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How Matiba lost Sh5bn empire, thanks to friend-turned-foe Moi

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Friday October 25 2019
Kenneth Matiba

The late Kenneth Matiba. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Legendary reggae artiste Bob Marley once said, “Your worst enemy could be your best friend and your best friend your worst enemy”.

This might as well describe the friendship Kenneth Stanley Matiba had with former President Daniel arap Moi.

After succeeding in politics, getting a stable family and building a vast business empire that was once estimated to be worth more than Sh5 billion, orders by Mr Moi, his close friend, bit off a large chunk of what was a great life.

TORTURE

While Mr Matiba’s family stuck with him to the bitter end, the torture he underwent following orders by retired President Moi robbed him of part of his cognitive functions, a thriving political career and his business empire while testing the lengths family would go to stay by his side.

Mr Matiba will forever be etched in Kenya’s history owing to his exploits in taking former President Moi head-on in two different corners of the political arena that yielded contradicting results.

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Alongside Charles Rubia and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Mr Matiba managed to pressure Mr Moi’s administration to repeal Section 2A of Kenya’s Constitution, which opened the door for multiparty politics.

But their victory came at a price most are not willing to pay. Of the three, only Mr Odinga managed to pick up the pieces and succeed in politics and business after being imprisoned and tortured for their political push.

PRIVATE BUSINESS

After rising through the ranks from teaching at Kangaru Secondary School to becoming the Home Affairs permanent secretary and eventually moving to the Commerce, Industry and Co-operative Development ministry, Mr Matiba decided to go into private business.

While at the Home Affairs ministry, Mr Matiba met Daniel Arap Moi, who was then the minister. A bosom bond flourished between Mr Matiba and Mr Moi, with the former unaware that everything he was working hard to achieve would tumble to the ground through his friend’s orders.

Mr Matiba carried the experience gained from the civil service and teamed up with British business partner Stephen Smith to buy the Jadini Hotels in Mombasa.

He also went into farming with his wife, Edith, and they soon joined the list of Kenya’s most successful farmers at the time, exporting huge volumes of French beans.

In 1974, the Matibas bought a parcel of land in Karen and established the Hillcrest Secondary School and later on the Hillcrest Preparatory School and the Marlborough House Kindergarten.

SHARES

Mr Matiba’s investment portfolio had the Naru Moru River Lodge, Alliance Hotels Limited, Alliance Investments Limited, Alliance Developments Limited, Ritzena Limited, Haies Limited, Farlo Limited, Computron Limited, the People Limited and Westlands (K) Limited.

The former Kiharu MP had also bought shares in Carbacid Investments Ltd, Carbacid (Co2) Ltd, Kenya Nurseries Ltd, Orchids Kenya Ltd, Flowers of Kenya Ltd, and Wangu Investments Ltd. He had considerable shares at East African Breweries.

At the time of his death, the value of Mr Matiba’s estate had shrunk to Sh723 million, a mere fraction of what it was and what it could have been.

Both Mr Matiba and Mr Rubia had been punished since leaving the Moi administration, and their businesses paid the price. Tired of the punitive orders from the President, the two opted to jump into the sandbox Mr Moi had made and play.

Alliance Safari Beach Hotel

Part of the the Alliance Safari Beach Hotel owned by the Matiba family. The hotel was opened in 1986 by former President Moi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

On May 3, 1990, they called a press conference targeting Mr Moi’s administration and called for embracing of a multiparty system of government.

In the press conference, Mr Matiba and Mr Rubia also called for a peaceful rally at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi on July 7, 1990.

ARRESTED

Three days before the rally, Mr Matiba was arrested and hence began the torture. He had already gone through Mr Moi’s favourite intimidation tactic of torture, having been arrested and detained numerous times since 1980.

In the cells, Mr Rubia had been assaulted, whipped, stripped naked, kept in a water-logged cell, sprayed with cold water at high pressure from a hose pipe before eventually being released.

He was also denied food, badly beaten with pieces of wood and tyre, denied sleep, insulted, molested and forced to drink water mixed with his urine and faeces.

Both Mr Matiba and Mr Rubia were arrested and shuttled through numerous police stations while being tortured using the Nyayo House intimidation blueprint. Other politicians, lawyers and businessmen backing multipartyism were also arrested and detained.

Mr Rubia was freed in April 1991 and flew to the United Kingdom shortly after for two months’ treatment.

Around the same time, Mr Matiba suffered two major strokes and was released at the point of death. He spent a year in London on treatment.

Despite eventually returning to run his businesses and make a political comeback, Mr Matiba was never the same again.

SUFFERED STROKE

Unable to fully recover from the two strokes suffered in detention, his businesses slowly started to crumble.

By 2005, Barclays was raring to auction Mr Matiba’s properties to offset a Sh544 million loan that was still growing on account of interest.

Both Hillcrest School and Jadini Hotel had acquired new owners by 2013 after the auctioneer’s hammer fell to offset the Barclays loan.

While battling to save his properties from auction, Mr Matiba struck a deal with the devil.

He procured the services of businessman Hanif Khan and Southcote Limited to save the properties.

Hanif sued the Matibas in 2012 and 2018 seeking payment of nearly Sh1 billion. But an out-of-court settlement was eventually reached between the two parties, with the nitty gritty of the deal still a secret.

Mr Matiba sued the government in 2014 for losses he incurred owing to detention and torture. Justice Isaac Lenaola, now a Supreme Court judge awarded him Sh945 million.

While he did finally get justice for the torture, Mr Matiba died before the compensation amount was released.

The family is also locked in a battle with lawyer John Mburu who represented Mr Matiba over legal fees.