In Summary
  • It was in 1983 that Matiba joined Moi’s Cabinet when he was appointed minister for Culture and Social Services.
  • 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.

Being the first Cabinet minister to ever resign under Moi regime, 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 Fort Hall 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.

Kenneth Matiba

Mr Kenneth Matiba (left) with politician Raila Odinga during a past function. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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.

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