Lessons from the early politicians who shaped Kenya

Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki AND Kenneth Matiba
Combined photos from left: Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Kenneth Matiba and Simeon Nyachae. They had a huge impact on the country’s politics. PHOTOS | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The death of second liberation hero Kenneth Matiba two weeks ago has further cut down the numbers of an exclusive group of independence leaders whose defining attributes were their dedication to public service, business successes and the huge impact they had on the country’s politics.

Members of this group include retired presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, former Attorney General Charles Njonjo, the first African mayor of Nairobi Charles Rubia and former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae.

Matiba, who was cremated on Friday, was eulogised for, among other things, his business acumen that enabled him to build an empire which sadly crumbled with the onset of health complications brought about by his incarceration in 1990 for calling for a return to multiparty politics.

He was also remembered for dedication to public service, where, aged 31, he served as the youngest Permanent Secretary (PS) in Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s administration from 1963 to 1968 before resigning to join the Kenya Breweries Ltd where he rose to be general manager.

Like Matiba, who died at 85, most of the five leaders mentioned above, now in their 80s or 90s, today suffer bad health attributed to old age, but most of what was said about Matiba could easily be said of them too.

Mr Nyachae is still admitted to a London hospital for further treatment after falling ill a month ago, while Mr Moi, 93, recently travelled to Israel for a knee check-up.

Mr Kibaki has had throat complications, too, that have almost rendered his speech inaudible.

Wrinkled with age and wracked by disease, today they might be a far cry from the vivacious entrepreneurial youthful nation-makers of yesteryears, but their influence endures.

This is not to say that they are without blemish; Mr Moi, for example, stands accused of detaining many of his political opponents, including Matiba and Rubia.

Former Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara was withering in his analysis of the legacy of the five leaders still alive and their departed colleagues who include the late Njenga Karume and John Michuki.

“The thread that runs through their stories,” he said, “Is that they acquired their wealth by exploiting the public offices they held.

“Only Matiba managed to distinguish his public service from his personal businesses to a certain degree, but he paid the price for it. Without political patronage, these people would not have become as wealthy as they did.”

Nonetheless, this does not take away the fact that these were men with extraordinary drive and an ability for hard work that was sometimes of legendary proportions.

While he was president, Mr Moi was known for his punishing schedule which began as early as four o’clock in the morning and ended past midnight.

He mostly traversed the country by road, not helicopter, holding multiple meet the people tours even when it was not election time.

As President for 24 years, not once did he report to office later than 6.30am, recalled his long-time press officer…

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