Nicholas Biwott's life was wrapped in a mystery

Tuesday July 11 2017

Former powerful Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott who has died in Nairobi aged 77. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Former powerful Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott, who has died in Nairobi aged 77. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By IBRAHIM ORUKO

Nicholas Kipyator Biwott, who has died aged 77, will be remembered as probably the most powerful man ever to grace the Kenyan political scene outside the Presidency.

He was never loud, but his influence in the corridors of power was unmistakably loud and reverberated far and wide, particularly during the high noon of the Kanu autocracy.

CONTROVERSY

His name was never far away from any controversy that afflicted the Kanu regime - from high-level corruption and the poor human rights record under Daniel arap Moi’s rule to the mysterious deaths of opponents of the Kanu regime.

At the height of his power, Mr Biwott was feared as much as his character bordered on paranoia. He never travelled in one vehicle for a long distance.

He rarely ate in public, and if he did, such eating involved some kind of public spectacle that left people bemused rather than surprised.

Besides GG Kariuki, who died last week, the self-proclaimed "Total Man" was the only other individual known to have hitched a ride in President Moi’s presidential limousine.

Few of his friends in the Cabinet knew where he stayed and at the height of his power, Total Man was a mysterious man.

AUSTRALIA

Born in Chebior village, Keiyo District, Total Man was educated at Tambach Intermediate School and Kapsabet High until 1955.

He then proceeded to the University of Melbourne in Australia from where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1964 and a master’s degree in economics in 1968.

Mr Biwott started his career in the public service in 1965 soon after his return from Australia.

He was employed as District Officer and served in the then Meru district.

However, he did not stay in the mainstream civil service for long.

1982 COUP BID

Soon after his elevation to the vice presidency in 1967, Mr Moi recruited the Total Man as his personal assistant, a position he served in until 1979 when he quit to join elective politics.

He was elected at the first attempt but did not serve on the back bench for long enough.

If the 1982 coup attempt provided Mr Moi with the excuse to purge his enemies from his government, it also provided Mr Biwott a launch pad for what would be a high flying political career.

In the same year, in1982, Mr Moi appointed Mr Biwott to the Cabinet as minister.

As the minister for Energy, Mr Biwott had command over a large section of the Kenyan economy, including many big development projects involving foreign investors.

BUSINESS

The Total Man would go on to hold eight ministerial positions, including Regional Development, Science and Technology; Energy, East African and Regional Co-operation; Trade and Industry, Tourism and East African Cooperation and Trade and Industry.

It is during this time in government that Total Man established an enviable business empire in almost every sector of the Kenyan economy.

The sectors included energy, tourism, mining, real estate, telecommunications, air transport, construction and agriculture.

Until his death, for instance, he was importing fuel and selling it to local distributors.

He is said to have a huge interest in Yaya Center, HZ Group of Companies, LZ Engineering, Lima Kenya (which he co-owns with Mr Moi), Premier Group of companies and Kobil Petroleum among others.

Biwott and his influential business partners have invested heavily outside Kenya with commercial interests in Israel and Australia.