Ailing multiparty democracy hero Kenneth Matiba had a broad smile after a court recently awarded him nearly Sh1 billion for his detention.
When renowned heart specialist and Mr Matiba’s personal physician Dr Dan Gikonyo recounted in court the politician’s medical history from the time he was released from detention, it became clear the burly businessman had been reduced to a state of complete inactivity.
He suffered a serious stroke on May 26, 1991, but remained in Kamiti Maximum Prison without medication for a week until he was released on June 4, 1991. By then, a head scan had confirmed he was bleeding in his brain and required urgent blockage of his arteries.
“His medical condition could have been managed by prompt treatment, but he was held in detention for too long despite his failing health,” testified Dr Gikonyo before the then High Court judge Isaac Lenaola, now of the Supreme Court.
The physician further informed the court that due to unnecessary delay, the politician, who prior to his incarceration was an active man, suffered permanent disability that has confined him to a wheelchair.
According to Dr Gikonyo’s testimony, not even the best hospital in England, where he was attended by a team of reputable neurosurgeons could bring Mr Matiba back to his normal life as he had already suffered left brain damage.
Mr Matiba had moved to court seeking Sh12 billion as compensation for unlawful detention and torture following his arrest in the dark days of retired President Daniel Moi’s regime in 1990s for his unrelenting crusade for multiparty democracy.
To buttress his case for damages, Mr Matiba, through his lawyer John Mburu said he spent more than Sh9.1 million on his treatment and continues to endure poor health. He also argued that his once thriving business empire collapsed after his detention.
After the evidence of torture and inhuman treatment on Mr Matiba was laid bare, Justice Lenaola awarded him Sh504 million. But following an erroneous calculation, the amount was later enhanced to Sh945 million. The figure is the highest court award ever paid to a Moi-era torture victim.
“Real justice can be expensive and the compensation is a lesson that such injustice should not be visited upon anyone,” said justice Lenaola in his ruling.
But who is this politician-cum-businessman? Mr Kenneth Matiba was among the few well educated youngsters at Kenya’s independence.
He became the first indigenous African permanent secretary (PS) at the age of 31, before the country gained independence. And in 1964, he was appointed PS for Commerce under minister Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third President.
He was also the chairman of the Kenya Football Federation (KFF) from 1974 to 1978. He was elected Mbiri MP (later renamed Kiharu) after he ousted Julius Gikonyo Kiano in the 1979 General Election.
He served as Minister of Transport and Communications under the Kanu regime before he resigned in December 1988.
In 1986, Mr Matiba became one of the youthful Kenyans to join the list of millionaires who by then could be counted by the fingers of one hand. He quit as PS to join East African Breweries and by 1989, he owned more than 25 per cent of the shares in the company.
An astute businessman and investor, Mr Matiba built one of the most formidable business empires in the country raging from hotel industry, top-tier schools, media, and agriculture secro. He also had controlling stake at the carbon dioxide manufacturer, Carbacid Ltd.
In 1967, Mr Matiba contemplated starting his own airline to airlift his farm produce abroad, but even as the government sanctioned the idea, the Civil Aviation Board denied him the licence.
Together with then Attorney- General Charles Njonjo and the late John Michuki, the trio had already bought a British-made aircraft, but their pet project collapsed after they were accused of attempting to topple the then East African Airways.
The former Cabinet minister owned Alliance Group of Hotels that included, Alliance Safari Beach, Africana Sea Lodge, Jadini Beach and Naro Moru River Lodge.
Mr Matiba was the sole proprietor of the prestigious Hillcrest Group of Schools located in the exclusive Karen suburb of Nairobi. The school attracted children from affluent families and offered the British education curriculum. He also had a Kindergarten in Westlands.
His media venture, Kalamka Ltd, which owned the People Daily, was in 2010 acquired by Mediamax Ltd, a company linked to the Kenyatta family.
Together with his partner Stephen Smith, Mr Matiba, while doubling as chairman of East African Breweries built his multimillion-shilling fortune around the Hillcrest Schools and the four prestigious hotels.
Hillcrest and the thriving hotel industry were principally managed by Mr Smith, Mr Matiba’s son Raymond, and a known hotel industry prodigy, Mr Christopher Modigell.
The business fortunes of Mr Matiba began to decline after he fell out with former President Moi in 1988 over the conduct of Kanu elections.
After resigning he concentrated on re-building his business empire with high hopes of expanding his hotel chain to Rwanda, the tiny Central African state then ruled by his friend, Juvenal Habyarimana, who later died in a plane crash.