Fare Thee Well, diligent patriot…Nicholas Biwott

Amina Mohamed

On Tuesday, we lost a great son of Kenya and Africa, who was held in high esteem across the world. I was privileged and lucky to have worked with Nicholas Kipyator Kiprono Biwott and to have considered him a friend.

The late Minister was highly respected in international trade circles where he made many friends among peers. He counted the trade Ministers of Africa, US, EU, Japan, Australia, the Middle East and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries among close friends.

They sought him out during and in between sessions of Ministerial meetings for counsel and support. Most of them often travelled to Nairobi to consult with him. Biwott graciously and without fail met each of them whether expected or on a detour from a visit to a neighbouring country.

Through all this, the late Minister insisted that one should always portray their country and office in the best possible light. It was amazing to watch him work, never giving up on positions he felt were critical for the trade and investment growth of our country. He was thoroughly disciplined and instilled a sense of purpose in all who worked closely with him.

He never tired of defending our great country and for that reason, never left a meeting room before business was over, just in case Kenya lost an opportunity.

In many of the conversations I had with him even as he negotiated African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and ensured that Kenya was the first country to sign and ratify it, he worried about the youth and the need to create opportunities.

AGOA for the late Minister would help us export our way out of poverty. The WTO Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001 could easily have been given his name instead.

No one worked harder or more diligently to make sure that a deal was struck. He earned the world’s respect and admiration as a tough but fair negotiator who stayed on issue until resolution.

During the negotiations, he saved the ACP-EU trade arrangement which was threatened by two groups of countries who objected to the provision of an exemption under the WTO Trade Rules.

He negotiated through the night for the exemption and got it. I am convinced that without him, the ACP-EU trade arrangement as we know it today, would have changed dramatically in 2001. He would fly thousands of miles for a one-hour meeting if he was convinced that it would help our farmers, businesses or just open new opportunities.

That, in fact, is a very brief account of my recollection of a truly hard working public servant who I was honoured to have met and worked with.

May the Almighty comfort his family and friends during this difficult time and may his soul rest in eternal peace. The author is Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary

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