Via Levin Opiyo
Just after independence a new tribe, influential and deeply resented emerged in Kenya. The tribe was called ‘Wabenzi.’
It was made up of Kikuyu elites, politicians, senior civil servants and their relatives. They were named Wabenzi after the Mercedes Benz which was a distinctive part of their regalia.
Kenyatta’s ministers, who were the most powerful Wabenzis, at times obtained these expensive cars for free. This came to light in January 1969, when KANU directed all motor vehicle companies in Kenya to make a contribution towards the elections.
Representatives of the motor industry accordingly met together and came up with a very ingenious suggestion and booked a meeting with Bruce Mackenzie.
After Hon Mackenzie had finished reminding them that they had to contribute, the MD of Cooper Motors who was acting as the spokesman for the representatives, stood up and defiantly told him that they were not going to donate any money since cabinet ministers owed them a very substantial sum of money in terms of cars and spare parts which they were reluctant to pay.
They suggested that they were ready to write off the debt completely by giving each Minister a note depending on the amount he owed. KANU would then collect the contributions from the individuals. This effectively ended the meeting.
Mboya as the Minister for Economic Affairs was always on the firing line as he sought to address economic problems and defend economic policies.
In April 1969, 3 months before he was assassinated, a journalist asked him whether the question of cabinet ministers and their posh Mercedes cars was compatible with African Socialism.
Mboya replied by stating that creating a colourless society in Kenya or in any other country in the world was the worst approach in dealing with economic problems. He gave an example of Russia where attempts to limit the amount of money one could earn regardless of his or her job had failed.
Mboya added that he personally drove a Mercedes car because it was the most convenient means of transport that he thought suitable. He observed that the mere fact that a minister drove in a Mercedes did not mean he was removed from his people.
When the journalist challenged him by suggesting that there were less expensive cars which were equally convenient, Mboya answered:
“If i can afford a Mercedes there’s no reason why i shouldn’t buy one. We don’t all have to go on bicycles to show we are committed to our people. In fact our people need to have some ambition as a driving force in their efforts to self improvement.”
However, not everyone was impressed by Mboya’s answers. Many expressed their anger in a flurry of letters to editors criticising him.