Mukalo Kwayera and Winstone Chiseremi @PeopleDailyKe
Beneath the facade that was the mammoth power, influence and fear that the late Nicholas Kipyator Kiprono Biwott was identified with lay a veneer mystery.
Those who worked closely with him during the days of Kanu describe a man who bestrode tightly-controlled single-party space like the Shakespearean Colossus. None, even power barons of the Kanu regime who operated with him in government and the single party machinery are said to have understood Biwott fully or to have entered his inner circle.
Former Vice President, the late George Saitoti, was once seen as one of the closest Biwott allies, but those in the know say the relationship was more informed by Saitoti’s fear of the power baron than genuine friendship.
“He had a very complicated way of operating, was unpredictable and surprise characterised his life,” said a former Kanu mandarin, who was also a Cabinet minister under retired President Daniel arap Moi.
At the height of Moi’s grip on power, especially after the 1982 failed coup, up to the end of his tenure in office, Biwott emerged as the most powerful and feared politician in Kenya outside the presidency. He lived like a Sicilian-born or Brookly-bred don, according to numerous accounts and never trusted anyone outside himself.
“When annoyed, he simply scratched his forehead repeatedly to ward off the irritants,” said a former minister. No public dining The man who represented Keiyo South constituency for 28 years in Parliament since making his debut in 1979 and later occupied several ministerial dockets rarely dined or wined in public places.
Even after the advent of cellular phones, Biwott never carried the modern communications gadgets in his hands. Any time he wanted to make a call, those who knew him say, he would buy a SIM card and borrow a handset randomly from his aides and then discard it thereafter. He only talked to those he wished to at his own time; not the other way round.
Only he knew the telephone numbers of those he wanted to talk to, not vice versa. He was also known to ride in modest vehicles despite his super-rich status and would change cars several times when travelling long distances for security reasons.
In restaurants where he had to eat, he would queue for the buffet and select a place at random from the stack then serve himself, said one former aide.
Sometimes, he personally bought and carried bunches of ripe bananas from open markets and carried them in his vehicles when travelling.
He peeled the bananas himself and ate them at a time of his choice while in the moving car.
During public functions, especially at fundraisers where sodas are served for VIPs on the high table, Biwott would often switch that which was served to him and open another bottle with an opener from his pocket.
If he was not spending a night in his house – whether in Kenya or abroad— he would switch room or hotels each night. “He could only stay in one hotel for one day. Biwott did not use one taxi for more than a day.
While in Nairobi, he particularly liked to travel in battered yellow-line taxis especially those found outside City Market, which trusted aides would summon at short notice,” said one former ally.
Though he was a director in several Kenyan companies, Biwott was said never to call in advance whenever he wanted to attend a meeting. He simply showed up and asked for other directors to be summoned for a meeting.
His neighbours and some of his workers at his Kipsenende farm in Uasin Gishu County yesterday told of a mysterious man who rarely opened his compound to visitors.
When a team of journalists arrived at one of the six gates leading to his home in Kipsenende yesterday afternoon, a guard barred them from proceeding, saying he had firm instruction not to allow strangers past the first entrance.
The home sits on 3,000 acres in the outskirts of Eldoret town, along Eldoret-Eldama Ravine road in Uasin Gishu county where only about 80 workers have access. Few other people had access to the home when Biwott had been ailing.
They include his wife Margaret Kamar, his Dutch-Jewish wife Hannie, aide, children, long time political friends such as former President Daniel arap Moi and the late politician Ezekiel Barng’etuny.
In Nairobi, Biwott had two homes, in Kileleshwa and Riverside Drive, but friends say it was hard to know in which one he was. “He used to come every weekend and supervise the progress of work in the farm and talk to us on how we were faring. He was very humble and caring to our welfare,” said one worker.
His neighbour expressed shock and disbelief on learning about the death of Biwott whom they described as generous although they had never stepped in his compound all their lives.
“We do not know how his home looks like apart from the tarmacked road that leads to his compound that is solely used by him and close family members,” said one neighbour.