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. Amutabi@yahoo.com