Kenya should go slow on monuments

Kenya should go slow on monuments

By Maurice N. Amutabi

The recent unveiling of a monument in the centre of Nairobi in honour of Tom Joseph Mboya was widely applauded by many Kenyans as long overdue. Other monuments in Nairobi celebrate founding father of the nation Jomo Kenyatta and our independence hero Dedan Kimathi. Mboya deserved to be memorialised as well, because of his role in Kenya’s liberation. The three – Kenyatta, Kimathi and Mboya are also immortalized by major streets named after them in Nairobi, and several institutions in the country bear their names.


Tom Mboya is widely admired as one of the most charismatic and patriotic Kenyan leaders. When I set foot inside his mausoleum on Rusinga Island a few years ago, I was blown away by the type of life he lived. His home looked ordinary and there was no opulence and signs of primitive accumulation that one sees around homes of former and current cabinet ministers. There was simplicity and connection with the ordinary people. Mboya’s home and the pictures at the mausoleum celebrating his life revealed something about his selfless attitude and sacrifice. It was evident that he invested much of his personal resources in community projects such as the neighbouring Tom Mboya Secondary School and helping orphans and the less fortunate. It is for this reason that I suspect Tom Mboya would not have recommended a 20 million sculpture to be built in his honour.


For a man who was famous for sacrifice such as airlifts of Kenyans to the United States for education, he would have been more comfortable with a scholarship fund being established in his honour in the Ministry of Education or under his family. I believe he would have been more comfortable with a university being named after him and an endowed chair established to focus on labour, education and poverty eradication issues, which were at the centre of his life. But even them, his legacy is already assured in his many writings and speeches which are used in universities and schools all over the world today.


To be sure, simple and selfless Mboya would have asked that the funds be used for improvement of schools in Kenya, than building a monument in his honour. He would have asked for construction of some more classrooms at Tom Mboya Secondary School which he assisted in establishing than some monument in the city of Nairobi. That is how pragmatic he was. Monuments are not bad when an economy has surplus and overflowing resources, but for a struggling economy like Kenya’s, it makes no sense to unveil a monument in honour of a noble hero when there are people dying from hunger in Turkana and other parts of the country.


Many historians will tell you that the problem with monuments is that once they become a national passion like Kenya is doing, every other Tom, Dick and Harry will also like a monument in their honour. Soon there will be voices calling for a monument in honour of all former ministers, vice presidents and presidents, even useless ones who did not contribute much to our national ethos and heritage. Soon ethnic lords will come calling and demanding for ethnic equity in monument construction in Nairobi. Before we know it Nairobi will soon run out of space for them. Monuments have led to extinction of great civilizations such as Easter Island, Mayas of Central America, the Aztecs of Mexico, and the Incas of Peru.

The Kenyan society should leave construction of monuments to leaders without a legacy, such as Saddam Hussein, Muamar Gadaffi, Robert Mugabe, Mobutu Sese Seko, who have no legacy and who built monuments so that they can be remembered when they are gone. People like Dedan Kimathi, Jomo Kenyatta, and Tom Mboya do not need monuments because they have veritable legacy and so long as Kenya remains a nation, we shall always remember them.


We shall always remember that Tom Mboya was responsible for the crafting of our independence constitution. He was the youngest and most efficient minister that Kenya has ever produced. His assassination remains the most famous indictment of political rivalry in Kenya. His charisma was unmatched and his patriotic and nationalistic speeches are forever immortalised in our national texts and memories. Teachers of social sciences, civics, history, political science, will always teach about patriots and nationalists of Kenya such as Tom Mboya. To many, that is a bigger legacy than statues.


Prof. Amutabi teaches political science at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.



About African Interdisciplinary Studies Association Website

Prof. Maurice Nyamanga Amutabi is President of African Interdisciplinary Studies Association (AISA), a pioneer professional associaiton bringing together members from all disciplines in Africa and abroad. He is a former Fulbright Scholar who previously worked as Deputy Vice Chancellor at Kisii University and also Director of Research and Professor in Peace and Strategic Studies at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), 2010-2013. He has previously taught at Central Washington University, USA (2005-2010) in African Studies Programme and Moi University (1992-2000) in the Department of Development Studies and other public universities in Kenya. Prof. Amutabi holds a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA in History and African Studies. He received his B.A (Hons) in 1989 in Political Science and History and M.A in 1991 from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Maurice Amutabi is co-editor of Regime Change and Succession Politics in Africa: Five Decades of Misrule (with Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o) – in 2013. Amutabi also co-edited Africa after Fifty Years: Retrospections and Reflections (with Toyin Falola and Sylvester Gundona) in 2012. Amutabi is the author of The NGO Factor in Africa: The Case of Arrested Development in Kenya (New York: Routledge, 2006). Amutabi is co-author of Nationalism and Democracy for People-Centered Development in Africa (Moi University Press, 2000). He has also co-authored Foundations of Adult Education in Africa (Cape Town/Hamburg: Pearson/UNESCO, 2005). He has written two novels, Because of Honor (a novel on Islam in Africa) and These Good People (a novel on corruption in Africa). Amutabi is also the author of Nakhamuma Stories (a collection of short stories from the Abaluyia community of western Kenya). His chapters have appeared in over thirty books. His articles have appeared in several refereed and reputable journals such as African Studies Review, African Contemporary Cultural Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, International Journal of Educational Development; and Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. Amutabi has made presentations at over one hundred national and international conferences. Amutabi is the Vice-President of the Kenya Studies and Scholars’ Association (KESSA), Kenya’s premier research and academic organization. He is the editor-in-chief of Kenya Studies Review and Eastern Africa Journal of Humanities and Sciences. Prof. Amutabi has conducted extensive research on many issues of development. He has taught courses on peace and conflict and gender and development. He teaches in the PhD and Masters Programme in the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Kisii University. He enjoys blogging and writing and is an avid sports fan, but does not support any of team, preferring to support the team that plays well.
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