at an American university and be with her husband, Marangu tried to make traveling arrangements afresh. 

That was when she met Tom Mboya in an elevator in one of the Nairobi buildings. It was 1965.

"Up to this time, I had only heard about Mboya through the papers and not met him in person. But I had heard of his air lifts project," she said.

Marangu approached Mboya, then Minister for Justice, and explained her predicament to him.

"I explained to him that this was the last chance I had," she said.

"I then saw him extract some piece of paper from his pocket and write a note to one of his aides."

His instructions secured Marangu a flight to New York where she was surprised to be received at the airport by Senator JF Kennedy who later become US president.

Giving her tribute during the 50th memorial of the admired trade unionist and politician on Friday at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Marangu said were it not for Mboya's air lift programme she would never have realised her academic ambitions. 

She described Mboya as a selfless servant leader who, despite not being known to him, personally listened to her problems even though he was a senior member of the Cabinet. 

Mboya had worked with JF Kennedy when he was US senator and activist Martin Luther King Jr to create education opportunities for African students in US colleges, resulting in air lifts of the 1950s and 60s.

Other notable beneficiaries of the programme were for Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and Barrack Obama Sr, father to former US president Barrack Obama.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose speech was read  by former Prime minister Raila Odinga, thanked Mboya for his service to the country, describing him as an acutely intelligent man whose hard work opened doors for hundreds of people to access education and employment.

Raila hailed Mboya as a self-made success story whose short life did not deter him from leaving an indelible mark in the Kenya's history.

Other dignitaries who joined the family in the celebration were Interior CS Fred Matiang'i, ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, former Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, and senators Amos Wako, Fred Outa and James Orengo.

Mboya was gunned down in the city on July 5, 1969 aged 39.

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