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Matere Keriri: The Kibaki I knew

Matere Keriri with President Mwai Kibaki during a past press briefing. [File, Standard]

Former State House Comptroller and late President Mwai Kibaki’s long time friend John Matere Keriri remembers him as a man who carried the interest of Kenya in his heart.

Having met at Makerere University College, Uganda, in 1959 when Kibaki was a lecturer and Matere a student, his first lesson from the former president was “for anything you do, you must first have a strategy.”

Upon Mr Kibaki’s arrival at Makerere where he studied, the first thing students learned from him was that he graduated with first-class honours degree.

“he was among the first Africans to achieve that feat in Central, Eastern and South Africa,” recounts Mr Matere.

After Kibaki taught for a year in Makerere, Oginga Odinga who would later become Kenya's first Vice-President, travelled to Uganda and asked Mr Kibaki to move back to Kenya to take up the position of Kanu's executive officer.

“I asked him, are they going to pay you? No, I do not need to be paid he said. I’ll go and do the job for my country,” says Matere.

Without pay for the job that required him to transverse the country, the former State House Comptroller explains that Mr Kibaki hitchhiked to get from one region to another.

“He later got a beat up Volkswagen that ended up being of no use to him. He worked like that until Lancaster House Conference came and we later achieved our internal self-government and at that time Kibaki became part of the first government,” says Mr Matere.

President Mwai Kibaki as Finance Minister in June 1973. [File, Standard]

In 1963 as the country was trying to establish itself after gaining self-rule, the former State House Comptroller would later work with the former President in the Treasury where he (Kibaki) was assistant minister of Finance and the Chairperson of the Economic Development Commission.

“He led the commission very well and it is during that time that he started what you can call the beginning of our economic development. Someone had to do the planning of this country and it started with Kibaki as an assistant minister,” he says.

Economic growth

Matere believes that it is through Kibaki’s acumen as an economist that Kenya’s economy grew during his tenure at the Treasury. Kibaki ran the economy between 1969 and 1982.

The former State House Comptroller credits Mr Kibaki for the establishment of various development finance institutions such as the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation, Kenya Tourism Development Commission and the Agricultural Finance Corporation.

“He is the man who recommend the institution of the Development Finance Company of Kenya that was a partnership between institutions of the Kenyan government, German, Dutch and British government intended to attract foreign investment because we did not have our own money,” he says.

Almost four decades later when Kibaki took office as president, Mr Matere says he took the role of a leader and empowered his Cabinet to be able to have autonomy when making decisions.

Former State House Comptroller Matere Keriri with President Mwai Kibaki and ex-Cabinet Minister John Michuki Cabinet during a past event. [File, Standard]

 

“The drill was that ministers were commanded what to do and what not to do as ministers. Kibaki came with his own policy of giving the ministers the latitude to carry on with their own jobs,” he says.

Shortcomings

Even though many good things can be ascribed to the late president, he will also be remembered for moving the motion that made Kenya a single-party state by law in 1982.

It will also be hard to forget that Mr Kibaki failed to honour a promise made by his party of giving Kenya a new constitution within 100 days after taking office in 2002.

The former President came up with what his critics called a watered-down version of the intended constitution and Kenyans ended up rejecting it in a referendum.

Despite Mr Kibaki's tenure being blemished by post-election violence, Matere argues that he was not hungry for power but wanted the best for the country.

“Kibaki was not unduly ambitious. He rarely said will you elect me. He always said are you going to elect us. I hope Kenyans will remember that Mwai Kibaki was never selfish but a consensus leader,” he says.