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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 14:12 GMT
Kenya's loose cannon: Simeon Nyachae
Simeon Nyachae
Nyachae is a bit of a loner

Simeon Nyachae has been described by opponents as arrogant, dictatorial, overbearing, self-righteous, pushy and given to flaunting his massive wealth.

His business empire ranges from farming to milling industries and stretches across Kenya. He is also a keep-fit fanatic and boasts a huge family of four wives and more than 20 children.

But whatever his qualities, his plunge on Monday into Kenya's presidential race is bound to complicate the opposition's arithmetic of tribal politics in the pursuit to dislodge the ruling Kanu party from power for the first time in 40 years.

He is known to friends and foes alike as a fiery speaker who does not suffer fools gladly - crossing swords with fellow ministers while in the government and now pouring scorn on the main opposition's attempt to oust Kanu.

Kenya's presidential candidates
Kanu - Uhuru Kenyatta
Narc - Mwai Kibaki
SDP - James Orengo
Ford People - Simeon Nyachae

With the usual pomp and ceremony, Mr Nyachae, 70, launched his presidential bid in Nairobi on the ticket of Ford People - an opposition party that has been overshadowed by a bigger opposition rival, the National Rainbow Coalition, which has picked former vice president Mwai Kibaki as its candidate.

It came a day after another opposition politician - James Orengo - announced his candidature on the ticket of the smaller Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The three opposition leaders will now battle it out with Uhuru Kenyatta - the ruling party's nominee and President Moi's handpicked successor - in the general elections due to take place on 27 December.

Lone ranger

Since quitting the government and the ruling party, Mr Nyachae had been quite open about his ambition and drive while criss-crossing the country in his private planes.

Nyachae supporters
Nyachae has his strongest support in western Kenya

He felt grievously under-appreciated by his fellow opposition leaders who ignored his suggestion that the opposition presidential candidate should be elected by a popular vote involving delegates from all opposition parties.

Instead the main opposition parties went ahead and chose Mr Kibaki as their sole candidate and, in essence, blocked Mr Nyachae's presidential ambitions.

Although widely regarded as a lone ranger, Mr Nyachae enjoys huge support from his Kisii homeland in western Kenya - unlike Mr Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta who both hail from the Kikuyu tribe, and are expected to split the populous Kikuyu vote.

But his challenge for the presidency will only bear fruit if he can take his appeal beyond his Kisii turf.

Rise

The son of a paramount Kisii chief, Mr Nyachae was born on 6 February 1932 and after finishing his early education started work as a revenue clerk in the colonial government.

Veteran Mwai Kibaki (left)
Veteran Mwai Kibaki leads the main opposition alliance
By the time Kenya became a republic in 1964, Mr Nyachae had climbed to the post of a district commissioner.

His meteoric rise continued under the government of Kenya's first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, serving for 14 years as provincial commissioner around the country.

Soon after taking over, President Moi appointed Mr Nyachae as head of civil service and secretary to the cabinet in 1979.

He retired from the civil service in 1987, only to bounce back in 1992 as a member of parliament for his Nyaribari Chache constituency - a political feat that paved his way back into the Moi cabinet, landing the agriculture portfolio.

He was appointed to the ministry of finance in 1998 but quit the government a year later when he was transferred to what he felt was the less prominent ministry of industry.

And so began his courtship with the opposition as he searched for a party that would let him in.

He has, of late, been shopping for votes in traditional Kanu strongholds in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces and is expected to garner considerable support in some parts of the opposition heartland.

By going his own way, Mr Nyachae is gambling on a good showing in the presidential election and a place at the negotiating table with the party that will form the next government.

Kenyans choose a new president

Key stories

Inauguration day

Moi steps down

Background

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AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
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25 Oct 02 | Africa
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