Seth Onyango @SethManex
A sombre mood engulfed the All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi yesterday as Kenyans from all walks of life paid their last respects to the departed multiparty crusader Kenneth Matiba.
Mourners, majority of them clad in black, poured into the church early morning to celebrate the life of the man whose immense contribution to the country’s democracy, leaders have agreed cannot be gainsaid.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and retired president Mwai Kibaki were among those who attended the requiem.
Mentor and Statesman The Head of State paid a glowing tribute to Matiba terming him his mentor and a statesman who will forever be remembered for his role in the democratisation of the Republic.
“We are here to celebrate the life of a man who is not just a father, a husband but a man who truly stood for what Kenya is supposed to be…a man who was willing to sacrifice everything to make life better for us,” he said.
Uhuru said Matiba risked everything he had in a desperate bid to improve the livelihoods of Kenyans.
At the same time, the Head of State urged Kenyans to embrace the ideals the fallen pro-democracy icon, who died mid this month after a long illness, stood for.
“There is a lesson to be learned… What will we be remembered for?
Are we ready to sacrifice in order to leave Kenya a better place than we found it?
Are we ready to surrender our desire for personal gain in order to ensure there is prosperity for all?” he posed. Before inviting the president, Deputy President Ruto said the country would probably not be the same without the contribution of Matiba.
“It is because of him that many of us have a freer, more democratic Kenya, that people from all walks of life came together to make a contribution to the making of our country,” he said.
He described Matiba as “an indefatigable proponent of democracy, human rights and a champion of the less privileged”. Mabiba’s family also eulogised their kin as a committed father and statesman who went out of his way to better the lives of others. “Our father accorded our mother an incredible amount of love and honour. He was by no means, a perfect husband,” said his eldest daughter Susan Matiba-Mwamto.
“We blossomed in the warmth of his unconditional love, his megawatt smile when he set eyes on us enveloping us in his presence…we recognise that a man like our father comes along once in lifetime.”
Streets of Nairobi Earlier, the procession carrying the late Matiba’s body made its way from the Lee Funeral Home to the All Saints’ Cathedral where Kenyans would pay their last respects to the veteran politician.
From Lee, the procession headed to Ngong Road, through Haile Selassie Avenue and then to Uhuru Park via Processional Way. Hundreds of mourners and bystanders burst into loud cheers as the casket carrying the body was wheeled into the Cathedral.
This happened even as Matiba’s lawyer John Mburu expressed frustrations over failure by the government to honour compensation awarded to the icon by the courts for torture and illegal detention during the Kanu regime.
“I Think I will go back to court now that the Attorney General has no commitment to honour compensation,” he said of an amount said to now have risen to Sh1.8 billion from accrued interest.
Mburu also dismissed claims that there is bad blood between him and Matiba’s family over his legal fees. Before becoming a full-blown politician, Matiba built a highly successful business empire straddling farming, hospitality and education sectors. In 1978, while aged 48, he was one of Kenya’s youngest indigenous millionaires.
His misfortunes started when he resigned, in December of 1988, after he disagreed with the government over Kanu’s grassroot elections in his Murang’a turf.
With Charles Rubia who had equally resigned from government, he joined multi-party proponents such as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the ‘Young Turks’.
But after July 7, 1990 demonstrations dubbed Saba Saba, he was detained without trial until early 1991, when he was released after suffering a stroke. Poor health dogged him to his death on April 15.