Nicholas Biwott lived a life of such mystery and secrecy that his business dealings have remained a top secret even to his closest associates.
The 77-year-old, who breathed his last yesterday, carries with him to the grave secrets of a vast business empire that he built, but the public largely got barely a glimpse of his net worth.
Nothing much is in the public domain about the man who was not only one of the most powerful men under the Moi regime, but also described as “very wealthy”.
Mr Biwott was described as a billionaire with huge interests in real estate, aviation, agriculture, manufacturing, oil, banking and insurance among others.
Biwott’s wealth remains a mystery
He featured in several financial reports and was listed among the richest people in Africa, and according to his website (www.nicholasbiwott.com), he was influenced to become a successful businessman by his father, who established a profitable fruit and vegetable business in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County.
The former Kanu party strongman was a major shareholder of Kenol-Kobil, a chain of filling stations across East Africa, and also the proprietor of a domestic airline, AirKenya.
His companies employ thousands of people and one is listed among Kenya’s top 10 corporate taxpayers.
Nigeria’s Venture Financial Magazine placed him among the top 50 billionaires in Africa (2013) at about $1 billion (Sh100 billion).
His total wealth, however, remains a mystery, just like the man who never owned a mobile phone and instead borrowed from friends or strangers to make calls when the need arose.
He had a penchant for deleting the numbers he called and compensating the phone owner handsomely.
Biwott’s last public engagement
Although the source of his vast wealth has been questioned, with critics claiming the money came from corruption, it is this same wealth that attracted many to his side.
And although the wealth was such that he could easily arrange to own any of the state-of-the-art vehicles preferred by the rich and the powerful, Biwott was known to hike lifts from total strangers, who also tasted his generosity at the end of the ride.
Owners of battered taxis in Nairobi city centre also tasted his wealth for he was known to pick cars randomly, ride for a few metres and then dump them after paying for more than a day’s lease.
Some of the businesses linked to him include the Sh3 billion Yaya Centre in Nairobi’s Hurlingham estate, which is managed by his daughter, Esther Koimett, and shareholdings in HZ Group of Companies.
Others are shares in blue chip companies, educational institutions, Kipsinende Farm and Lima Ltd that deals with agricultural machinery.
He also had massive interests in large-scale dealings in dairy, tea, wheat and maize, as well as horticulture and floriculture both in Kenya and abroad.
A brief on the website describes the politician as a leading and active businessman and one who is regarded as one of Kenya’s most successful entrepreneurs.
As a teenager in the late 1950s, Biwott worked alongside his father in his fruit and vegetable business. The young Biwott also borrowed small amounts of money from a local bank, which he used to expand the business apart from selling meat and eggs.
He continued to expand his own business and in the late 1960s, formed ABC Foods selling food and animal feed products.