In Summary
  • From becoming one of the youngest permanent secretaries to climbing the Himalayas, Mr Matiba was well-grounded in what he did.
  • On May 18, 1963 – and aged only 31 – Mr Matiba was summoned to the office of the colonial Permanent Secretary for Education, Mr David Gregg and appointed the new PS.
  • At the Cabinet, Mr Matiba was known as the hard-working minister; once, when he was Minister for Health, he ordered a clean up of the headquarters.

Kenneth Matiba was a man of many firsts. From becoming one of the youngest permanent secretaries to climbing the Himalayas, Mr Matiba was well-grounded in what he did.

On May 18, 1963 – and aged only 31 – Mr Matiba was summoned to the office of the colonial Permanent Secretary for Education, Mr David Gregg, who had good news for the young man: he was to be appointed the new PS in the ministry.

“I was astounded,” Mr Matiba later remarked.

As the first black PS in the ministry, which was then housed at Gill House, Mr Matiba was to oversee the africanisation of the education sector.

GRATITUDE

The next morning, Mr Matiba was taken to Government House (now State House)  where he met Duncan Ndegwa and Kitili Mwendwa. They had also come for their letters because in just a month, Jomo Kenyatta was to take over as the new Prime Minister.

“For that privilege I felt that I had to commit myself to serving all Kenyans and show my gratitude in a tangible way,” he wrote in his autobiography, Aiming High.

At first, Mr Matiba had thought of following his father’s footsteps as a teacher  and after leaving Makerere in 1960, he had decided that he wanted to teach in north eastern Kenya before moving to teacher training college. That was his ambition.

But this plan never worked after the Ministry of Education turned down his choice and he was posted to Kangaru Secondary School in Embu. But after only six months he was appointed deputy officer in charge of higher education at the Ministry of Education.

PERPLEXED

“My position was so crucial that no passport could be issued to any student going overseas without my signature,” said Mr Matiba

It was at this position that Mr Matiba met many students who would later be influential.

It was when he became a permanent secretary for Home Affairs that he got to work with Daniel arap Moi who was the minister. The two were bosom friends and when Mr Moi decided to jail Mr Matiba for his stand on multi-party politics, his friends were perplexed.

But it was at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives that Mr Matiba started dealing with investors and he was thrown to various boardrooms where the government had interests.

While Mr Matiba deliberately refused to buy shares in companies where he could have conflict of interest, he watched as his friends made wealth through kickbacks. Rather than stay, he decided to quit and go into business.

JADINI HOTELS

It was in 1968 after he joined Kenya Breweries that he bought the Jadini Hotels in Mombasa. By this time, he had learnt about the hotel industry having been the director of Kenya Tourist Development Corporation which also gave him an opportunity to be on the board of Panafric Hotel in Nairobi.

At Jadini, Mr Matiba tested his survival skills in the hospitality sector. Every weekend, together with his business partner Stephen Smith, he would arrive at Jadini at 3am and the site meeting would start at 7am. They would then start the journey to Nairobi at 2pm!

But it was his climbing of the Himalayas — when he was Minister for Works — and walking from Nairobi to Muranga to raise funds, that catapulted Matiba to new heights. Mr Matiba managed to plant the Kenyan flag at the Island Peak, becoming the first Kenyan to do so.

At the Cabinet, Mr Matiba was known as the hard-working minister. Once, when he was Minister for Health, he ordered a clean up of the headquarters.

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