By: David O. Monda

On 1st June 1932, the soils of Muranga County reverberated with the birth of Kenneth Njindo Matiba. Born was a Kenyan who would confront the authoritarian powers that had coopted the state since independence. Kenneth Matiba’s life was characterized by his defiance to the tyranny of the state and his desire for increasing democratic freedoms. While many mourn his demise, the reality of things is that Matiba was unable to bridge the divide of ethnic mobilization in the Kenyan political psyche. He was unable to beat the beast of negative ethnicity that scuppered his momentum in advancing the expansion of the democratic space through the introduction of multi-party democracy in the 1990’s.

Matiba shot to the political limelight by resigning from the Nyayo Government. He was eventually rigged out of political office in the de jure one party state that was Kenya in the late 1980’s. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, the Third Wave of democratization in Africa began. Kenya was not spared this wave as neoliberal dogma from the triumphalist West emphasized multi party politics and democratization as the cure for a lot of the ills the continent faced. Kenya was forced to repeal Section 2A of the constitution that made the country a de jure one party state and allow for the introduction of multiparty politics. If Matiba had one fault, it was to overestimate the designs of his colleagues in the opposition as being nationalistic. In reality, the opposition was a collection of opponents of the Moi government. They had no agenda on how to transform the county apart from getting rid of the Moi government. They intended for their co-ethnics to take over the mantels of government.

On election day, the opposition was divided. Matiba was caught up in playing the tribal king for the Kikuyu nation. So were other opposition leaders like Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. The opposition had shown its true colors. They had retreated into their ethnic cocoons with the clearest chance of removing the Moi government from power. Eventually, Kenyans preferred the devil they knew to one they did not know. Matiba appears to have been a man before his time. The proclivity of the Kenyan electorate to vote on ethnic lines continues to be national problem Matiba was not able to overcome.

Calamitous as it is, in Matiba’s death, disingenuous politicians have cried crocodile tears eulogizing his passing yet they facilitated and perpetuated his slow but painful demise. Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. As Kenya mourns another fallen patriot, the vision of a republic based on justice being our shield and defender is still a dream to aspire to in Matiba’s memory.


David O. Monda is professor of Political Science at City University of New York – Guttman College

Image: Kenneth Matiba (center) with Raila Odinga (right)