Opinion: The other week, Kenya’s hitherto all-powerful former minister Nicholas Kipyator Kiprono Biwot passed away amidst a series of controversial stories surrounding his life.
During the days preceding his funeral, it was actually rumored that the coffin in which he was set to be buried was not only gold plaited but also bullet proof!
Biwot has since been a subject of discussion in the entire East African region. During his time as a government official, he was targeted by authors who conjured stories of his involvement in corruption, extortion and murder.
One of the enduring but less talked scandals was the deals he struck with various Ugandan governments to extradite rebels exiled in Nairobi. His first deal was struck with the government of President Apollo Milton Obote in which he was assigned to capture and extradite all the Ugandan rebels who had holed up in Nairobi in the early 1980s.
The Obote government was having a hard time to deal with a civil war that had erupted in central Uganda propagated by various rebel groups that included UFM led by Andrew Lutakome Kayiira and NRA led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
Since most of the rebel leaders were exiled in Nairobi, President Obote contacted President Arap Moi to assist him capture and extradite them. Obote assigned his Otema Alimadi and Luwuliza Kirunda (Foreign and Internal Affairs Ministers respectively), along with Peter Otai to travel to Nairobi and strike the deal to have the rebel leaders captured.
Under the strict instructions of Nicholas Biwot, a Senior Minister in President Moi’s government, the Kenyan police swung into action to net the ring leaders of the insurgency that rocked Uganda from 1981.
In his story, the late Sam Njuba narrates that in 1982 Nairobi was very unsafe for the Ugandans who were fighting the Obote government. This pressure from the Kenyan Police forced Museveni, Amama Mbabazi and most of the rebel leaders to flee to Sweden and other countries in the diaspora.
Biwot had struck a personal deal with the UPC government contingent in the region of around $10,000 if he delivered any of the two principal rebel leaders; Andrew Kayiira and/or Yoweri Museveni. When the Kenyan police moved in, they instead managed to capture Balaki Kirya, stuffed him in the car boot and drove him very fast from Nairobi to the Busia border.
Kirya had had been a Minister in Obote’s Cabinet in the 1960s. He however, along with five of his colleagues, been jailed after the 1966 crisis. He had been released in 1971 when Gen Idi Amin captured power. But when Obote returned in 1980, Kirya was one of those who had vowed to fight him. He was therefore instrumental in forming a rebel group called the Uganda Federal Movement (UFM), led by Andrew Lutakome Kayiira.
When Kirya was handed over to the Ugandan security, Obote was very disappointed that Museveni and Kayiira had not been apprehended as well. The Kenyan police combed again but failed to nail Yoweri Museveni or Kayiira. This failure to capture the principal rebels annoyed Obote so much he refused to pay the agreed $10,000 to Biwot which never appeased his ego.
Biwot then suspended the mission to capture Ugandan rebels. Later on the Kenyan police reduced on their operations against Ugandan exiles because Obote had no money to give Nicholas Biwot. That’s how the rebels managed to remain in Nairobi up to the time of the Nairobi Peace Talks of 1985.
Biwot Dealings with the Museveni Regime
It must be stressed however that by the time the NRM government shot to power in 1986, the relationship between Uganda under President Museveni and Kenya under the Arap Moi administration was not all that good.
But on the other hand, Museveni’s government also had some issues of Ugandan rebels operating on the Kenyan side. The types of Aggrey Awori, Amon Bazira (Former spy chief), Peter Otai and many other former ministers from Obote’s government.
Aggrey Awori had formed a rebel group called Force Obote Back (FOBA) that embarked on killing local council leaders in parts of Busia, while Amon Bazira had formed NALU stationed in the Ruwenzori Mountains. On his part, Peter Otai had formed a rebel group called UPA that operated in Teso.
It was therefore not easy for Museveni administration to convince the Kenyan counterparts to undertake such a mission of apprehending these rebel leaders. So, a shrewd official of the Ugandan government called Jim Muhwezi and Amama Mbabazi who was in charge of ESO brought up the idea of contacting Nicholas Biwot to discuss the issue.
They traveled to meet the very cunning Biwot who was quick to name his price – a $20,000 deposit. It’s not easy to ascertain whether it was paid in full, but once money arrived on Biwot’s desk, the Kenyan Police easily captured Amon Bazira and quickly drove him to the waiting hands of the Ugandan security officials at the border.
Once the mission was accomplished, the NRM government easily managed to demolish rebellions that rocked eastern Uganda. Peter Otai and Aggrey Awori fled to the diaspora, marking the end of their rebel groups. Biwot later became a very wealthy man by striking deals with not only foreign countries but also foreign investors in Kenya.
The Biwot Sex Scandal
In Kenya itself, Nicholas Biwot was not known to be a good man due to the various scandals to his name. For instance in 1995 he tried to rape a housekeeper in a Hotel room in Auckland, Australia where Kenyan government was involved in a CHOGM summit. The lady reported him to the Hotel Manager and Police. On cue, Kenyan government demanded he be forgiven and deported or they would start a shitstorm.
They, in no less words, threatened to walk out of an international event if their man was publicly accused of attempted rape, the victim be damned. He was the man, he said later, because a politician needs to be ‘a total man’, and there was no politician as total as he was. That’s why he became the ‘Bull’, not the ‘sex pest’ or the ‘rapist’ of Auckland. The debacle ended just like that!
How He Survived Scandals
He had teams of lawyers whose entire brief was to fight the many allegations by any means necessary, sometimes bordering on the absurd. Any book or report that mentioned him was intimidated off the market!
Others he simply visited and calmly pointed at the book saying “I demand you stop selling this book”, as if it was a request. Others he called in the middle of their day and demanded answers about stories they had written.
When newspapers wrote scandalous stories about him, Nicholas Biwot, a short man with a soft accented voice, sued them so hard that no one before or after him has ever won as much money as he did in defamation suits.
But it was all legitimate of course, not because he intimidated or owned the judges in those cases that gave him over 60 million in just four cases. That was a lot of money, but it found Nicholas Biwot already a rich man.
How He Got Wealthy
Biwott enriched himself through manipulation and extortion, and outright corruption. His name was missing from corruption stories in Kenya because what he didn’t own he could intimidate, bribe or sue. He leashed the banking system to himself, forcing ‘political banks’ to loan his companies money and then using his power as a minister and Moi’s confidante to ‘block all attempts to secure repayment.’
The only way they got their money back was to tell his boss that they would leave and stop investing if he was not forced to repay. Of course from sheer hard work toiling the public sector for tenders, forcing banks not to recall loans to him, and demanding commissions for international projects. He was Moi’s confidante and bagman, but he was also a hardworking Kenyan, within public coffers and lands.
He got land illegally from Kaptagat Forest, and owned so much more that whenever anti-corruption or government agencies went after him, they discovered they were his tenants!
In life, his name was to be whispered, and books read and re-read to ensure they did not mention his name, even in good light. He was suspicious and paranoid, because he was bad, and he was hunted. His own boss, business partner, and fellow looter, Moi, didn’t know where he lived.
He never ate his own food for fear someone would poison him, and refused to own a phone, borrowing them instead from random strangers. He never told his drivers where they were going, and chose to treat everyone around him like a potential traitor.
These were not just eccentricities, this was sheer paranoia borne of a lifetime of screwing people over and demanding their fear, not their loyalty. He was a man on edge, day in and day out. He lived like a hunted drug lord, not a career public servant and one of the richest people in Kenya.
When he talked, Biwot’s word was law. He was everything that was bad about the Moi regime. Second to the man with an ivory stick himself, Biwot epitomized the rot that drove Kenya to its knees, and even further. In life he fought harder than anyone else to wipe out the fact that he was not a good man.
Biwot’s Wealth: By using his State House and international connections, Mr. Biwot transformed himself from a simple MP for Keiyo South to a billionaire with an enviable business empire touching almost every sector of the Kenyan economy.
He owned an airline, a bank, an oil company, a construction firm and Nairobi’s Yaya Towers, among others.