Kenneth Matiba, who died on Sunday, had a love-hate political relationship with former president Daniel arap Moi.
Although he died at an advanced age of 85, he lived the last almost 30 of that in poor physical and mental health, blamed on a stroke suffered in detention.
The late Matiba was detained by Moi government after the former agitated for the return to multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.
But earlier, Matiba had been Moi’s permanent secretary in Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency and a minister in Moi’s, government before losing his parliamentary seat in the much discredited 1988 mlolongo (queue-voting) elections.
During that election, Matiba and many other politicians considered popular controversially lost their parliamentary seats and formed the backbone of the group that subsequently agitated for greater democratic space.
The group incorporated the late Oginga Odinga who had been in the political cold since falling out with Jomo Kenyatta in the 1960s and youngsters such as Gitobu Imanyara, Paul Muite and Raila, Odinga’s son.
In his autobiography, the Flame of Freedom Raila describes how he collaborated with Matiba in mobilizing Saba Saba rally, which turned into a violent clash between police and youths, and helped put pressure on Moi to allow return of multipartysm.
Raila said he used his networks in football to do the mobilization while Matiba brought the matatu industry on board.
This marked a return to hostilities between Matiba and Moi, bringing back tensions that date back to last years of Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency when Matiba teamed up with a clique that wanted to bar Moi from succeeding Kenyatta.
According to Moi’s biographer, Andrew Morton, Matiba was a key member that clique that was given a befitting name, Kiambu mafia.
“As far as Njonjo was concerned Matiba, who had worked as Moi’s Permanent Secretary during the 1960s, had, with Mbiyu Koinange, Dr Njoroge Mungai and Paul Ngei, provided the bulk of funds for the Change the Constitution group,” Morton wrote in The Making of an African Statesman.
But upon Kenyatta’s death, Matiba benefited from the general amnesty that the new president, Moi, granted those who had wronged him during Kenyatta era.
However, things changed when Matiba lost his seat in 1988 and joined other forces in 1988, to try and get multipartysm reintroduced.
Those efforts ultimately bore fruit but by that time Matiba had been detained and had suffered a stroke from which he would never fully recover.
Matiba’s rough treatment came as a shock to his family which had all along considered Moi to be a friend. In a past interview, his wife said they were surprised when Moi started avoiding Matiba before the controversial 1988 elections.
A fresh twist was given to Moi-Matiba relationship when, according to some sources, Moi used Matiba to split the opposition in 1992.
According to political science scholar, Gabrielle Lynch, franklin Bett confirmed helping Matiba’s cause in that year as a way of creating a rift in the opposition.
“I prepared posters, all over [for Matiba’s return] ‘Welcome our President’…and I got youths to picket those posters,” Lynch quotes Bett as having said.
Matiba had a strong showing in that election, coming second to Moi, and subsequently insisted that he won.
However, everything went from bad to worse for Matiba since then, with his health deteriorating, his business empire collapsing, and his presence in politics all but disappearing after his boycott of 1997 elections.
His son, Raymond, got into public life for a short while as Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) boss and some expected him to follow in the footsteps of current president, Uhuru Kenyatta who started his public service there before climbing up rapidly. But the younger Matiba soon went out of the radar.
In the last one year or so, Matiba has gotten compensation from the courts for his detention and adverse health effects he suffered. But it is largely seen to be far too little and way too late. Fare thee well, Kenneth Njindo Matiba.