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July 22, 2018

How politics brought down Matiba empire

Jadini Beach Hotel in Diani, Kwale county /COURTESY
Jadini Beach Hotel in Diani, Kwale county /COURTESY

Kenneth Matiba, who died on Sunday, was a go-getter, but his story is a classic case of  grace to grass.

 An astute businessman, he built a vast business empire. But despite his immense wealth, Matiba died a broken man - a pale shadow of himself.

As he lost grip of his multi-billion empire after the 1992 elections, friends deserted him. Only close family friends stayed along and would comfort him in hospital.

Watch: [VIDEO] Kenneth Matiba is dead

Being one of the few young educated Kenyans at independence, Matiba landed a job in government at a young age.

Before Kenya attained independence, Matiba, 31, was the first Kenyan Permanent Secretary for Education under the colonial government. He was a classic embodiment of inspiration and ambition.

He was first elected to Parliament in 1983 when he won the Mbiri seat. Mbiri constituency was later renamed Kiharu. Matiba was appointed minister for Health and served in other dockets until he resigned in 1988.

Read: Joseph Kinyua to head Matiba's funeral committee

Described as ambitious and abrasive with a keen eye for business oppotunities,  Matiba soon had busisiness interest cutting across sectors.

In his heyday, Matiba owned The Alliance Hotels in South Coast and Mt Kenya as well the high cost Hillcrest Schools. He established the People Daily newspaper, he was an outstanding farmer and had a substantial holding in Wangu Investment, which owns the expansive Wangu Embori Farm in Timau, Meru.

He also had substantial shares in the Nairobi Securities Exchange listed Carbacid Limited where he was the principal shareholder. At 46, he was one of Kenya’s youngest indigenous millionaires. 

His widow Edith said in an interview in 2013 Matiba funded his 1992 presidential bid alone.

“...And then he conceived the hotels and they did well, actually no, they did very well. So we got to a point where money was not a problem. That’s why, for example, in the 1992 election, we could afford to fly all over without any problem,” she recalled.

However, after 1992, things started to go wrong. 

Also read: Remain true to Kenneth Matiba's ideals, leaders tell Kenyans

“But when things went wrong it was back to calculating whether to buy this or that. For me money looks like a flock of birds. You see, like the ones which are white, they come so many of them and settle down in a place. Then they all fly away and there is nothing,” she said.

Matiba’s business nosedived. His hotel chain was briefly taken into administration (although he regained control). Matiba regained control of Hillcrest Schools which was under receivership in 2005 due to a Sh620 million loan from Barclays Bank. He sold the schools to a consortium led by Fanisi Capital.

A huge part of his investment was  disposed off from early 2000, when Barclays Bank demanded the settlement of debts in excess of Sh1.8 billion.

The family lost control of Carbacid Limited and then proceeded to sell shares in the company worth over Sh400 million. He sold his 22 per cent stake to private equity firm Centum Investment. In 2010, the family through Kalamka Ltd, sold the People Daily, to Mediamax Ltd, a company linked to the Kenyatta family. Matiba who went to Alliance High School in 1929 formed a strong close friendship to the Kenyatta family.

The 85-year-old former Kiharu MP was due to receive a Sh945 million as compensation from torture, detention and stroke.

 

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