Early Life


Teenage Biwott (left)

I was sent to school at a young age at the insistence of my mother, who instilled in us the importance of discipline and education. I well remember my father carrying me on his back through swollen rivers to make sure I got to school! And he encouraged me to continue my education through to university.

Nicholas Biwott

Kipyator Nicholas Kiprono arap Biwott was born in 1940, into the Kalenjin tribe in Chebior Village, Keiyo District, in what was then British Kenya.

Biwott in High School (left)

Cheserem, a successful farmer and entrepreneur, imparted a spirit of entrepreneurialism and hard work to his son from an early age. During the school holidays, Nicholas Biwott would herd his father’s sheep for sale at the market, and as a teenager, he earned his first salary working for Cheserem in his garden vegetable and food produce (meat and eggs) businesses.

Cheserem started his own market gardening business in 1939, one of the first Africans in his area to do so, gradually scaling it up to supply the prosperous Asian stores of the day and the leading local hotels, as well as larger schools and a prison.

Subsequently, he moved into the transport business, opened three hide and skin stores and began exporting and trading with what became Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. This helped his businesses to spread wealth in his local community, and he energetically implemented new agricultural techniques, from irrigation to natural pesticides, as well as developing orchards and a tea plantation.

His parents, Maria Soti (1911-1986) and Cheserem (1908-2009), had a strong influence on his early years. At a time when few Kenyans went to school, his parents instilled in him the fundamental value of education, as the key to greater opportunity, personal liberty and a better life, as well as a belief in the necessity of education for all.

They even educated other children and provided shelter for those on their way to boarding school, while Cheserem founded and served as Chairman of the Biwott School. His parents’ influence would inspire him to devote a large part of his life to supporting and developing educational projects in Kenya culminating in the building of the Maria Soti Girls Secondary School, a model school for girls, which he developed and paid for as a tribute to his mother.

Biwott started school at Mokwo Primary, heading to Tambach Intermediate School (1951-54) and then boarded at Kapsabet High School (1955-58), which remains to this day one of Kenya’s leading boys’ educational establishments.

Despite being short (5”5) and skinny at the famously athletic school, he was given the best bed in the senior dormitory in token for the leadership he displayed and as a sign of the respect among the boys at the school.

While applying for scholarships to universities in 1959, he gained his first taste of public administration, working for the local office of the Department of Information and Broadcasting in Eldoret, and publishing the Kalenjin Monthly newsletter.

A country thousands of miles from Kenya was to play a leading role in the next phase of his life. In February 1961, Biwott became the first Kenyan to study in Australia. Starting out at Taylors College in Melbourne, he progressed to the University of Melbourne (1962-64), from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Diploma in Public Administration, majoring in Economics and Political Science.

Biwott (far left second row from the front) at Kapsabet Boys High School
School Creset

Biwott’s return to Kenya, at the end of 1964, to begin his half-century long career of public service, did not mark the end of his education.

In 1966, he studied for a course in Public Administration at the Kenya Institute of Administration (established in 1961 to train the nation’s future leaders and administrators) and then requested a leave of absence from the Government to study a Master’s in Economics at his alma mater, the University of Melbourne. This was turned down by the Government, but Biwott went anyway, keen to further his learning and gain a new qualification, hoping that the permission would eventually come through. However, having completed the preliminary studies for his Master’s degree, he returned to Kenya for good in 1967 without completing the degree, as the permission he hoped for was not forthcoming.

Young Biwott as a student at Melbourne University