Unmasking the myth of ‘Total Man’ Biwott

#1
To uncover the myth of Nicholas Biwott, who died in July, one need begin the story at the beginning.

His mystical aura came as a result of his close association with the person of Daniel arap Moi.

They first met in the mid-1950s when Moi was Biwott’s primary school teacher at Tambach Government School in North Rift.

They would hook up again in early 1960s when Biwott was through with secondary school education and was looking for a scholarship for college education abroad.

MINISTRY
By then, Moi had risen to be Education minister in the coalition government just before independence, with Mr Kenneth Matiba as his permanent secretary.

Education ministry was housed at one of the most prestigious addresses and tallest buildings in town, the five-storeyed Gill House on Tom Mboya Street.

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This is today a run-down edifice where nobody remembers when last the lifts worked and its stuffy air threatens to suffocate you midway the staircase.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i would choke on his breakfast to learn his ministry was once headquartered at what is today the biggest factory for forged academic certificates.

SCHOLARSHIP

It is said you only know it is tamper-proof if they can’t counterfeit it at Gill House.

Years later, Matiba would recall Moi entering his office at Gill House one early morning holding Biwott’s hand: Moi had instructed his PS:

“Ken, get this young man a scholarship to study abroad. He was my favourite student when I taught at Tambach.”

It was done. Within weeks, Biwott was on a plane to study in Australia on a full government scholarship.

It is in Australia where he met an Israeli girl who he would later marry and bring home.

DISTRICT OFFICER

In later life, the Israeli girl would lead Biwott to make friends with her kinsmen who would chaperon him to a Canaan whose roads were paved in gold.

Maybe Baba, too, should have spotted and befriended a Jewish girl during his college days in East Germany.

The association would likely have led him to a short and less torturous path to Canaan.

For that, Baba should blame Nazis and the Holocaust for the tragedy that made Jewish girls as rare in East Germany as were ice-cubes in the Sahara.

Back in Kenya, Biwott, courtesy of his old teacher, was straight-away employed by the government and posted as a District Officer (DO) in Meru.

BRUCE MCKENZIE

Certainly Meru, a place where the only adrenaline-stirring activity was a dimwit getting behind the wheels of a miraa truck and racing to a quick death, wasn’t the place to whet the appetite of the fire in the belly of the young man from Keiyo Valley.

Soon he was back to Nairobi to work as personal assistant to the man who would teach him the ways of the underworld and the rewards that come with it, Agriculture Minister Bruce McKenzie.

On his death, McKenzie was unmasked to have been an active agent of the British spy unit, the M16, and the Israel Mossad.

Like a seasoned spook, he believed in the ends without giving much thought to correctness or morality of the means.

REBELS
When white settlers in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) rebelled against British rule and made unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), McKenzie had flown to London to advise British Prime Minister Harold Wilson on how to rein in the rebel settlers in Southern Rhodesia:

“Harold, the solution is as easy as a pie,” McKenzie had proposed.

“Just get our boys (the M16) in the lab to produce an untreatable strain of cattle disease and smuggle it down there.

"With their livestock decimated, the fat blokes in Salisbury (now Harare) will have no economic lifeline and will come to you kneeling!”

The M16 toyed with the idea but was vetoed by Harold’s security advisers.

PLANE CRASH

That was vintage McKenzie that when he died in a plane crash on May 1978, the head of the M16, Sir Maurice Oldfield, had ordered:

“Check whether he left any papers and shred them right away!”

When Moi was appointed Vice-President, he could think of no better personal assistant than Biwott. He snatched him from McKenzie.

Biwott proved as useful to his new boss in his official duties, but more so in the back channels.

With powerful forces around State House determined to deny Moi resources that would make him a political threat, it is Biwott who secretly established liaisons with middle-level civil servants to ensure that Moi at least got Lazarus’ crumbs from the high table.

PRESIDENCY

Biwott was also strategic such that while picking crumbs from under the table, he learned lessons that would prove useful when his boss would take over at the high table, and Biwott would sprint away with the whole loaf – including the wrapper and knife.

It is about the same time when Biwott partnered with Israeli businesses, which taught him to smell a good deal from miles away and follow the money.

Inevitably, Biwott would be Moi’s automatic right hand man when he took over the presidency.

But, unlike many who got close to Moi only to burn their fingers, Biwott had studied the boss well enough to know he had an instinct not to wholly trust anyone, let alone share power.

POWER

Thus while others like Charles Njonjo, GG Kariuki, Simeon Nyachae, and Hezekiah Oyugi came so close to the fire as to get burned, Biwott kept a safe distance; not too near to get burned and not too far to freeze.

Biwott also borrowed two vital lessons from Machiavelli.

One, that power isn’t necessarily the reality of it.

The perception that you have power at times is more effective than power itself.

Lesson number two: That in power play, being feared is better than being loved.

***
MEMOIRS

Three instances and a chat with those familiar with how Moi system worked, gave me the impression that Biwott had great influence, and the fear that it brought was a bit misplaced.

In late 2001, former Provincial Commissioner Eliud Mahihu expressed interest to have his memoirs serialised by the Nation newspaper.

Subsequently, Editorial Director Wangethi Mwangi instructed me to help tidy up the manuscript before it was handed over to the publisher.

One very early morning, Mr Mahihu telephoned sounding shaken, and asked me to go to his house.

PLAN

There he told me that the previous day, while attending a Jamhuri Day luncheon at State House, Biwott had called him aside to say:

“I know you’re writing a book and saying some nasty things about me. Just be warned.

"We too have capacity to write and give our story. We can also decide your book will not be read anywhere!”

The retired PC wanted to know from me how Biwott could have gotten to know about his book, and what to do next.

I had no idea who had leaked the information but from the trail of people who had handled the manuscript, I could guess where the leakage had come from.

RE-EDITED

I didn’t tell him who I thought the suspect was before seeking clearance from my boss.

“Don’t tell him where the leakage came from,” my boss told me: “Our contract with him doesn’t extend to spying for him.”

Three weeks later, the former PC handed back to me the re-worked manuscript where all references to Biwott had been deleted.

When I showed it to my boss, he told me: “The old man has stripped the book to its bare bones. I am no longer interested. Just take it back to him and make yourself scarce.”

Later I had lunch with politician GG Kariuki who was about to publish his own memoirs.

FEAR

I told him the experience I had with the former PC and asked him whether there would be any mention of Biwott in his book.

He made a loud laugh and said: “Why not? If I have anything to say about him, I will go ahead and do it. He won’t take me anywhere!”

Another bout of laughter and GG told me: “You should know that all that fear people have of Biwott is totally misplaced. He knows he is feared and likes it that way. Actually he goes out of his way to create it.

“His boss, too, likes it that way, where there is a person to carry the cross for all shortcomings of his government.”

ILLUSION

GG added: “You know there was a time you could have attributed the drought to Biwott and people would believe you!”

“So you think Biwott never intended to harm Mr Mahihu?” “How?”, GG wondered.

“The Biwott I know is perhaps more cowardly than the former PC!”

GG, who himself was once a much feared minister for Internal Security, told me it’s all an illusion of power as he has aptly titled his memoirs.

“Don’t be cheated by anybody. I have been there and know the truth. The only powerful person in this country is Moi, and Moi alone.

"The rest of the powerful people you people talk about in the media are figments of your imagination!”

***
Another insider in the Moi era, former Kenya Power company chief executive Samuel Gichuru, told me about an incident when Moi assigned him and politician George Muhoho to bring together MPs from Mount Kenya and Rift Valley regions to talk peace after the ethnic clashes associated with 1992 elections.

Gichuru told me that much as they tried to convince MPs from Mount Kenya that their colleagues from the Rift Valley were serious about the peace talks, they insisted they would only believe so if Biwott came on board.

Moi had to order Biwott to co-chair the peace talks, just to convince Mount Kenya MPs, while Gichuru and Muhoho remained the key movers but from behind the scenes.

KANU
The other incident to indicate Moi was the real power, and Biwott merely a perception, came when Moi single-handedly decided Uhuru Kenyatta would be the Kanu presidential candidate in the 2002 election.

When Kanu hawks got misgivings about it, they sent Biwott to try and convince the President that Uhuru wasn’t Kanu’s best bet for that moment.

Moi, politician Joseph Kamotho would later tell me, had been blunt and threatened his old friend:

“You should be the last person to tell me what to do. If it weren’t for me, today you’d be in jail.”

Which goes a long way to prove that in Moi’s Kenya, there was only one center of power – Daniel Toroitich arap Moi.

kamngotho@yahoo.com
 

Big Poppa

Village Elder
#13
What I've learned in my thirty something years in this world, like biwott I dont trust anyone and given a chance I would backbite and even go the extent of eliminating anyone in or without my inner circle just for selfish gain. You see I have interacted with a good number of humans to conclude that humanity is shit, for example I've seen quite a number of known criminals turn to snitches and finally end up being ruthless cops killing the same people they used to engage in crime together! Imagine a situation a rogue cop does you in for crime you did together back then. Anyway to be brief and moving forward just like kipyator biwott, my interest should always come first and never trust anyone!
 
#15
What I've learned in my thirty something years in this world, like biwott I dont trust anyone and given a chance I would backbite and even go the extent of eliminating anyone in or without my inner circle just for selfish gain. You see I have interacted with a good number of humans to conclude that humanity is shit, for example I've seen quite a number of known criminals turn to snitches and finally end up being ruthless cops killing the same people they used to engage in crime together! Imagine a situation a rogue cop does you in for crime you did together back then. Anyway to be brief and moving forward just like kipyator biwott, my interest should always come first and never trust anyone!
so much truth...I've been elbowed out on tenders and deals running in millions by guys I thought were business partners which according to me were turning points for my life and the guys don't even bat an eyelid.
 
#19
Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, Biwott came to a site alikuwa anajenga nearby to where I lived. Guyz dint know he owned the place. He came n inspected it n was pleased.
Alipeana 'lunch' ya 30k. That was in 1999.
Hiyo siku mafundi walikula unono
 

Masood

Village Elder
#20
He was a master strategist. Look at the video of Mark Too's funeral and you will see that he is the only speaker who Uhuru stood up to greet after Biwott gave his eulogy. Presidents don't stand often to greet their juniors.
 

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