How Kenneth Matiba sunk from a billionaire politician to poverty
5 months ago, 16 Apr 12:12
He was among the handful of youngsters who were well educated at independence. Like Obama senior, the world lay at his feet. Ambitious, abrasive and a no nonsense and hands on manager, Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba became a permanent secretary while still in his 20s before quitting to join Kenya Breweries. An astute businessman and investor, he built a vast empire in hotel industry, notably on sand-swept Diani Beach. He also established top-tier schools that attracted the children of the mighty. A restless soul, politics was inevitable and in no time, he became a central figure in Gikuyu and national politics and a powerful KANU era cabinet minister. But his road to down fall began when he resigned in a huff following rigged party elections and became an opposition figure. The young don’t know and don’t care who is. The old have long moved on. So, Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba, pioneer civil servant, sports enthusiast, tycoon, politician, dreamer, political detainee and now bankrupt politician, lied in hospital two years ago, broken and ailing in obscurity. Yet this is the hands-on manager who once mulled over starting his own airline in 1967 to airlift his farm produce abroad. But although the government sanctioned his idea, the Civil Aviation Board denied him licence. Matiba, then Attorney-General Charles Njonjo and the late John Michuki, had already bought a British-made aircraft for 65,000 sterling pounds (Sh8.9 million at current rates), but their pet project collapsed after they were accused of attempting to topple East African Airways. The aircraft was flown back to England, ending the big dream. Matiba dreamt so big and invested so heavily in hotels and the education sector that in 1978, while aged 48, he was one of Kenya’s youngest indigenous millionaires. His huge investment included the prestigious Hillcrest Group of Schools, several five-star hotels along the coast and in central Kenya and, of course, The People newspaper. But back in 1964, when he served as permanent secretary, earning Sh3,200 a month, a local bank denied him a loan. However, that never slowed down his vigour to establish a multi-billion empire. But those days are long gone for the man who helped shape Kenya’s multi-party political landscape. The man famed for the ‘Kuuga na gwika’ (kusema na kutenda) slogan, almost became the president of Kenya. However, it was feared that as a leader, he probably would not have gelled well with Asians, whom he once reportedly threatened to kick out of Kenya if he took over the helms of power. Lawyer and politician Paul Muite believes Matiba in his heyday was a strong-willed politician, but one who mingled easily with ordinary citizenry, a good-hearted man and a true leader. “Matiba would have certainly implemented economic and social programmes to improve the lot of ordinary people. He would have closed the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” observes Muite. A man of numerous firsts, Matiba was the first indigenous Kenyan to venture into the tourist hotel business, as well as being ...
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