Former Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott, who passed on yesterday, was a towering figure during the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi who once described himself as a “Total Man.”
Under siege in Parliament in 1992, over claims that he had something to do with the 1990 murder of former Foreign Minister Robert Ouko, Biwott took the floor to tell off detractors and famously declared: “ I am a man, and a man is a man, a Total Man”.
For over two decades during the 24-year reign of Moi, the former Keiyo South MP was seen as the power behind the Moi throne who had the president’s ear so much so that many politicians, including Cabinet colleagues, feared crossing his line. He epitomised power outranking even successive vice presidents.
Many Kanu mandarins and government honchos of the day described him as one who was more “felt that heard”. His clout started taking shape in 1982 when Moi appointed him into Cabinet, shortly after an abortive coup had shaken the regime.
The power games around Moi changed with Biwott seen as the hand that held the reins behind the presidency. Biwott, who started his career in government as a District Officer in Meru, entered politics in 1974 and later became a personal assistant to Moi when he was vice-president. The association gave him a head-start when Moi succeeded first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
He was promoted to Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President where he served for two years. A diminutive figure, standing at about five-feet tall, Biwott was almost deceptively shy and was considered one of Kenya’s most private persons.
While he was influential in government and Kanu circles, he was unpopular among sections of Kenyans who associated him with many scandals that took place under Moi, but none of his accusers successfully ever managed to prove any blame against him.
Biwott will also be remembered for winning multimillion defamation suits against the media, mostly for linking his name to the murder of former Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko in 1990. He won Sh30 million against Clay Ltd and UK pathologist Dr Ian West for defamation in the book Dr Ian West’s Casebook, which linked him to the killing of Ouko.
Biwott was also among those named by Scotland Yard detective John Troon as persons of interest following the murder of Ouko. He was arrested in 1990 and sacked from government but no charge was brought against him and he was reinstated to Cabinet shortly thereafter.
Biwott first attempted to enter elective politics in1974 when he ran unsuccessfully for Keiyo South constituency. He was, however, successful in the next election in 1979 when he vied for the Keiyo-Marakwet seat and retained the position in 1983 and 1988 on a Kanu ticket. In 1992, 1997, and 2002 he was elected the MP for Keiyo South Constituency.
In December, 2007 elections, running on a Kanu ticket, he lost his seat to Jackson Kiptanui of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), marking his decline in political influence. Biwott was born in Chebior village, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province in 1940.
He was educated at Tambach Intermediate School (1951-54) and Kapsabet High School (1955-58) before gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree (1964) and a Masters in Economics (1968) from the University of Melbourne, Australia.
He entered government service in 1965 as the District Officer in South Imenti and Tharaka, Meru District (January 1965–66). In his long political career, he held eight ministerial positions including: Minister of Regional development, Science and Technology (1982–1983); Minister of Energy and Regional Development (1983–1988); Minister of Energy (1988–1991); Minister of East African and Regional Co-operation (1998 – 1999); Minister of Trade and Industry, Tourism and East African Cooperation (1999 – 2001) and Minister of Trade and Industry and East African Tourism (2001 – 2002).