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What is left of once formidable Matiba hotel empire

By Mwaghesha Mkala | May 5th 2016
African Sea Lodge also part of the Alliance Group of Hotels. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

In 1989, former Kenya Football Federation chairman, savvy businessman and politician Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba, was valued at Sh16.7 billion. In January 2015, Jadini Beach Hotel, one of the properties he once owned, and one of the best and most historical hotels on the 536-kilometre Kenyan coastline, closed its doors.

By then, the four-star hotel was in the hands of Simba Lodges. Simba Lodges acquired the hotel in 2013 in an auction by Barclays Bank of Kenya to recover bad debts owed by Alliance Group of Hotels, a chain of hotels that include Jadini, which were part of the vast properties Matiba owned.

It is said the hotels had been run down for years following the deteriorating health of the once powerful Cabinet minister and civil servant. By the time Barclays was conducting the auction, Jadini was said to have lost its lure, with weeds having taken over the vast gardens that made it a gem.

Other than the lack of attention by the management, the hotels were suffering from the tough times that were facing the tourism industry, with terrorism and subsequent travel advisories by the West hitting the sector hard.

Once a chain to reckon with, Alliance Group of Hotels included Alliance Jadini Hotel, Alliance Safari Beach, Alliance Africana Sea Lodge and Alliance Naro Moru Lodge. The first three are located in the world-class Diani Beach seafront on the South Coast.

Alliance also operated Tropical Village in Malindi. The pristine white clean beaches in Diani are the perfect location for most tourist hotels, only rivalled by Watamu in North Coast in terms of cleanliness and serenity.

“There are no plans to do anything,” Vipul Patel, a director at Simba, was quoted as saying in January 2015, in regard to their acquisition of Jadini. Simba Lodges runs the Mara Simba Lodge, Lake Naivasha Simba Lodge and Samburu Simba Lodge. “Tourism at the Coast is in bad shape. Many hotels have closed and several have been put up for sale,” Patel said.

Simba was said to have acquired the hotel, which sits on 60 acres and has a beachfront of 300 metres, for Sh900 million. Experts termed the deal as good. Jadini Beach Hotel had 160 rooms in a three-storey building that faced the expansive Indian Ocean. In its heyday, the hotel was one of the quietest in the area.

Its well-manicured gardens housed cottages. Among its many facilities, it had a swimming pool, bars and a fitness club. The hotel, which was established in the 1930s by Maxie and Nelly Poer, was acquired by Matiba in 1970.

Then a family-run hotel, the property was synonymous with the Trench family, with Daniel Power Le Poer Trench, the couples’ son, one of the early pioneers of the hotel industry.

It was from the names of Maxie and Nelly’s children — Jack, Ann and Dan — that the name Jadini came from.
By the time of the acquisition by Matiba, who has been described as “ambitious, abrasive and a no-nonsense and hands-on manager”, had established Alliance Group of Hotels as he ventured into the hospitality industry.

Safari Beach Hotel is the only one that is still under the management of Matiba’s family. With 228 rooms, the hotel is said to have an “understated elegance and the ambience of an exotic African Village”. Also located on the 17-kilometre Diani Beach, the hotel is not in the excellent condition it used to be years back.

Also located in Diani is the Alliance Africana Sea Lodge. The three-star hotel has 154 standard rooms, six superior rooms and several African rooms. Each of the African rooms is said to have 950,000 pieces of makuti as the roof.

Even by the mid-2000s, the Alliance Group of Hotels were still well-managed, with visitors in each of the hotels gaining access to the sister hotels, which were a stone’s throw away.

Only visitors of Africana Sea Lodge were requested to pay more for services in the other superior hotels.

Naro Moru River Lodge is the only property by Alliance that was not based on the coastline. Originally a farm house, Alliance acquired it in 1978 and turned it into a hotel, with waters of the Naro Moru River acting as a natural ecology as the river meanders through the hotel.

Overlooking the imposing Mount Kenya, the management had a 60-bed mountain outpost named Mackinder’s Camp constructed at 14,000 feet in 1984. It was in line with the hotel, which was the original point of ascent to the top of the mountain.

Matiba was one of the individuals most affected by the dreaded Nyayo Chambers torture and the dwindling of his business empire is partly attributed to his agitation for multi-party democracy. Matiba, who has sued the government for wrongful detention during retired President Daniel Moi’s era, is seeking Sh12 billion in compensation.

Currently confined to a wheelchair, Matiba maintains that his business empire started collapsing during the time he spent in detention. Matiba suffered a stroke in 1991. His Hillcrest Schools, which were put under receivership in 2005 by the Barclays Bank over a Sh620 million debt, were sold in 2011.

He acquired Hillcrest Secondary School in 1974. According to a petition handed to the State Law Office in mid-April, Matiba is seeking Sh348 million to repair Safari Beach Hotel.

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