A bungalow that has seen better days sits on one acre in Kipkabus, Uasin Gishu County.
At first sight, the design of the house in the homestead with an untrimmed lawn looks like one of those favoured by white settlers. Though the compound looks desolate, a warm welcome from a well-groomed elderly woman with an infectious smile shows there is life.
This is the first home of controversial Uasin Gishu politician and successful farmer, Jackson Kibor.
It is currently inhabited by Josephine Jepkoech, a woman he married in February 1965 and whom he divorced last Friday.
“This is the place Mzee brought me as his second wife when I was barely 18 years and the pretty face you see on the photos around the living room has gradually developed wrinkles during my stay here,” Jepkoech says as she ushers us into the house.
Last week the court granted Kibor his divorce wish, observing that the marriage was irretrievable as the two parties were unwilling to resolve the impasse amicably.
Kibor had filed for divorce, citing desertion, cruelty and disrespect, and accusing Jepkoech of, among other things, squandering the family’s wealth and blocking him from gaining accessing to the family home.
“The main thing that angered me is that my wife was mismanaging our family assets and has already sold 57 acres of land in Kipkabus, besides tractors, and leaving our animals to die,” Kibor said outside the courtroom.
Outwardly, Kibor’s now divorced wife is delighted, but as she talks about the five-decade marriage that has fallen apart just a day after an Eldoret court granted her husband a decree to dissolve the civil union, a bitter-sweet love story pours out.
“I first met Mzee in 1963 when he came to our Chepkorio home in Elgeyo Marakwet to purchase peas, potatoes, and cabbages to sell in Uganda. He had first interacted with my elder sister, Nancy, when she hitched a lift in his Canter to Eldoret town. She told me the businessman had eyed and loved me before he formally approached me,” she reminisces.
Jepkoech says Kibor, who was eager to marry her, boldly talked to her parents, organised for a koito (engagement ceremony) in December 1964, and immediately followed it up with a colourful wedding on February 27, 1965.
“I found Mary, the first wife, here and we lived in this house happily. We alternated one-week shifts of feeding and milking numerous dairy cows and clearing bushes to get more arable land where we grew pyrethrum,” she narrates.
Mary was Kibor’s first wife and lived with Jepkoech for 10 years before moving to another farm in Kitale. Shedied in 2010.
Jepkoech recalls that she nearly delivered her second born daughter while tending pyrethrum. And two weeks after delivery, she was back on the farm to ensure the crop was ready for sale in Nakuru.
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“We routinely woke up at 3am with our babies strapped to the backs, milked cows, fed them, did other household duties since there was no maid. We jointly worked together to generate more income because Mzee said we were repaying a loan he had acquired to purchase the land,” she said.
She says it is from the proceeds of the over 800-acre land in Kipkabus that Mzee purchased other parcels in Kabenes, Kitale, and Moiben areas and houses in Karen, Nairobi, and in Mombasa.
According to Jepkoech, Kibor married a third wife, Naomi in 1975. She recalled that they were working on the farm when Mzee sent a friend with one of his vehicles to pick them up for a surprise engagement ceremony of their co-wife.
“He went to live with the third wife in Kabenes and seldom came here, though he was happy to see the farm remain stable, as I ventured into the business of transporting milk to the KCC depot using a farm pickup. I used to drive and deliver milk from our farm and for some neighbours, which gave us extra coins,” she added.
She did the transport business between 1977 and 1980, a time which she says they upgraded the transport fleet.
But things started changing in 1992 when Kibor went to the farm and sold a huge percentage of the cows and sheep.
He told Jepkoech and her children to use the few remaining animals start afresh generating wealth.
“He began discriminating against my children by not paying their school fees and I began to sell charcoal. I would be in the forest at 3am and by 5am in town to deliver to hotels. The charcoal cost Sh25 per sack and would sell at a profit of Sh5 and Sh10. My husband’s attitude affected the children but I assured them things would improve,” she claimed.
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Despite the verdict, Kibor plans to allocate 10 acres of land to his former wife and build her a house. The octogenerian acknowledged Jepkoech’s advanced age and said he would not leave her empty-handed.
Jepkoech claimed that she has neither quarrelled with her husband all the years they lived together.
“Mzee had declared that the family of each wife would inherit the land it occupied, but he tried to secretly sell half of this parcel in 2014, prompting me to put a caveat on it in the interest of our children,” she says.
Jepkoech claims her decision angered Kibor and it is the reason he filed for divorce. She adds that her wants her to lose the privilege of making decisions concerning the property.
She says things changed when the fourth wife, who is the agemate of her lastborn daughter, came into the picture.
Jepkoech says her husband “became something else” after the 2002 marriage.
“I pray for him day and night and even do fellowships here because I love him. I am assured one day he will see the light and all his families will be stable,” says Jepkoech, a staunch African Inland Church congregant.
Jepkoech took issue with Kibor’s remarks after the court ruling that he would allocate her 10 acres and build her a house, saying she deserves more as she bore him eight children and helped him become who he is.
“In honest assessment, I am worth more than 10 acres,” said Jepkoech.
She urged Kibor to consider the future of their children, saying she is old but their children and grandchildren need somewhere to build their homes.
“When I first came to this home i slept on a sisal mattress. Other wives came when there was wealth and lounged on comfortable mattresses, but I welcomed them and respect them as co-wives. I know this is my home and the inheritance of my children and I will spend the rest of my life here and even get buried here,” she said.
Loice Jemeli Kibor, the first born daughter of Kibor and Jepkoech, is dissatisfied with the court’s decision, saying the judgement failed to prove cruelty or desertion. She says Jepkoech will appeal.
Kibor has disinherited Jemeli, demanding a DNA test to prove that she is his biological child.
“I will not give the elder girl any property because I’m not sure if she is my biological daughter. She was conceived before my marriage. I will demand a DNA test.”
He accused her of misleading her mother.
But Jemeli said she is hurt that her father disowned her in public.