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January 17, 2019

Matiba’s ‘friend’ Moi betrayed him

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited the late politician Kenneth Matiba at Karen Hospital./FILE
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited the late politician Kenneth Matiba at Karen Hospital./FILE

This week we lay Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba to rest.

Since he died we have learnt many things about Matiba. Despite the sadness we have also had some hilarious ‘memes’ going around on mainstream and social media. The best ones being the those borrowed from Julius Malema’s ‘Mama they are hiye’ eulogy, when he spoke truth to power during Winnie Mandela’s funeral.

It is certainly easy to do our own ‘Mama they are hiye’ for Matiba. We have treated him despicably, as a nation. We have watched a good man struggle, whither away, and die. We have stood silently by as he fought for justice. In fact, were it not for the sheer resilience of the man — and of his family— he would have died in poverty, his family destitute.

It is therefore understandable that he preferred cremation. He must have been horrified thinking that the same people that caused him so much anguish would be the same ones lining up to offer platitudes at his graveside. At the very least he must have wanted to save his family that scene of hypocrisy.

They say hindsight vision is 20-20. There are many things Matiba did that we might never understand. However there is an entire curriculum of lessons to learn from his life, especially for someone like me, a freshly elected MP. Two immediately come to mind.

The first lesson is that I must understand what I do, whenever I do it. There are many who could not visit Matiba’s home to condole with the family, because of the roles they played in what happened to him. Others went, but they know, and the family knows, that it is because of our African culture that they were not kicked out of the homestead!

I accept that politics is dynamic. I also know that a successful politician is the one who is relevant, period. I also know that to be relevant sometimes requires one to literally ‘somersault’ on an issue. I argue that the reason for such about-turns is because politicians are products of their community, and if your community about-turns on an issue, you as their representative can only but do the same.

But watching the discomfort of many politicians in engaging on issues related to Matiba’s life teaches me that whilst doing our politics we must remember that even that shall pass. That one day you will be on the other side of a political career, looking backwards. My lesson is that whatever mistakes I make must be genuine, and something I can be able to explain to my grandchildren.

The second lesson comes from the fact that Matiba and former President Moi were once bosom friends. It disturbs me to imagine that one friend could allow what happened to Matiba. Of course both were politicians, so my lesson number one above applies to them. But I also learn another lesson. The fact that someone is your friend today does not mean that he will not allow, deliberately or by default, bad things to happen to you if it serves their immediate political interests.

This is a very important lesson, especially as I look around at the cheerleaders preparing us for the 2022 transition. Many are selling us candidates who are their ‘friends’. However, what we will need, at the right time, is a candidate who is right for Kenya, at such a time as this. We will also need institutions — and politicians — who can check even ‘our friends’ should they want to stretch the law for their immediate political interest.

Essentially the way to celebrate Matiba is to ensure that never again will a friend — or an enemy — do to anyone what happened to Matiba.

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