16 April 2018

Kenya: As an Icon for Multiparty Democracy, Matiba Had His Day

Photo: Joseph Kanyi/Daily Nation
Politician Kenneth Matiba in Kenol, Murang'a on May 19, 2016 during the official opening of the Kenneth Matiba Eye and Dental Hospital.

Being the first Cabinet minister to ever resign in Kenya, Mr Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba became the symbol of defiance of Kanu's brutal years and for the last 26 years, he carried the weight of that brutality in person.

The Daniel Moi regime not only wrecked his health, but his business empire, and by the time he died on Sunday, aged 86, he had disappeared from the limelight having lost to auctioneers all the hotels and schools he had built in his youth.

Mr Matiba not only lost his Alliance Hotels but also the prestigious Hillcrest Group of Schools - all worth billions of shillings.

Last year, the High Court ordered that Mr Matiba be paid Sh945 million compensation for damages and violations he suffered and for expenses incurred for his medication.


Born in June 1932 in Kahuhia, Murang'a, Mr Matiba was daring in all things that he did.

And of all the icons of the multiparty democracy, he stood out not because of his wealth, but because of his charisma.

Unlike his Makerere University friends, Mr Matiba was a late entrant into politics and had also surprised many by leaving the civil service at a young age.

Actually, Mr Matiba had been approached to run for the Kiharu seat in 1961 but he felt he was not in a position to unseat the late Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano.

In 1963, he was again under pressure to run against Dr Kiano but he had just been appointed a permanent secretary.


But rather than join politics, Mr Matiba quit the civil service and joined Kenya Breweries in August 1968, first as personal assistant to Managing Director Brian Hobson and in his third year, he was appointed the general manager.

Mr Matiba's leadership role was realised in 1977 when Michael Blundell, a veteran of settler politics, was set to retire as the chairman of East African Breweries and Mr Matiba was asked to take over.

His entry into politics in 1979 was the most dramatic and the race in Mbiri, as it was then known, was the most watched.

Finally, Mr Matiba managed to defeat Dr Kiano by polling 20,135 votes against Kiano's 16,628.

It was in 1983 that he joined Moi's Cabinet when he was appointed minister for Culture and Social Services.

"At no time had I ever aspired to be a Cabinet minister," Mr Matiba would later remark; after all Mr Moi had not even consulted him on the appointment.

He was then transferred to various ministries, Health, Transport and Public Works.


As Mr Matiba rose, there was fear in Kanu that he was eclipsing many of the politicos.

Mr Matiba was always afraid that he would become the victim of rigging and in 1988 he complained rather loudly about rigging in Kanu elections.

It was this 1988 rigging in Kanu that spawned the fallout between Mr Moi and Mr Matiba and on December 9, 1989 when President Moi was about to receive guests for the Tenth anniversary of Nyayo era, Mr Matiba drafted a resignation letter and had it dropped at Office of the President.

It was a first for a Cabinet Minister who was protesting an attack by Mr Peter Oloo Aringo, then-Kanu chairman, and Mr James Njiru, the Minister for National Guidance.

Mr Matiba was angry that his fellow ministers had started a campaign against him.

"On my way home that evening, December 8, after thinking over all these things, I made up my mind.

"I was going to resign my Cabinet post. Clearly, I could not see myself sitting at the table with Aringo and Njiru," Mr Matiba later said.


While he had thought of keeping a low profile, security agents followed him everywhere and was constantly interrogated.

"I had kept a low profile and refused to engage in politics, yet I was being harassed. I had to make public my feelings about politics in Kenya," Mr Matiba said on why he joined the call for multiparty politics.

It was this call that landed him in detention, where he suffered a stroke on May 26, 1991 but state officials were not bothered to get him medical help.

When they did - and they booked him as Mr Muchiri - it was too late. Mr Matiba had been in detention without medical care for a week.


Although he would return to run for the presidency and came second to President Moi, Mr Matiba achieved little success as an opposition leader.

His Ford-Asili party, once the official opposition was wrecked by defections and internal wrangles and finally Mr Matiba lost hold of the party and opted to form Saba Saba Asili, which was a shadow of the former party.

Matiba's attempt to return to politics were futile and performed dismally. But as an icon for multiparty democracy, Mr Matiba had his day.

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