In December 1963 when Kenya at last achieved her uhuru - her freedom - two topics were most prominent in the gossip centres of Nairobi. How long would Mzee - Jomo Kenyatta, 'The Old Man' - last? And what was to be done about Tom Mboya? Kenya had emerged from the anti-colonial struggle with two leaders of world renown, one young, dynamic and immensely talented, the other old (no one was quite sure how old) and respected as much for what he had suffered as for what he had done: a mythical figure who until recently had been cut off from all political and virtually all social life by a decade of imprisonment and detention compounded by an extraordinary propaganda campaign - comparable only to the Stalinist attempt to eliminate any reference to Trotsky's role in the Russian Revolution - aimed at reducing him to the status of a non-person. Everyone was by now agreed that Jomo Kenyatta should become the first President of Kenya, but it was widely thought that, aged and enfeebled by his harsh treatment, he would soon die or retire: many felt that, cost what it might, Mboya, for all his manifest ability, should never succeed him. Some who were both proud of Mboya's celebrity and embarrassed by it dreamt up exotic careers for him: when the expected East African Federation came into existence he could become its Foreign Minister, or, better still because further away, he could be the first African Secretary-General of the United Nations - anything so long as he did not become the ruler of Kenya.
LRB 7 July 1983 | PDF Download