“Fight like this guy, who battled for humanity's cause, died because he fought, and whose battles are still unwon.”
These are the words written on the grave of deceased former Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya in his mausoleum in Homa Bay County's Rusinga Island.
Mboya's writings represent his battle against illiteracy, corruption, and other social problems. Mboya was also recognized for fighting for better healthcare, which is still a pipe dream decades after his assassination outside a Nairobi pharmacist on July 5, 1969. A tour of Mboya's mausoleum is regarded as a highlight for many visitors to Homa Bay.
The multi-million shilling tomb is tucked away in a lower section of the estate, built two years after Mboya's death. Its bullet-like roof construction is meant to represent Mboya's death, which was caused by an assassin's bullet. The catacomb, which was erected with the help of Mboya's family and friends, is roughly a half-acre in size and is enclosed by a perimeter wall. To get to the tomb where Mboya is buried, one must pass through three gates.
Mboya's crypt is located in a well-kept complex studded with flowers and trees, and is accessible through two road signs from the Mbita causeway. When The Standard went to see the silvery bullet-shaped tomb, Tom Odhiambo Owuor, a member of Mboya's family, welcomed them and showed them around. Owuor works as a curator for Kenya's National Museums.
Where Mboya's first house, generally known as simba in Luo culture, stood before it was demolished, well-tended grass and flowers now grow closer to the burial chamber's second gate. After Mboya's death, his brother Alphonse Okuku, who also inherited the former minister's wife according to Luo tradition, erected a new residence for his family.
Mboya purchased land in Lambwe, according to Owuor, but died before occupying it. Mboya's polygamous family, including stepmothers, dwell near his mausoleum on their grounds. Mboya's father was married to five women. Four of the survivors are still alive. Thousands of people visit Kamasengere village in Rusinga Island every year to witness Mboya's grave, according to Owuor.
Hundreds of visitors flocked to the mausoleum every day before the Covid-19 pandemic to see where one of Kenya's finest labor unionists was laid to rest and to learn about the country's history. However, because of Covid-19, only 10 to 15 individuals visit the site per day, according to Owuor.
“Prior to the pandemic, we used to get hundreds of visitors from as far as Eldoret and Nairobi, including kids from primary and secondary schools, as well as universities and colleges. “Since then, the numbers have decreased,” Owuor remarked.
The crypt, which seats roughly 100 people in the cool shade of the trees, also draws dignitaries, ministers, MPs, governors, and business executives. It also draws visitors from around the world. Mboya was only 39 years old when he was assassinated.
Deputy President William Ruto, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa, Migori Governor Okoth Obado, Kisumu's Anyang Nyong'o, and Cornel Rasanga of Siaya are among those who have visited Mboya's grave.
“We've also had the honor of hosting a number of other officials, including Germany's ambassador and Uganda's vice president,” added Owuor.
According to Mboya's wish, the bones of American national William Scheinman are buried next to his. Scheinman, who was born into a wealthy Jewish family in New York in 1927, died in the United States in 1999 and was cremated before being brought to Rusinga for interment next to Mboya's tomb.
Scheinman is credited with helping to launch the famed education airlift program, which saw Mboya and other students from East and Central Africa get scholarships to American colleges. During the airlifts, when "racism banned Africans and Americans from living together in hostels," Owuor stated Scheinman was a personal friend of Mboya's and protected him and other Kenyans from racial persecution. “He arranged for Mboya and other Kenyans to be hosted by well-wishers,” Owuor stated.
Mboya's sister, Dr Pamela Mboya, was also sponsored by Scheinman to attend college in the United States, where she earned her undergraduate, master's, and doctorate degrees.
Following Mboya's death, Scheinman was barred from entering Kenya because he thought the country's leadership was to blame for his death. After Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's death, he returned to Kenya. Mboya's brother, Alphonse Okuku, who later served as Mbita MP, is also buried in the family cemetery. In 1992, he passed away. Several more relatives of Mboya's family are buried alongside him in the cemetery.
The family has kept Tom Mboya's collections, which include a wealth of history, at his museum.
“Most of his collections are still outside because this structure isn't large enough to hold them. “We want to create a bigger structure,” Owuor explained.
Photos from Mboya's induction as an honorary citizen of Kansas City can be seen in the collection. They also include the times when he was made a Kuria warrior and a member of the Kamba community. Boats that were utilized in the slave trade are also on display. The briefcase Mboya was holding when he was shot, as well as his characteristic fly-whisk, have piqued the interest of most visitors.
A snapshot of a chain boat used to transport Mboya's ashes from the mainland to the island, as well as his filled visitors' books, newspaper collections, his wedding in Nairobi in 1962, and a Bible given to him by the Israeli community are all on display.
Mboya, a devout Catholic, is alleged to have had his wedding at St Peter's Clever in Nairobi paid for by the Israeli community. The gallery also houses a Nyatiti, a Luo traditional music instrument. Mboya was a music fanatic.
The coffin-shaped door to the gallery, according to Owuor, depicted how Mboya was buried during a time when coffins were introduced in the country to replace cow hides and mats used by people to bury their loved ones.
“The bullet-shaped mausoleum represents Mboya's type of death. The gallery's coffin-shaped door indicates that, unlike in the past, when our people were buried in cow skins and mats, Mboya died after coffins were introduced, according to Owuor.
According to Owuor, the mausoleum was designated as a national monument in 2001 but is being maintained by Mboya's family.