Nairobi — President Uhuru Kenyatta has led Kenyans in mourning second liberation hero, Kenneth Matiba, who has been described as the father of democracy.
Messages of condolences have been sent by various Kenyans and leaders, all hailing Matiba following his death on Sunday evening at a city hospital where he was undergoing treatment.
President Kenyatta says Matiba, who died at the age of 85, was at the forefront of shaping the political landscape of the country.
"With the passing of Mzee Matiba, the cruel hand of death has robbed us of a devoted leader and mentor who was a role model to many. Indeed, he served the country with distinction. His accomplishments clearly demonstrate that focus, diligence, and determination pay. Those who knew him benefited immensely from his selfless leadership and wisdom," President Kenyatta said in a televised statement from State House Sunday.
He especially noted his efforts during the clamour for multiparty democracy in 1990s and his rallying cry of "Forward Ever, Backward Never" which he says, "helped transform the country to its current status."
"Mzee Matiba was a true patriot who loved this nation of Kenya, a nationalist who believed in hard work and building strong bonds of friendship for the betterment of all," he said.
Deputy President William Ruto on his part said Matiba was "an indefatigable proponent of democracy, human rights; a champion of the less privileged and a people's person."
"Mzee Matiba's strong fight for reforms, freedom of expression, tolerance and divergent opinion that saw him overcome great odds, including detention, won him admiration from friends, foes and cemented his stellar status. He advocated hard work and he was richly rewarded in the fields of business, education, and sports."
Opposition leader Raila Odinga said the country has lost one of the last living symbols of the pains Kenyans have had to bear in order to get where they are.
"It is hardly where we intended or ought to be, but certainly better than where we were at this time over 20 years ago, thanks to the sacrifices of Hon. Matiba and his team," Odinga said.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi described the political icon as a brave and selfless leader.
"Respected and adored within and beyond our frontiers, Matiba's hand in the unyielding hope he had for the prosperity of this country will always be with us," the National Assembly speaker said.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru said the country has lost, "a political icon and a strong defender of democracy."
"To paraphrase John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends (Country). Rest In Peace Kenneth Matiba the pioneer Kenyan professional & Our Father of Freedom, Democracy, inclusivity, and good governance," Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said.
Others like lawyer Donald Kipkorir urged Kenyans to be steadfast in defending what Matiba believed in.
"If our mourning of Kenneth Matiba is to be meaningful, Kenyans ought to agree that we will never allow anyone to be harassed, arrested, deported or their business harmed because of politics ... If not, then our mourning is as hypocritical as of the mourners of Winnie Mandela," the lawyer said.
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said Matiba was a "man of rare courage and noble bearing" and with his death, she said, "Matiba has paid the ultimate price for the second liberation of our country."
Businessman Chris Kirubi noted how Matiba played a crucial role "in shaping the political landscape of our nation as a veteran of multiparty democracy. Sincere condolences to his family."
The veteran politician has been ailing for several years since he suffered a stroke while in detention during the struggle for multi-partyism.
Matiba was arrested with others, including Charles Rubia, and detained for agitating for the return of multi-party democracy during former President Daniel arap Moi's regime.
While in detention, Matiba suffered a stroke but remained in custody without medical care.
Matiba played a key role as a teacher in Kangaru High School in 1960; then in 1961 through 1962 as an officer for higher education; and later in 1963 as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Co-operatives.
He also served as Minister for Transport and Communications, Minister for Health and Minister for Culture and Social Services.