Kenneth Matiba’s ‘walk the talk' approach changed the course of history

Thursday April 26 2018

By LUIS FRANCESCHI
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Kenneth Matiba was divergent by nature; a man who thought outside the box and acted courageously in consequence.

In the wake of his death, the national consciousness has been forced into introspection.

Matiba was born in 1932. In May 1963, at only 31, he was appointed permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education. He later become permanent secretary of Commerce, Home-Affairs and Cooperatives.

His main contribution to Kenya’s history did not come from the influential government posts he held but from his role as one of the main orchestrators of Kenya’s true democratic birth.

Sacrificing his career, his wealth and health, his standing and his comfort, he plunged deep into an activism that sought the protection of basic civil and political rights.

He walked the talk. He was not a political preacher. The most salient trait of his personality is that he was a man of action, and those actions followed a coherent way of thinking.

DEMOCRACY WARRIOR

He served alongside giants at a time when divergence was a crime. He was ahead of the pack together with the Odingas, Imanyara, Maathai, Willy Mutunga, Martha Karua, Charles Rubia, Kijana Wamalwa and many others.

Most of these men and women suffered detention without trial; they were gruesomely tortured. Some, like Matiba, sustained visible lifelong injuries.

Today, their actions seem monumental and their courage looms large before us, encouraging and intimidating at the same time.

For Matiba, democracy was not an abstract intellectual affair. Most times, it was physical too. He was a unique democratic warrior.

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Africa saw a wave of democratisation tear through most states, bringing down imperial presidencies.

Perhaps, as some have argued, multiparty democracy would have been achieved in Kenya without Matiba’s incessant efforts. Some may say that it was just a matter of time, but perhaps it was not.

Every social change needs a trigger, sometimes a traumatic trigger. It may take a ‘madman’ to disrupt the system and dismantle a de jure single-party state, as it may just take a ‘madwoman’ to save our trees and forests. These men and women many considered mad have written our history in their own flesh.

CALL OF PATRIOTISM

Matiba’s investment was monetary, emotional, physical and mental. His reward was much bigger than monetary compensation. In fact, his life ended in a financial disaster…in bankruptcy. At one point, he was the laughingstock of town.

But Matiba’s dream seemed bigger than just perishable money. It was the unperishable joy of living in a generation that has an intimate knowledge of its civil, political and socio-economic rights. Matiba could only be bribed by democratic gains.

A jostle of the conscience occurs when we witness the departure from this world of these valiant men and women. We are simultaneously reminded of our debt to them and the prevailing doubt as to our capacity to continuously fight for a better country.

What can hence be done to encourage a fearless generation, courageous enough to heed the call of patriotism? A generation generous and courageous enough to fight for social and economic inclusion?

A generation that does not shut its eye to injustice and corruption, nor turn its back on exploitation and negative ethnicity; a generation that is keen enough to realise the benefits of a democratic society.

It does not suffice for us to celebrate the lives of these people without questioning our preparedness to sustain and improve upon their efforts.

SENSITIVITY TO INJUSTICE

It behoves us to ensure that we teach values and principles that cannot be found codified in textbooks. It is necessary to emphasise qualities that are not examinable: sensitivity towards injustice, keenness and an aptness for duty, selflessness and a strong sense of purpose.

Our troubled consciences call for us to demand more and better learning in our academic institutions, better service from our elected and appointed leaders, and even more, stronger ties in our families and a more responsible parenthood.

The country shall not be carried on the backs of men and women whose proclivities tend towards unchecked individualism. It shall be borne by those who understand their role, rights, duties and responsibilities to society.

The country shall be carried by men and women who understand the sacrifices that were made by those that went before them, an intra-generational duty to those who live with them, and a trans-generational duty to those yet to be born.

It is in this frame of mind that we usher out the great Kenneth Matiba. He fought to undo a system. It is now for us to fight to build a better one.

The fight for every generation is different. Matiba and his companions fought for freedom. Today’s fight should be for accountability, transparency and integrity.

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi