So powerful was Nicholas Biwott under President Daniel arap Moi’s administration that even international banks were forced to follow his instructions, no matter how difficult they were to implement.
Biwott’s stature in the Moi era is perhaps only comparable to that of Moses Substone Budamba Mudavadi, the father of National Super Alliance co-principal Musalia Mudavadi, and that of Charles Mugane Njonjo, the most powerful Attorney-General Kenya has ever had.
The senior Mudavadi was so powerful that he once told this writer, to quote him in an article: “Leave us to rule this country with Moi”. He had a special relationship with the President, which people have never understood to date. In the 1980s, he was the only minister who could receive goodwill delegations at his Mululu home in Sabatia, just like the President did at various State Houses and in his Kabarak home.
Back to Biwott. He was known to order his bank to fly huge amounts of money – sometimes between Sh5 million and Sh10 million – to, say, Mombasa, Narok, Eldoret or Kisumu, in Sh50 or Sh100 notes.
That was hundreds of kilogrammes of currency notes that were delivered to and from planes in lorries to be distributed to supporters.
His mode of operation was to call the bank manager and give instructions on the amount of money he wanted, and how he wanted it and where he wanted it delivered.
One incident was when Moi was going to Nyanza for the burial of former Foreign Minister Robert Ouko. Biwott was at his best. On that occasion, he organised for the currency in dollars, pounds and Swiss Francs. Those privy to the arrangement did not know why Biwott wanted the money delivered to the venue. He would later be arrested over the Ouko murder, but was released.
Biwott was the cog in the wheel of the Moi administration for more than two decades – and even vice-presidents, who are nominally the second in command, feared him.
Ugenya MP James Orengo, now Siaya Senator, summed it up in Parliament once: “President Moi is a prisoner of people like Biwott”.
But despite being powerful, Biwott was paranoid. He, for example, never carried a personal mobile phone – perhaps to avoid having his location traced. Messages would be passed through his aides, or he would use one of their mobile phones when he wanted to talk.
And that is not all. He once summoned me to his Nyayo House office for a story. When I arrived, a car was waiting to take me to another location.
The driver took me to some old, dilapidated house in Lavington where I found Biwott chatting with some old men in vernacular.
“Nabongo (King of the Wanga Kingdom) you have come,” he addressed me.
“How are the Wanga?” he would ask.
“We lost the Kingdom to the Kalenjin,” I would reply and he would laugh before going ahead to give me his story.
Biwott will be remembered as a powerful politician in Kenya who lived a mysterious life that nobody will probably never fully understand.
The Mossad increased its level of espionage, spies and secret operations worldwide.