Climb mountains when you can, challenge powers-that-be when they err, seize opportunities when they come and make the family a fortress and a harbour when the storms of the world buffet you. Those are the lessons that Kenneth Matiba, the veteran politician who died on Monday, April 15, 2018.
An honest politician who stood for the country when calling out a president was a reckless disregard of personal life, Matiba trudged a path that many in the same political space avoided.
The clamour for multi-party was a wave that tested the 1980’s politicians’ ability to believe in something bigger than themselves. That something was freedom, that many paid with their lives, great loss of personal fortune, and to many it was career ending. Ask Matiba.
Like in all movements, there were opportunists who joined the clamour as an opportunity to settle petty differences with Daniel Toroitich arap Moi’s men, but the movement had genuine men who founded the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD) through which they wanted to contest the first multiparty presidential election, 30 years after independence.
Although Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Matiba the founders of FORD differed on how to tackle KANU’s totalitarianism, at least they agreed on the need to create space for divergent political opinions.
As a nation, the death of Matiba should ignite the FORD idea of restoring democracy while building a national culture of defiance whenever the government becomes allergic to divergent views.
We must teach our kids that great men like Matiba existed and gave their all to the struggle. Revisionists are on the loose to make us forget the cost of the clamour for multipartyism.
This is also an opportunity to audit the FORD generation, whereas the repeal of Section 2A was the hallmark of the multiparty war, how has the FORD generation of politicians faired in furthering the ideals that Matiba, Jaramogi and Charles Rubia sired?
Where have Paul Muite, Kiraitu Murungi, Raila Odinga, Gitobu Imanyara, James Orengo stood when this nation’s pluralism has been threatened in recent times? Those who have betrayed the FORD idea should not trumpet their reverence for Matiba.
We must teach our kids that great men like Matiba existed and gave their all to the struggle. Revisionists are on the loose to make us forget the cost of the clamour for multipartyism. The fact that some people hate Raila Odinga who played a frontline role in the call for multiparty is no excuse to silence the multiparty storytellers.
The historical truth that William Ruto, current vice-president and Presidential hopeful in four years, used his youthful energy to counter the proponents of the multiparty idea should not make us forget that 26 years ago we had an ideal moment. A lot of political realignments have happened, so many betrayals in between, but the ideals that Matiba & co fought for are increasingly becoming under threat, and we risk losing them if we are not eternally vigilant.
Matiba remains a hero who achieved a lot within a short political timeline, he would have easily won (some believe that he actually won) the presidency were it not for Njenga Karume and Kibaki’s political dalliance with Moi that gave rise to DP. As young boys playing in the Mugono valley that separates Murang’a and Nyeri counties, we would flash the two fingers FORD–Asili salute to adults crossing the log bridges from Nyeri-Kibaki’s turf-and then sing for them the Kibaki ni General kiguoya (Kibaki is a coward) song that Matiba had coined to mock the traitor. We did not know who the real enemy was, well, our tendency to miss the bigger idea and retreat to our regional huts is our major undoing.
His presidency might not have dealt with the land question given his loyalty to the Kenyattas but his tendency to pursue economic empowerment beyond land would have shifted our obsession with land to entrepreneurship.
Matiba’s brand of politics was about speaking to the immediate needs. He did not give pompous speeches about GDPs and economic blueprints. In fact his contributions to parliamentary debates are minimal but the man carried the hopes of a generation because he understood the priorities. Born in Kahuhia-Kiharu to a colonial collaborator’s family Matiba pursued ideas of food safety, clean water, and health, an approach that gave him an edge against his arch-rival Dr. Kiano, a man of immense elitism.
In nature’s unfairness, Matiba’s slogan Kusema na Kutenda has now been adopted by a political outfit led by a man who opposed all that Matiba stood for.
Kenneth Matiba’s signature smile and his belief in the family will outlive us. Matiba married Edith, Musa Gitau’s daughter, a decision that shaped his later life. Musa Gitau introduced Matiba to Kenyatta, Musa Gitau was Kenyatta’s guide through the Gikuyu circumcision process. Matiba would later host Kenyatta’s son Uhuru and Martin Michuki to undergo the same rite of passage together with his son Raymond in his Riara home.
He remained strong to the family values even when the typical 80s politician was philandering with high school principals. Edith has supported Matiba through his failing health until his demise without falling into the temptation of joining the post- Beijing women league networks that offers a soft landing for politicians’ wives.
Matiba’s life is a lesson on the kind of governance that Moi perpetuated. Growing up in the 90s we were denied an opportunity to tap more of Matiba’s knowledge, maybe he would have been a formidable force that would have made the easily forgettable 1997 elections a defining moment. Maybe he would have dealt with the promiscuous wealth accumulated by the KANU crooks, that economic might that is still running Nairobi, maybe he would have jailed Moi for his unmentioned role in Goldenberg-something that we might never toast a drink to.
The death of the icon should not represent the death of the Kenyan idea of defiance.
His presidency might not have dealt with the land question given his loyalty to the Kenyattas but his tendency to pursue economic empowerment beyond land would have shifted our obsession with land to entrepreneurship. As we bury him, the ignorant generation that has the audacity to say ‘afadhali Moi’ should learn what autocracy can do to a people.
Matiba, a straight shooter excited many young people to stand up against Moi. He exposed Moism for what it was: kleptocracy and autocracy. He may or may not have won the 1992 elections but as a country, we should not allow the 1992 moment to be annulled. We are at an age where sloganeering is considered more revolutionary than the actual organizing to challenge.
The death of the icon should not represent the death of the Kenyan spirit of defiance. As a nation that luckily missed out the vagaries of the 70s and 80s military coups that plagued Africa, we can stop this stupid hatred for each other on grounds of tribe and face the real enemy. Organizing must not be equated to hooliganism; Civil disobedience is a tool to demand good governance, equal opportunities and accountability. Young people should not buy into the elitist proposition that we can always negotiate our way out of a grievance, we must threaten the interests of the economic elite to make them listen to our interests.
Go in peace Matiba. You were a good man.