THE HON. NICHOLAS BIWOTT

1940-2017

A BIOGRAPHY

Kipyator Nicholas Kiprono arap Biwott (born 1940 died July 11th 2017) is a Kenyan businessman, politician and philanthropist. Biwott served as a civil servant, Member of Parliament and government minister, during which time he held eight senior ministerial positions, worked alongside Kenya’s first three presidents – Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki – and with many significant public figures in post independence Kenya, including Bruce McKenzie and Tom Mboya. During Moi’s presidency, Nicholas Biwott was considered by many as one of Kenya’s most powerful politicians and able administrators.

Early life

Nicholas Biwott was born in Chebior village, Keiyo District, Rift Valley Province in 1940. His mother was Maria Soti and his father Cheserem, a successful market trader in Eldoret.  

Cheserem’s initial capital had been based on being a cattle owner and throughout his early adult years he developed substantial herds of cattle, sheep and goats. The young Nicholas Biwott grew up herding these flocks in keeping with Kalenjin tradition. As a teenager and young man Nicholas Biwott worked alongside his father and together they built a successful business as a market trader in Eldoret.

Education

*1951-1954: Tambach Intermediate School, Tambach Rift Valley Province;

*1955-1958: Kapsabet High School, Rift Valley Province;

*[In 1959, Biwott began working at the Department of Information in Eldoret. Later, together with Kendagor Bett, he published the ”Kalenjin Monthly” newsletter.

*February-December 1961: George Taylor University, Melbourne, Australia;

*February 1962-Dec 1964: University of Melbourne, Australia: Bachelor of Commerce, Diploma in Public Administration: majored in Economics and Political Science.

*December 1964-1965: Office of the President, Government of Kenya: employed by Office of the President seconded to Administration and appointed District Officer Nkubu, South Imenti Division, Meru District (see ‘Service in Government of Kenya’, below).

*1966: Course at Public Administration at Kenya Institute of Administration, Nairobi.

*March 1966-68: Commonwealth scholarship to study Masters in Economics at University of Melbourne, Australia (MCom (Prl).

Political career

Nicholas Biwott was a Member of Parliament for 28 years. In 1974 he ran as an MP for the Keiyo South Constituency, but was defeated. At the next election in 1979 he was successful, standing on the KANU ticket in Keiyo-Marakwet and retaining the seat in 1983 and 1988. In 1992, 1997, and 2002 he was elected the MP for Keiyo South Constituency. In the Parliamentary elections held on December 27, 2007, Biwott lost his Keiyo South Parliamentary seat to a political novice Jackson Kiptanui arap Kamai of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) as the ODM swept to victory in all but one of KANU’s seats on the Rift Valley.

Following the 2002 election, Biwott served on the Devolution Committee of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. Biwott was the only Member of Parliament, however, to abstain on the Constitutional Referendum held in 2005, stating that the Draft Constitution ‘would divide the country along ethnic lines’. The Draft Constitution was rejected at the Referendum.

In November 2004, Biwott stood for election for the leadership of KANU, by then the official opposition following years of catastophic decline in the party’s political fortunes (109 seats in 1997, 64 in 2002, down to 14 in 2007) but lost the post to Uhuru Kenyatta following a decision by the Kenyan High Court.

Service in Government of Kenya

District Officer

Nicholas Biwott entered government service in 1965 as the District Officer in South Imenti and Tharaki, Meru District (Jan 1965-66). As District Officer Biwott instituted, on a ‘harrambe’ basis, community fund raising programmes to aid the development of local irrigation projects and roads, to build a health centre at Nkwene and schools at Nkubu and Kanyakini, develop employment at the Egoji quarries and promote the planting of coffee and tea. He was also actively involved in the resettlement of previously European owned land through the ‘Land Transfer’ programme, part of the ‘Million Acres’ scheme, and played a central role in the rehabilitation of the Mau Mau, many of whom still remained in the Mau Forest four years after the end of the ‘Emergency’, helping to persuade them to give up violence and organising the resettlement of many on to their own land.

Ministry of Agriculture

Having completed his Masters Degree in Australia in 1968, Nicholas Biwott returned to public service in the Ministry of Agriculture, GOK, as Personal Assistant to Minister Bruce MacKenzie (1968-1970). He coordinated cereal production, the marketing of cereal crops and the management of the Ministry’s fertilizer policy, and helped develop research into new strains of wheat and maize more suited to the growing conditions in Kenya. He played a similar coordinating role for the Ministry’s work with the East African Council of Ministers (MacKenzie was also a member of the Council), guiding Kenya’s policy in the region in the development of ports, railways and the East African Airways.

 Treasury

In 1971 Nicholas Biwott moved to the Treasury as Senior Secretary under the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mwai Kibaki. In 1972 he created and headed the External Aid Division and technical assistance program dealing with external resources, bringing in experts and arranging cultural exchanges. Notably he helped facilitate the establishment of the French School in Nairobi (now called the Lycee Denis Diderot), the French Cultural Centre with the Alliance de Francais, and the German Frederick Ebert Stifftung Foundation in cooperation with the Gurter Institute.

Ministry of Home Affairs

In late 1972 Nicholas Biwott transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs on the personal recommendation of President Jomo Kenyatta to work with his Vice-President and the Minister of Home Affairs, Daniel arap Moi.

In 1974 Biwott stood as a candidate for the Keiyo South constituency in the general election of that year but was narrowly defeated.

Following the 1974 election Nicholas Biwott was recalled to the Ministry of Home Affairs as Under Secretary (1974-1978) to Minister Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s Vice President. With the aging President Kenyatta unable to fulfil all the functions of the presidency, Moi took a leading role in the East African region with the result that Nicholas Biwott spent much of the next four years dealing with the Organisation of African Unity, the Commonwealth, the ‘non-aligned’ states and promoting the ‘good neighbourliness’ policy with states bordering Kenya.

President Kenyatta’s death in 1978 saw Daniel arap Moi elevated to the presidency and Nicholas Biwott promoted to Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President (1978-1979).

Minister of State

Following the election of 1979 in which he was elected Member of Parliament for Keiyo South Constituency, a seat he retained until December 2007, Nicholas Biwott returned to the Office of the President but now promoted to Minister of State (1979-1982) with responsibility for science and technology, cabinet affairs, land settlement and immigration.

Under his auspices the Kenya Medical Research Institute, was established in the same year to carry out health science research in Kenya. (Now in its 35th year KEMRI continues its work as “a leading centre of excellence in the promotion of quality health”).

Minister of Regional Development, Science and Technology

In September 1982 he was appointed Minister of Regional Development, Science and Technology. Learning from examples of other regional development policies, notably in Australia and Tennessee in the USA, he created two regional development authorities, the Lake Basin Development Authority and the Kerio Valley Development Authority.

Minister of Energy

In September 1983, Nicholas Biwott was made Minster of Energy and Regional Development and in March 1988 (following a reorganisation of ministry portfolios) he became Minister of Energy, a post he held until January 1991.

Over the next seven years he was instrumental in establishing the National Oil Corporation, the building of National Oil storage facilities near Nairobi and connecting them to the Mombasa refinery, and extending the pipeline from Nairobi to Kisumu and Eldoret. This period saw rapid advances in efforts to improve Kenya’s electricity supply and delivery with a rural electrification programme, work beginning on the Sondu Mirei Dam, and the completions of the Masinga Multi Purpose Dam, the Kiambere Hydro Electric Dam and the Turkwell Hydro Electric Multi Purpose Dam.

 Minister of East African and Regional Co-operation

Although he remained a Member of Parliament, Biwott held no position in the Government of Kenya from 1991 until he re-entered government as Minister of State in the Office of the President of East Africa in 1997 before, in January 1998, he established and was appointed Minister of the new Ministry of East African and Regional Co-operation (1998-1999).

Nicholas Biwott played a central role in COMESA – the Common Market for East and Central Africa, coordinating with COMESA partner Ministers legislation for an East African Road network, legislation for an East African Legislative Assembly, and becoming Chairman of both COMESA and of the East Africa Council of Ministers.

Minister of Trade and Industry, Tourism and East African Cooperation

In September 1999 Biwott’s ministerial portfolio was expanded when he became Minister of Trade and Industry, Tourism and East African Cooperation (1999-2001), a post he held for the next three years during which he established a Tourist Trust Fund with the European Union, set up the Tourist Police and re-introduced the East Africa Safari Rallies.

Biwott’s promotion of Kenyan tourism was praised by many. He was variously described as, ‘the hardest working minister of tourism Kenya has ever had’ and as “the best minister of tourism in 25 years”.

In May 2001 (following a further reorganisation of Ministry responsibilities) Nicholas Biwott continued as the Minister of Trade and Industry and East African Tourism (2001-2002). Over the next eighteen months 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, established the Africa Trade Insurance Agency to cover foreign investments against political risk, and served as Chairman of the African Caribbean Pacific Group (ACP) at the World Trade Organisation.

Businessman

Nicholas Biwott led an active business life and became one of Kenya’s most successful entrepreneurs.

As a teenager in the late 1950’s Biwott worked alongside his father who had established a successful fruit and vegetable business in Eldoret. The young Biwott also borrowed small amounts of money from a local bank with which to expand his own business sideline selling meat products and eggs. Nicholas Biwott continued to expand his own business and in the late 1960’s formed ABC Foods selling food and animal feed products.

Within a few years Nicholas Biwott was able to invest in farms and businesses, taking advantage of the post-independence banking policies at the time by which Kenyans were granted loans on favourable terms. In 1969, aged 29, Biwott purchased the Eldoret Town International Harvester (IH) dealership (now FMD trading as Lima Ltd). He also purchased a dairy farm in the same year, started an importer exporter business in 1972, purchased two wheat farms in 1974, invested in the sole agency for IH in Kenya for agricultural tractors and implements in 1975, and purchased a local air operator in 1977 (now Air Kenya).

Biwott’s business philosophy of purchasing small or failing businesses, investing and re-investing in them over many years paid dividends and he became one of Kenya’s wealthiest businessmen.

Biwott’s businesses in Kenya employ thousands of people and one company, Kenol Kobil, of which he was a major shareholder, has for many years been listed among Kenya’s top 10 corporate taxpayers.

Philanthropist

From 1980 Nicholas Biwott was a member and trustee both of the Management Committee and the Advocacy, Publicity and Fundraising Committee of The National Fund for the Disabled of Kenya.

Biwott continued to expand and develop the scope of his charitable work, most recently in 2008 establishing the Mbegu Trust ‘to develop education and opportunity in Kenya’.

Nicholas Biwott is on record over the last 40 years of supporting many projects in the areas of education, health and medicine, and assisting small businesses.

Educational projects

Nicholas Biwott raised and contributed funds for the building of some 16 schools, serving as Chairman of the Board for many of them.

He built and funded two of these schools in their entirety:

*The Biwott Secondary School

*The Maria Soti Educational Centre

The Maria Soti Educational Centre, a model school for girls from all backgrounds and areas of Kenya, was built near Eldoret by Nicholas Biwott as a tribute to his mother.

He has also raised and contributed funds for the building and expansion of:

*Tambach Teachers Training College (and currently serves as Chairman of the Board)

*The Flax Polytechnic

*The Chepsirer Polytechnic

*The Chepkorio Polytechnic

Nicholas Biwott was also a founder and Patron of the Keiyo South Education Foundation that provides bursaries to needy students from primary to post secondary education.

 Funding health and medicine

In the area of health and medicine Nicholas Biwoot raised and contributed funds for the building of Sub District Hospitals including;

*The Kaptarakwa Sub District Hospital

*The Kacholwo Sub District (Maternity) Hospital

The building or expansion of Health Centres, including;

*Chepkorio Health Centre

*Kapmwosor Health Centre

*Muskut Health Centre

The building of Dispensaries, including;

*The Kiptulos Dispensary

*The Lelboinet Dispensary

*The Flax Dispensary

*The Simotwo Dispensary

*The Kipsaos Dispensary

*The Chang’ach Barak Dispensary (venomous bites)

*The Chang’ach Barak Dispensary (general)

*The Cheplooch Dispensary