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Matiba autobiography unveils rise and fall of a man of the people

By Wainaina Wambu | Published Tue, April 17th 2018 at 00:00, Updated April 16th 2018 at 23:40 GMT +3
Mr. Matiba during the tour of Masinga Dam in Muranga District 7.12.84

Aged 36 years, Kenneth Matiba, briefcase in hand, stood outside the entrance of Jogoo House A, and bid farewell to a messenger passing by.

The messenger was the last person he saw as he quit his top position at the civil service, where he had been tapped as Permanent Secretary at only 31 years old.

The messenger, perhaps, foreshadowed his attachment to the common mwananchi.

Years later, thousands would line up on the route from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to welcome Matiba back from London.

The incident outside Jogoo House was also a contrast of a man who would later become a billionaire businessman rumoured to have paid Sh14 million annually to a British public relations firm in London.

Took it well

Matiba quit the civil service in June 1968 after giving a one year notice to the then Permanent Secretary in the  Office of the President, Geoffrey Kariithi.

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Mzee Jomo Kenyatta would later phone Mr Kariithi, demanding to know who had given Matiba permission to leave. Mzee was politely reminded that he authorised it himself; and took it well when Matiba went to say goodbye.

“I was relieved when he wished me well,” wrote Matiba in his autobiography, Aiming High, The Story of my Life.

When Matiba informed him that his son, Raymond, was going to be circumcised along with John Michuki’s two boys, mzee requested that his two sons, Uhuru and Muhoho, join them.

Reluctant politician

A reluctant politician, Matiba contested for the Kiharu parliamentary seat (then known as Mbiri) in 1979 where he ousted former Cabinet Minister, Gikonyo Kiano. And at 5pm when the radio announced that he had trounced Dr Kiano, hundreds of people started streaming towards his Embassy House office in Murang’a. “I have never seen so many people in my life at night. They were everywhere,” he wrote.

According to his autobiography, even police could not control the crowd.

Earlier that evening, Matiba wrote that he had ordered two seven-tonne lorries of beer. “After all it was baada ya kazi (after work),” he said.

Matiba wrote that he never knew who drank that beer or where it was drunk. “Even by nine o’clock the following morning people were still arriving, having walked all night to come and be at my Embassy House,” he wrote.

In his autobiography, he wrote of his contempt for corruption, a vice he encountered in his career in Government and business. “My view is that corruption thrives where there are no systems or where the systems collapse,” he wrote.

He admitted that during his time in the civil service, several attempts were made to bribe him.

A shrewd businessman, Matiba owned close to 15 companies, a bulk of which he lost to auctioneers during his later years.

Plan thwarted

His portfolio included Carbacid Investments, Alliance Hotels, Orchid Ltd and Hillcrest schools.

In 1967, together with John Michuki (now deceased) and Charles Njonjo, they attempted to start a private airline.

Matiba was tired of the services offered by the then East African Airways in transporting his horticultural products abroad. The three acquired an aircraft for £65,000 (Sh9,371,693 by today’s exchange rates).

But a Tanzanian newspaper thwarted their plan when it carried front page articles speaking of “a plot hatched in Nairobi with the assistance of the Government to overthrow East African Airways.” The three were marked as the “capitalists” picked to execute the “plot.”

By then, Matiba and Michuki were still Permanent Secretaries while Njonjo was the Attorney General and did not want the business to be associated with the Kenyan Government. “We, therefore, did not sign the purchase contract; the aircraft was flown back to England and the attempt ended there,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Years later he would encounter a nasty battle with banks wanting to auction his property.

Chased away

Matiba  chased away four receivers sent to take over his Alliance Group of Hotels in Mombasa’s South Coast over a debt of almost Sh1 billion.

In 2004, an international bank sent receivers to take over his Hillcrest Group of Schools over a Sh540 million loan.

Last year, the High Court ordered that Matiba be paid Sh945 million as compensation for torture.

Lawyers attributed his poor health and its deterioration to the decline of his businesses.


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