When American country music legend Jim Reeves recorded his hit This world is not my home in 1962, Kipyator Nicholas Kiprono Biwott was miles away in Australia studying.
Five decades later this would turn out to be Biwott’s favourite song in his last days, according to the Rev Samson Samoei, and despite all the power, aura and mystery that was his life, the world was, indeed, not his home.
His funeral service yesterday at the AIC Milimani, which his political godfather President Daniel Moi personally helped construct, revealed the softer, humane and family side of the man many believed had a heart of stone.
Total Man, Bull of Auckland
Described as Total Man, Bull of Auckland or Karnet (steel), the son of a successful fruit and vegetable trader in Eldoret rose to become one of the most powerful and feared politicians in the Moi era.
But from what his family and close friends had to say of him yesterday, Biwott died loathed by many and understood by few.
Mourners who filled the church to the rafters were drawn from all walks of life and races.
Captains of industry, magnates, politicians, diplomats, civil servants and even retired President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania were transfixed as the private side of Biwott came out.
For the first time his family, which he jealously shielded for years, appeared in public.
His widow Hannie Kiprono Biwott, a former history teacher in Meru county, whose students included former Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura, poured out her heart and let mourners visualise Biwott as a family man.
“I’ll never forget how good a man my husband was… I am privileged to have been his wife for 52 years, and the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of his family,” she said.
Hannie said her only rival for Biwott’s attention and love was retired President Moi.
The widow said so many people and projects had benefitted from her husband’s magnanimity, but the deceased was not one to go shouting about it.
His six daughters Maria, named after his mother, Gloria, Klara, Rita, Rhoda and Esther and son Manu moved the congregation to near tears, narrating how their father had time for each and every one of them, despite his full diary.
Little is known of them apart from Esther Koimett who served in various positions in government. She read the eulogy.
Biwott rarely smiled in public. When he did what came out was a mixture of a sneer and a smile. Biwott could in the privacy of his home even sing to some of his children.
DANCED AT WEDDINGS, HELICOPTER RIDES
His 11 grandchildren gave accounts of the time they spent with him, ranging from helicopter rides, dancing away the day in village weddings, helping out in university research papers and visiting girls’ schools in his constituency to encourage students.
Biwott even requested one of them to teach him about Facebook and WhatsApp, saying he wanted to be modern and see when things go viral, all for a man who was never known to have owned a mobile phone in his lifetime!
Uasin Gishu Jubilee Senate candidate Margaret Kamar, who rose from a lecturer to a Cabinet minister, and whom many have publicly known to be Biwott’s spouse, attended the service but did not make any speech, neither does her name feature anywhere in the funeral programme, adding to the mystery that was the man.
His long-time personal assistant William Chepkut stood strategically at the church’s entrance to identify and usher in close friends that probably only he and Biwott knew. He would always be by Biwott’s side in life.
Muthaura admitted that his career choice in the provincal administration was influenced by Biwott who, while serving as a District Officer, could visit the school where Hannie taught to give talks.
“His arrival in a government Land Rover with a driver and police bodyguard made me make up my mind what I wanted to be,” he said.
Kikwete said Biwott was one of the great pillars behind the revival of The East African Community.
Reminiscing KANU days
His Moi era Kanu colleagues Noah Katana Ngala and Fred Gumo sadly followed the service reminiscing the days when Kanu called the shots.
Former Speaker Francis ole Kaparo tickled mourners when he said in life Biwott wanted very little said about him and he would respect that wish even in death.
NASA leader Raila Odinga was among politicians present, but left early.
The poem at the back of the funeral programme captured the spirit of one of Kenya’s most powerful men.
Titled Miss Me But Let Me Go by an anonymous author, it is clear that Kenya will indeed miss Biwott, but we have to let him go.
He will be buried tomorrow at his home in Toot village, Elgeyo Marakwet county.