Kenneth Matiba’s firsts… and much more

Kenneth Matiba addresses supporters in 1993 after filing a presidential petition in the High Court, Nairobi. [Archive/Standard]
Businessman and hero of Kenya’s second liberation Kenneth Matiba was a restless bolt of energy scaling the heights of achievement in whatever he focused his energies on.

Matiba, who died on Sunday at Karen Hospital. Nairobi, precociously trod where a few dared.

His was a life of firsts: The first African executive chair of East African Breweries. The first Central Kenyan chair of the Kenya Football Federation (KFF).

 The first cabinet minister to resign from the Kanu Administration. The first Kenyan African, with an exception of long-serving Kenyatta era Coast PC, to massively invest in the hotel industry, the Alliance Hotels which he founded with former Alliance High School mate, Stephen Grey Smith with whom he also had controlling stake in gas manufacturer Carbacid until his fortunes waned.

Indeed, his business ventures saw Kenneth Matiba amass arguably one of Kenya's largest individual fortunes that sadly, went to the sands, as has his health.

The Second Liberation hero who rallied Kenyans against Kanu's single-party rule via the 1990 Saba Rallies was also a sportsman, mountain climber, to be precise and an astute sports manager.

In 1986 he took a five-man team 20, 500ft up Mt Everest reaching the Island Peak. In his bony bio, Aiming High: The Story of My Life, Matiba writes how he envisioned the training of future footballers by appealing to the German government for a coach. Help came in the name of tactician Bernhard Zgoll.

With Berlin footing his bills, Zgoll founded the Olympic Youth Centres in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, and with them, a golden generation of players in the years Zgoll was coach, and Matiba chair of Kenya Football Federation: Wilberforce Mulamba, Ambrose 'Golden Boy' Ayoyi, Bobby Ogolla, Sammy Taabu, Hussein Kheri, Josephat Murila, Austin Oduor, Mahmoud Abbas, Sammy Owino 'Kempes'...are some of the soccer diamonds Zgoll unearthed in the rough.

Matiba formed KFF in 1973, after Williams Ngaah defeated him during the Football Association of Kenya elections that year.

Matiba initially funded KFF via booking all stadiums in the country-and locking out Football Association of Kenya, but to ensure its self-sustainability, he organized Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards money-making matches to bankroll KFF.

President Jomo Kenyatta once wondered why Matiba didn't have the two rivals play weekly for the money they were making.

With Zgoll's structures and Matiba's vision, Harambee Stars won our first Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in 1975. Zgoll's successor, coach Marshall Mulwa, inherited footballers who went on to win the Senior Challenge Cup back-to-back from 1981, 1982 and 1983.

The East and Central Africa Clubs Championships were also routinely exchanged between Gor Mahia, AFC and Kenya Breweries FC, now Tusker for 10 years to 1987...also the year Gor Mahia won the Mandela Cup and Harambee Stars were runners-up in the 4th All Africa Games!

Matiba left KFF to run for the Mbiri (now Kiharu Constituency) Parliamentary seat in 1979...forcing national team player Allan Thigo quit football.

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