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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 12:43 GMT
Nicholas Biwott: Kenya's comeback king
By Gray Phombeah
BBC News, Nairobi

For many Kenyans, there has always been something of the night about Nicholas Biwott - a long-time politician fond of describing himself as a "total man".

Former Kenyan cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott, a key witness in the inquiry
Mr Biwott was Kenya's most powerful politician under Mr Moi

Taking control of Kenya's oldest party that ruled the country for almost four decades, he has achieved one of the most stunning political comebacks in Kenya's history.

He secured this coup with the backing of President Mwai Kibaki and former President Daniel arap Moi.

After months of bickering over whether the Kanu party, which lost the 2002 general elections, should join a loose coalition of political parties known as the Orange Democratic Movement and compete in presidential elections due next year against President Kibaki's ruling coalition, Mr Biwott finally ousted leader Uhuru Kenyatta, who was installed by Moi himself as his successor to run Kanu.

It also comes at a time when President Mwai Kibaki - who replaced Mr Moi four years ago - has been trying to woo the former power broker into his coalition government.

The president has failed to hold together his fractious coalition - a political crisis that is threatening his survival almost at the end of his current term of office and also his bid for 2007 if he chooses to go for a second presidential term.

Former President Daniel arap Moi
The two men fell out before Moi retired in 2002

Since coming to power in 2002 on a pledge to clean up government, deepening disputes between his allies and dissidents in his own coalition government have pushed his administration to the brink of collapse.

And so, desperate to win new political friends, President Kibaki is knocking at some unlikely doors.

Perhaps unfairly, Mr Biwott's name was linked to most of the major scandals in the country under Mr Moi's 24-year rule, including ethnic clashes in1992 and 1997.

None of the allegations were ever proved and most of his supporters maintain that he had been made the scapegoat just because he had Mr Moi's ear.

But his silence - seen by many as arrogance - over such allegations did not help matters.

Private man

Mr Biwott is an MP of the opposition Kenya African National Union (Kanu), the party that ruled Kenya for almost 40 years since independence in 1963, before losing to the National Rainbow Coalition, a loose alliance of opposition parties, in 2002.

Standing at five-feet tall and grey, he is almost deceptively shy

The most private of men, not much is known about Mr Biwott's early days or personal life.

He is known to have received his university education in Australia, but there is no mention about his early education in Kenya.

A fellow member of Mr Moi's Kalenjin tribe, Mr Biwott entered politics in 1974 - almost 10 years after Kenya became independent from British rule - and later became personal assistant to Mr Moi when he was vice-president.

It was this kind of association that prepared him for bigger things when Mr Moi assumed the presidency in 1978.

Dracula image

Standing at five-feet tall, grey and almost deceptively shy, Mr Biwott's demeanour in public is in sharp contrast to his unpopular image.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
Kibaki is grappling with political infighting

He has been described as a man obsessed with security, frequently switching cars when travelling and never accepting drinks brought to him in restaurants. And he has always refused to tell his age, which is believed to be about 66.

It hasn't, however, always been smooth-sailing for Mr Biwott.

When he was named as a prime suspect in the 1990 murder of the Kenyan foreign minister, Robert Ouko, Mr Moi fired him and later ordered his arrest.

But after a short stint in jail and a slightly longer stay in the political doghouse after the charges were dropped, Mr Biwott returned to the good graces of Mr Moi.

But even after a remarkable comeback, he appeared to have entirely failed to shift his popularity off the floor.

By the time Mr Moi bowed out in 2002, the two had already fallen out and he also failed spectacularly to capture the top position Mr Moi occupied in the Kanu party.

True or not, Mr Biwott has continued to be seen by many Kenyans as a symbol of the darkest days of former President Moi's rule - even as he seems to edge closer to the administration of President Kibaki, now with the backing of his former boss.


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