Detention saved Matiba from the sword of Kanu killers, says Edith

Friday July 5 2013

LABAN WALLOGA |  NATION Mrs Edith Matiba was hit on the head when gangsters broke into her Limuru home in 1990. She believes the men had been sent to kill her husband for challenging the Kanu hegemony.

LABAN WALLOGA | NATION Mrs Edith Matiba was hit on the head when gangsters broke into her Limuru home in 1990. She believes the men had been sent to kill her husband for challenging the Kanu hegemony. NATION MEDIA GROUP

Question: You were raised as a staunch Christian and you still are...

Mrs Edith Matiba: Yes, I am born again.

Are there times in your life when you felt as if God has forsaken you and if so, what did you do?

Surprisingly, no. I have never felt as if He has given up or has forgotten me. I have been convinced more that whatever comes to me, God knows and has allowed it.

What did you see in Mr Kenneth Matiba that made you decide to marry him and stick with him through everything.

(Starts laughing): That’s very interesting! I was in Standard Eight and he was a Form One at Alliance High School. The following year, I went to African Girls High School (Alliance Girls today) and of course it was just across.

So he himself had taken a liking to me but I had not. But he kept on asking me out. I think in the end, I saw a character in him that I admired: he was honest, clean, very clean — okay, clean in body and also in spirit. So gradually, a friendship, a very loose friendship developed.

By the time he did his ‘O’ Levels, and passed to go to Makerere, I was still a year behind. Our friendship grew even stronger when I joined Makerere. He graduated with a BA in sociology, geography and history.

He returned to do a diploma in education. We more or less finished together and he was posted to teach at Kangaru while I got a job with the government as a community development officer. I was posted to Bungoma. But I didn’t work for very long. That was in 1960 in June/July. The following year we got married.

The title of Chapter 9 of his autobiography “Aiming High: The Story of My Life” is a question – “A politician or a man in politics?” Let me quote you a paragraph in it: “Some people have said that I am not a politician.

Some have criticized my political decisions saying that I should not have reacted in a certain manner to certain situations. In some cases, I have been moved by my principles to behave in a certain way. I had, for example, to resign my cabinet post. I considered that to be the most honourable way of dealing with an issue that was before me.

But there are times I have tended to agree with my critics. I have even told my friends on many occasions that I do not want to be regarded, and I do not regard myself, as a politician who follows a political career as a profession regardless of principle.

I am only a man in politics and there is a subtle difference between the two. I am proud that I can play other roles as well as be in politics.” Principle with politics, can the two co-exist and at what cost to a person and his/her family?

I would agree that he is a man in politics, not a politician. In fact, the one question I asked and kept asking him is ‘why do you have to go into politics while you can do all you want to do outside politics?’

This was because I had not seen a politician that I could say is honest. My fear was that you go into politics and you become a dishonest man. But Kenneth did not go into politics for what he could get out of it.

He was genuinely interested in changing the lives of people and especially the lives of Kiharu people and hoping that this would eventually spread across the whole country. (Smiles wistfully and makes a thoughtful pause).

There are times I used to say: ‘I think Kiharu has replaced me in your heart.’ For example, he was a very avid squash player — whether he had a partner or not. He would take his racket and play after work. And he would come home drenched in sweat.

But sometimes, I would get a call and he says: ‘Oh, I am coming home, but I am going through Kiharu.’ Now, we live in Limuru. He is coming home from Nairobi, and it is 7pm, and he is passing through Kiharu, Murang’a. Before he joined politics in 1979, I went on my knees and prayed against his getting into politics.

But as I watched him, I knew for certain that he was going to join politics and I asked God, ‘please give me the will to help him and to accept’, which I think God graciously did.

I understand that Matiba and former President Moi were very close personal friends...

Very close. Very, very close...

And that this extended to their families as well...

Yes, yes...

Where did the rupture come from?

 (She tenses up): This is the one thing I keep asking myself: what happened? I think there is somebody who came between them. I think that Moi knew that this is a man of principle and what he says he will not change.
Anything in particular?

The infamous queue-voting of 1988. I think that is where the split came. When Ken was rigged out, he made so much noise that the elections had to be repeated. When we went for the second elections, we realised that the queues were arranged in such a way that Ken’s voters would be counted as those of the opponent’s.

So Ken refused. The elections were done; he was elected and reappointed to the Cabinet. Mwai Kibaki was demoted from Vice-President and made minister of Health. They had agreed together that they would resign and of course, Ken went ahead and resigned (on December 9, 1988) but Kibaki said, ‘I have second thoughts.’

That particular day, there were some buses that had been given to Kenya and Moi was going to commission them outside the GPO and Ken was supposed to be there. So while they were waiting for Ken, the letter came and Moi was told that Ken had resigned.

So, Moi must have taken it very personally...

(Gestures and is momentarily lost in thought). That’s it. So, that’s it...

He was detained later. Why would Moi turn so hard on so close a personal friend?

I think the way he resigned, Moi must have felt humiliated. And I can say there were other forces that were working around Moi.

What did Matiba say about it?

When Ken was still articulate, he said  ‘if ever I get a chance to see Moi, I will ask him, why did you detain me?’ But I think detention saved him from worse. If he wasn’t detained, Ken would have been killed.

But in detention, they may have tried other things but they couldn’t kill him because the world would be looking at them... Do you see this? (She points to deep scar on the right side of her head next to the ear). That was the attack. It was June 13, 1990. In the morning, Ken told me he was going to Mombasa.

I was going to our farm in Sagana, what we call Location 20 in Murang’a. We had an old Land Rover. I told him I would use the vehicle — in those days I was driving myself — and because it was old, I asked him for some emergency money for repair. He gave me Sh5,000. I left for the farm and came back very tired in the evening...

I left my daughter Julie, who had just come home from Cornell University, US, and her friend Millie watching television and went top bed. At midnight, I heard the two girls running towards my bedroom shouting: ‘Mum, open for us! There are people in the house! I opened the door for them.

We had an alarm system for the neighbourhood. I pressed it and called Tigoni Police Station, but they refused to answer. So I said into the radio: ‘Anybody who hears this, we are under attack, please help us.’ I just managed to put the phone down when the gangsters knocked at my door. 

About 10 men came into the room. They asked: ‘Where is Mr Matiba?’ I told them he had gone to Mombasa. So they looked under the bed, and everywhere. Then one said, ‘Okay, we want Sh10 million!’ I looked at them, very calmly, and I said: ‘I have never seen even a cheque of Sh1 million and true enough I had not seen one. (Shakes her head slowly).

That must have been harrowing... Yes. One of them ordered ‘Okay!  Bring whatever money you have.’ I pointed to my bag on the chair. He took it and said ‘there is no money here!’ I said ‘no there is.’ I was still sitting on the bed. So I rose and went to the bag and handed the money that Ken had given me.

He shouted, ‘this is not enough!’ I said, ‘in that little chest of drawers near the bedside, there is some more money.’

The man crossed the room and pulled the drawer, knife in hand. His accomplice was standing next to me and he had a small axe. He hit me here (points to her skull). The blood shot out. My daughter Julie cried ‘Woi, mummy’ and came and held me like this (demonstrates). So this man comes and shouts at her ‘get back, otherwise I will kill you!’

He had a panga and hit her on the face but by God’s grace not with the sharp end. It injured her gum but at least... Millie let out a loud yell and was hit with a mullet on the head but fortunately she had very long hair which she had plaited and that took most of the shock of the mullet. Anyway, the attackers said ‘okay, we are going but we are coming back.’

There was a computer and television in the room but they didn’t take them. The only little thing they took from my daughter, and I keep on laughing about this, is a little bag that contained her things for painting herself (laughs heartily and continues talking through the mirth).

I don’t know what they thought that was so I am just tickled about that. Anyway they left.

If they had found Ken, I don’t think we would even have found anything to bury. And there was another attempt on his life when somebody was told to plant a bomb under his car but the person refused.

So, I said to myself, let him stay in detention because he is safer there.... 

It is public knowledge that Mr Matiba paid a steep price in terms of his health and his businesses as a result of his foray into politics. But you have also borne a heavy burden, taking care of him as his health fails. People still ask after him. How is he?

His condition has taken a lot out of me. When I look at him, and I know what he was — active, kind and generous, honest, a man who did not see anything as a barrier... (trails off). I have been with him since the time he came back from detention having suffered a stroke.

I have seen him through the worst as far as health is concerned because when we got to England, he suffered a second stroke. And because of the bleeding that had occurred, they said they had to operate and remove the blood. They had told me that touching the brain may cause some problem.

When he eventually came round, he was a different person. And we stayed in that hospital for three months. He couldn’t even speak. I had to teach him speech, like you teach a child — to do ABCD. A-a. B-b. I made cards, like flashcards, and ask him ‘what’s this?

What’s this, you know, that kind of thing.’ And then eventually, a little writing and then I would tell him to write the same way — you know, like you would do with a kindergarten child.

At the end of three months, the doctor said, well, ‘we have done what we can and we think the best thing is for you to go to a rehabilitation centre where Ken can probably have some improvement on his ability to speak and also probably his ability to walk.

But as far as we are concerned, Mrs Matiba, we have to tell you, will have to look after your husband all the years ahead of you’. So I asked them, ‘you mean he is going to remain a cabbage?’ It was bitter but he said ‘yes.’

That must have hit you hard...

I just felt devastated. But anyway we went to this rehabilitation centre and we started again from scratch. They were very good because both walking, speech, even showing him how to dress himself, how to tie his shoes and that kind of thing.

And he made progress. He could now begin to walk a little, eventually he could walk quite a distance and one day he disappeared from the hospital and we had to look for him (smiles wistfully) in the bushes just gallivanting.

We were there for four months. Then we took up a flat close to the rehabilitation centre so that I could take him once a week, then eventually once a month and that went on until we moved back to London.

He was supposed to have physiotherapy, but he refused, saying that ‘God is going to heal me.’ But he kept on walking little distances and eventually, Ken was walking five miles, and on to eight miles.

So by that time I think we were ready to come back. But politicians had already started coming to him because this whole thing about what had happened to him had made him quite popular back home.

You will probably remember his return day how it was. But of all things, I never thought that he would go back into politics. So my heart just sank when he decided that he would go back into politics.

He was into politics again in 1997, but he was beginning to get disillusioned. Then after that he stood for elections in 2007. I kept on asking him ‘why? You have not campaigned.

You know you have been away.’ He came here (at Ukunda) after 2004. He was staying here. He had no contact with the people back home except with the politicians who would visit him.

Did you feel that those politicians were trying to take advantage of him...?

Yes, yes, yes. Well, he didn’t win and I didn’t expect him to win.

Now what are your personal feelings towards Mr Moi given what happened?

Funny enough, I have no bitterness. But I keep on...(pauses and looks out to sea) asking ‘Why? Why did he do this? It’s a question I can’t answer. And I wish I have an opportunity to ask him. I have met him twice.

We travelled in the same aircraft to UK. We got into the aircraft and then we saw him coming but he sat at the front, behind the pilot and he did not leave that place until we got to London. I think he waited for us to get out first before he got out. But we waited. As he passed, he said ‘Habari’ and went away. That was all.

The second time I met him was when Mr (Njenga) Karume died. I went in very briefly just to say pole to the lady. I was pushed through the crowds until I got to where she was. I had not even noticed who also was there.

So I said hello, hello, hello then when I got to the fourth person, he looked up and I said under my breath ‘Oh gosh, it is you?’ I must have said that audibly. I said hello and I moved out. Those are the only times that I have met him.

What is the greatest lesson that life has taught you?

Life. I think, one — be humble in whatever state you are in. I mean, if money is what you would call good life, I have known that. We begun literary with nothing. My parents were old by the time I started working; in fact I had to support them rather than them support me. He didn’t have anything.

We built our life together and I must say God blessed us and especially blessed him because he went from one level to the other. 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.

But when things turned the way they did it was back to calculate 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.

Money is like that. It can come and it can fly away. So when it is coming and when it is there and when you are enjoying, be humble.

Yours is a study in great resilience...

By God’s grace....(laughs heartily)

You’ve given the answer! I wanted to know the source of your strength in the face of extraordinary adversity.

I think that my faith in God has helped me in the circumstances that I’ve had to go through because as I said earlier, I always believe that nothing comes to me that God doesn’t know. It may be that he wants to strengthen me more. And when you have won one battle, you are strong enough to face another one. That way, you grow in spirit. This is part of training.

If you don’t mind would you kindly talk about Mr Matiba’s current state of health and how he spends his days?

Alright, let me say this, physically, he’s okay. He doesn’t have a cold, he doesn’t have a headache, he doesn’t have stomach problem. His problem is that he can no longer walk. He is on a wheelchair everywhere he goes. Everywhere. He was up, let me say up to last year. He would come here and people would come and he would really interact with them and talk. But this year has really been difficult.

He can talk but you find that probably because of lack of exercise, he is struggling to find the right words that he wants to use, but so do I...(smiles).

And you yourself, how do you spend your days? What books do you read, what book are you currently reading?

I read a lot — more at night than during the day. I read widely but more religious books. In fact the book I am currently is “India’s Bandit Queen - The true story of Phoolan Devi” by Mala Sen. (Goes to her study and comes with it and another one).
After that I will read “A Lineage of Grace. Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity” by Francine Rivers. 

With the exception of life itself, what is the greatest gift or gifts that God gave you?

I think for me spiritually the greatest gift is enabling me to have faith in God. I am 78 years old this month, and despite Ken’s condition, we are still together, 52 years after our marriage.

And that’s more than many people can say; 52 years is a life-time. It’s longer than Uhuru (laughs). I mean, after 52 years, what more can you say, I am all grey but I am still there. That says a lot.