Friends, aides describe Nicholas Biwott's other side

Nicholas Biwott. [File, Standard]

Former Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott was so discreet he never let his personal aide inside his residence.

Accounts of Biwott’s secretive and witty lifestyle continued to emerge even as leaders continued to mourn the late former powerful Cabinet minister.

Biwott’s former aides recalled their boss’s secretive lifestyle, with one who served as his personal assistant for six years saying he had never stepped inside his house.

Politician Micah Kigen said despite being close to Biwott, he was not allowed to get close to his homestead. Instead, Moi’s most powerful minister insisted on picking his assistant at least 2 kilometres away from his residence.

“Biwott had some uniqueness in his operations. Although I knew his home, I could not get close to his house and would only meet him by the road, about two kilometres away where I would be picked as we headed to the office,” said Kigen, who served as his PA between 1988 and 1993.

Biwott’s peculiar behaviour extended to meal times.

“He was cautious and even when we went for a meal, he would and wait after I had picked my meal, then he would ask me to hand it to him and serve myself again,” said Kigen.

But Kigen remains grateful to Biwott for mentoring him.

Their paths crossed one morning in 1981 as Kigen was walking back to school – Lelboinet Secondary in Keiyo South. A car approached and the driver asked him to get in for a lift to the school.

On arriving at the school, the car’s driver asked young Kigen if he knew him, to which he said no.

“He told me he was Biwott and gave me Sh200 pocket money,” recounts the politician.

Kigen is not alone in his assessment of Biwott’s ‘peculiar’ character.

Moses Changwony, who served as an assistant secretary at the Energy ministry during Biwott’s tenure, says his boss then would not tell you where he was heading.

“He would not tell us where we were going. He was just giving directions to drivers,” said Mr Changwony.

NASA leader Musalia Mudavadi, who served as Finance minister in the same Cabinet as Biwott during President Moi’s government recalled how he juggled multiple harambees in a day.

Nicholas Biwott with Daniel Moi and other KANU members at Parliament buildings Oct 1989

10 harambees

“One time he invited me to a fundraiser in his Keiyo South constituency and I discovered that he had 10 harambees going on on the same day. What he did was to designate a number of guests but later visit all the ten venues in a helicopter,” Mudavadi said.

He went on: “When he lost his temper, he would tell you a few harsh words or sometimes make sarcastic remarks depending on how you related with him at the time.”

Journalist Sammy Wambua had an encounter with the witty Biwott.

Wambua recalled weeks after the 1997 elections, Steve “Magic’ Mwangi, the newly elected Nairobi Mayor, had organised ‘The Kenya We Want Conference’ at Safari Park Hotel. It was a grand affair with ambassadors and donor representatives in attendance.

During a break to the bathroom, he overheard a conversation between Kivutha Kibwana and Biwott in the urinal.

Kibwana was then one of the principals of the National Convention Executive Council, a pressure group that was pushing for a review of the constitution.

“Professor habari yako (Professor how are you?)” the conversation started, to which Kibwana replied “Mzuri sana, Bwana Biwott (I am very well, Mr Biwott)”

Wambua recounted that a very friendly-sounding Biwotttold Kibwana the Government knew he was stubborn but not subversive. He explained why ‘Mzee’ (President Moi) wanted to make him (Kibwana) an ambassador. Biwottasked Kibwana what he wanted.

“Katiba tu (just the constitution),” replied Kibwana as they left the washroom.

Wambua at the time was covering the conference for The Star, a rabidly anti-Kanu biweekly.

The next day, the Biwott-Kibwana cloakroom conversation appeared on the paper and everybody thought it was funny. But around noon, somebody told Wambua to pick up the call at Managing Editor Magayu Magayu’s office. At the office the man gestured excitedly, whispering, “Biwott, Biwott.”

“Sweating in panic, I grabbed the handset and said, ‘Hallo, Sir’,” Wambua recounted.

‘Bure kabisa’

“I recall the Total Man asking me whether I was the ‘character’ who wrote the story,” he went on. When he replied “Yes, Sir,” Biwott  asked: “Na hii maneno ulisikia ukiwa wapi (Where did you hear this conversation)?” he asked.

“Nilikuwa kwa choo ile kubwa (I was in the big bathroom),” I told him, whereupon he burst into laughter and said “bure kabisa (very useless!)” and discontinued the call.

And Elgeyo Marakwet County’s director of Communication Vincent Bartoo recounted an episode when former Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey engaged him in a public spat during a meeting in Iten. The former Tinderet MP had criticised Biwott for his culture of hand-outs.

“But Biwott hit back, saying he was growing wealthy by the day because he shared what God had given him with ordinary folk,” Bartoo recalled.

That he led a secretive life is not in doubt. Even in his generosity, he remained secretive in his dealings.

“When he could not assist you in person, he would use proxies,” said Bartoo.

He was a man of few words, measured what he said and rarely delegated personal assignment.

When he lost his Keiyo South Parliamentary seat in 2007 to a political newcomer Jackson Kiptanui, he personally scripted a brief statement conceding defeat.

“When he called a press conference, he was the one posing the questions, asking journalists what they thought made him lose his seat.

“Getting the man on telephone was another headache. He never owned a mobile phone, and could only be reached through his PA,” Bartoo recalls.

This style of dealing with the media made it easy for him to keep journalists away from his private life.

Biwott was a gifted writer. He probably honed this skills when he served as a journalist in his early years.

“If his biography was to be written, my guess is he would have done it himself.”

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[Sammy Wambua, Luke Anami, Silah Koskei, Titus Too and Fred Kibor]