HON. KIPYATOR NICHOLAS KIPRONO BIWOTT, EGH
STATESMAN, PATRIOT AND PHILANTHROPIST
1940 – 2017
The eulogy below was read by Esther Koimett at the funeral services for her father Nicholas Biwott at the A.I.C Milimani, Nairobi, Tuesday July 18th and the Maria Soti Girls’ Centre, Kaptakwa, Thursday July 20th 2017.
We gather here today as family, friends and admirers of Kipyator Nicholas Kiprono Biwott, to mourn his passing but above all to celebrate his life and to give thanks for it.
We have come to remember and honour him, and to praise a famous man – businessman, politician and statesman – a man who gave life-long service to his country and to his community, but also to remember and cherish him as a husband, father, grand-father, great-grandfather, generous friend, and ever-wise counsellor.
Nicholas Biwott was born in Chebior village, Keiyo District, 77 years ago. By the time of his passing he had been a civil servant; served as a Member of Parliament for 28 years; held office at the highest levels of government, working with three of Kenya’s presidents; and built up numerous successful businesses employing thousands of people.
Throughout his life Nicholas Biwott was an achiever, a man who got things done.
The young Nicholas Biwott was greatly inspired and encouraged by his mother, Maria Soti. It was she who pressed upon him the importance of kindness.
I remember dad recounting a memory from his childhood, how at the start of the school term, when many children streamed past their homestead, tired after a long journey on the way to school; his mother would bring them into her house to sleep, be fed and refreshed before continuing on their way.
And remarkably for those times, because we are talking about the 1940’s, our grandmother imbued in him the need for both boys and girls to be treated equally. It was an idea that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
He himself achieved excellence in education, gaining a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Economic and Political Science, and a Diploma in Public Administration. As he was the first African student to arrive for studies in Australia, he was greeted by a delegation of Malaysian students. One day he told us: “On arrival at the airport in Australia, I was greeted by The Asian Student Association in a special van, expecting an extra-tall, big muscled African man, and were surprised at the 5 foot 4 person in front of them”. This self-deprecating humour was always present with him.
As a teenager our dad worked alongside his father Cheserem, an industrious and entrepreneurial man, who became a successful fruit and vegetable trader in Eldoret. From him Biwott learned about running and expanding a business, showing that great acumen for which he was later famous.
By the late 1960s Nicholas Biwott had formed ABC Foods selling food and animal feed products. In 1969, aged 29, he purchased the Eldoret Town International Harvester dealership and purchased Kipsinende, his dairy farm in the same year. In 1972 he started an import-export business; in 1974 he purchased two wheat farms; and in 1977 he purchased a local air operator, now known as Air Kenya and continued to grow his business until his death.
But a man of Nicholas Biwott’s great talent, energy and foresight had more to do, and more to give to his country. After leaving school in 1959, he worked as a journalist in the Department of Information in Eldoret, after which he published the Kalenjin Monthly newsletter with Kandagor Bett.
Upon returning from Australia he re-entered public service as a District Officer in Nkubu, South Imenti Division of Meru in 1964. And there started his lifelong great love for the Meru people.
It was good training for the life he was to lead but it was also something to which Biwott was naturally suited, for he came to know every household in Nkubu and got to know and understand the personalities of the many people he dealt with. As a young District Officer he was involved in the resettlement of previously European-owned land through the ‘Land Transfer’ programme and played a central role in rehabilitating and resettling the Mau Mau. Senator Kiraitu Murungi’s dad was one of them.
In 1968 Biwott returned to public service after completing his higher education and worked as the Personal Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture Bruce Makenzie, helping to guide Kenya’s early policy for agriculture. He also participated in the development of ports, railways and the East African Airways.
As a young District Officer he was involved in the resettlement of previously European-owned land through the ‘Land Transfer’ programme and played a central role in rehabilitating and resettling the Mau Mau. Senator Kiraitu Murungi’s dad was one of them.
In 1968 Biwott returned to public service after completing his higher education and worked as the Personal Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture Bruce Mckenzie, helping to guide Kenya’s early policy for Agriculture. He also participated in the development of ports, railways and the East African Airways.
As senior Secretary to the Treasury (1971-72) he was instrumental in the establishment of the French School in Nairobi, now the Lycee Denis Diderot; the French Cultural Centre with the Alliance de Francais; and the German Frederick Ebert Stiffung Foundation with the Goethe Institute. As Senior Secretary, he started the foreign aid department, later called, external resources department.
As Under Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs (1974-78) Biwott worked with the Organisation of African Unity promoting the ‘good neighbourliness’ policy with the countries bordering Kenya.
And so it was that in 1979, Biwott became Member of Parliament for Keiyo-Marakwet and later for the Keiyo South constituency. In all he served 28 years as a Member of Parliament. For Biwott it was perhaps the part of his life for which he felt the greatest pride, for he had a great love for his local community and he never tired helping and representing them. In fact, whether in Nairobi or returning from international travel, he would always make time to go to his constituency every weekend.
At the same time, he was constantly inspired by the challenges of government office. He served in eight ministries, in five of which he was the Cabinet Minister:
- As Minister of State in the Office of the President (1979-82), Nicholas Biwott was instrumental in what he regarded as one of his greatest achievements, the establishment of the Kenya Medical Research Institute to carry out health science research in Kenya, work which KEMRI continues to this day.
- In 1982, as Minister of Regional Development, Science and Technology, he created the Lake Basin and the Kerio Valley Development Authorities.
- From September 1983 to January 1991, as Minister of Energy, he was driven to aid in establishing the National Oil Corporation; building storage facilities and pipelines from Mombasa to Nairobi to Eldoret and Kisumu. He oversaw major advances in improving Kenya’s electricity supply including the Masinga Multi Purpose Dam, the Kiambere Hydro Electric Dam and the Turkwel Hydro Electric Multi Purpose Dam, which added 106MW to the national grid. This is to-date, the most reliable hydro-power station in Kenya.
- As Minister of East African and Regional Co-operation in 1997, he played a key role in co-ordinating the Common Market for East Africa – COMESA, becoming its chairman and chairman of the East Africa Council of Ministers.
- As Minister of Trade & Industry, Tourism and, East African Cooperation (1999–02) he established the Small Medium Trade Trust Fund with the European Union, introduced an Intellectual Property Bill which was passed as an Act, accomplished a free trade area with COMESA and established the Africa Trade Insurance Agency to provide cover for foreign investments against political risk. He was praised as “the best Minister of Tourism in 25 years” and “the hardest working Minister of Tourism Kenya had ever had”.
- Finally, he always set a positive example in how to conduct oneself in loss: even after he lost his parliamentary seat in 2007 and was subsequently defeated in his bid to become Elgeyo-Marakwet’s senator in 2013, after each election result was announced, Biwott immediately conceded defeat and thereafter helped his winning opponent to carry out their duties and represent their constituents.
Nicholas Biwott was a statesman in thought, word and deed.
SPONSOR OF EDUCATION
His other passion was for the development of education in Kenya, particularly the education of girls, through the building of numerous schools, including the Maria Soti Educational Centre, a model school for girls from all backgrounds built as a tribute to his mother, as well as the Biwott Secondary School. He played an active role in raising funds for the building of many other colleges and educational projects.
Perhaps his greatest pride was helping elevate the Keiyo school district to one of the top in the nation through the investment and tireless harambees, the fact that he conducted 18 harambees in one day made him a legend.
Throughout his adult life Nicholas Biwott, both directly and indirectly, helped train and educate many thousands of young people and helped to provide them with the skills for life and work.
He was the founder and patron of the Keiyo South Education Foundation that provides bursaries to needy students for primary and secondary education. And there were the private financial assistance that Nicholas Biwott made to thousands of other youth to help them pay for their education and start their careers.
He also led the development of multiple health and medical service projects, including at least two sub-district hospitals, three health centres and eight dispensaries that we know of.
And very close to heart, although again few people knew of it, were Nicholas Biwott’s many years of work and support for the National Fund for the Disabled of Kenya, of which from 1980 he was a member and trustee of the Management Committee, and the Advocacy, Publicity and Fundraising Committee, and ultimately its chairman.
Nicholas never sought recognition for his generosity, so many good deeds that he quietly did throughout his life went unheralded. The names of those Nicholas helped to privately fund their education is legion. If he came upon a widow with a child he helped educate that child; if they were sick he paid the hospital bills. If help was required, Nicholas Biwott turned up, however busy, and later even when he was unwell. In the past several days, we have received testaments of gratitude from hundreds of people whose lives he changed by his generosity, inspiration and counsel.
A highly successful man, Biwott always remained true to his Keiyo background and roots, attested to by the fact that many of his closest friends remained his boyhood friends.
To his family, friends and close colleagues he was a man to whom a smile readily came to his face, with a sparkling wit; and a very funny story teller.
He was a man who had a passion for life and loved to get on with life. Whether it was the prospect of a day with his family, or business or political meetings, our dad got up very early full of positive energy and passion and lived each day fully.
His legacy as a public servant, statesman and entrepreneur is part of the fabric of Kenya today. His inspiration and help to so many young people will live on in the lives that they lead and the inspiration, example and help that they in turn give to others.
It is with immense gratitude that we celebrate the life of a great patriot, Nicholas Biwott, who’s left an extraordinary legacy for Kenya and its young enterprising talent.
To his family and friends Nicholas Biwott will forever remain in our fond memories with gratitude and love in our hearts.