Kipkalya Kones – A gifted orator who spoke his mind

Kipkalya Kiprono Kones, a tough-talking Cabinet Minister in President Moi’s government, was a born orator. His mastery of language helped him influence and inspire people. In meetings he could convince even his diehard opponents to back him and what he stood for.

Although among his Kipsigis ethnic community he was not considered to be well educated, he was well known for his mobilisation skills, a virtue that Moi liked and that endeared the outspoken politician to him.

Kones attended Tenwek High school for his O’ levels and Cardinal Otunga High School for his A’ level education. Franklin Bett, a former Minister for Roads and State House Comptroller, was his contemporary at Cardinal Otunga.

After high school Kones was employed as a supervisor at James Finlay Tea Company in Kericho District. William Kettienya, a director with the tea manufacturing company, said he influenced Kones’ employment immediately after he completed his Form Six.

“He came and asked for a job. I requested the Board of Directors to consider him and he got it,” he said. Kettienya considered Kones a hard-working person who rose to become a section head before plunging into politics. “He was somebody who required no supervision. He was thorough in whatever he did. That impressed the management which saw him climb the ladder.”

Before the reintroduction of plural politics in 1992, Kones, William ole Ntimama, Nicholas Biwott and Henry Kosgey organised various political meetings in Narok, Kapsabet, Kapkatet and other parts of Rift Valley Province to mobilise residents to oppose the reintroduction of multiparty politics.

Kones contested the Bomet parliamentary seat in 1983 but was beaten by Isaac Salat, an influential assistant minister in the Office of the President. After Salat’s death in 1988, Kones became the area Member of Parliament in a by-election and was subsequently appointed Assistant Minister for Agriculture. He won again in 1992 and was elevated to the Cabinet working in the President’s office.

In the 1997 General Election, he was re-elected and appointed Minister for Public Works and Housing shortly before being moved to the Research, Science and Technology docket in the same capacity. Towards the 2002 General Election his loyalty to the ruling KANU party came under scrutiny. He was moved to Vocational Training, a ministry considered less important than his previous positions.

He finally fell out with Moi and joined the James Orengo-led Muungano Wa Mageuzi movement that was pushing for a regime change in the country. His stay with the movement was short-lived because just before the 2002 elections, he switched his allegience to the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD)-People party led by the former Head of Civil Service and Cabinet Minister in Moi’s government, Simeon Nyachae.

“He was a good grassroots mobiliser. After failing to unseat Salat once, he was finally elected after the incumbent’s death,” said Geoffrey Tororey, Kones’ relative. Tororey indicated that Kones started nursing political ambitions when he was at James Finlay, and that his oratorical skills and knack for speaking his mind were an added advantage.

Kones is fondly remembered for opposing Government and church campaigns to have people plan their families. He advocated for small communities to produce more children so they could grow and become more competitive against the larger communities. In the Opposition, he found a friend in William ole Ntimama who also opposed plans to encourage the Maasai to plan their families, arguing that power was obtained through numerical strength.

“Those who are preaching to us about family planning should keep off. Our people will continue to give birth until they catch up with major tribes,” he once said during a political rally in Narok before the multiparty elections of 1992.

Kones was among several people adversely named in three reports on tribal clashes in the country. He was named and notified by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Tribal Clashes, chaired by Justice Akilano Akiwumi. He was also among 21 politicians named in a Kenya National Human Rights Commission report for allegedly planning and financing the 2007-2008 post-election violence. These reports recommended actions that have yet to be taken. In addition, Kones was implicated in the Kiliku Parliamentary Select Committee report on the tribal clashes that rocked parts of Rift Valley and Western provinces. However, this report was not adopted by Parliament.

He was appointed Minister for Roads in the grand coalition government in April 2008, albeit for a short time, because in June the same year, he died in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Lorna Laboso, the pilot and a security guard. The plane  was flying from Nairobi to Kericho to help organise the logistics for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party candidate, Benjamin Langat, in the Ainamoi by-election. An investigation into the crash by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority established that the plane came down due to poor weather, which impaired the pilot’s judgement.

Eulogising Kones, President Mwai Kibaki said he was a hard-working public servant while Prime Minister Raila Odinga termed him a visionary leader.

In the subsequent Bomet Constituency by-election, his wife Beatrice Cherono was elected on an ODM ticket. She stated in an interview that she had lost a friend, the father of her children and a political mentor, adding that if Kones were still alive, Kipsigis and, by extension, Kalenjin politics would have greatly changed for the better. “I and my family still miss him. Politics could have changed drastically if he was alive,” she said.

She said her husband entered politics to make a difference in the lives of the people of Bomet, crediting him with building schools and other development facilities.

“His decision was informed by the need to empower locals economically and to expand education infrastructure for children of the area to access education,” she added.

Kones opposed the eviction of thousands of Mau Forest settlers, saying they were rightfully there after buying parcels of land on a willing seller-willing buyer basis. “Stay put. You don’t have anywhere to go to. From here, you will go to heaven. Back to your maker, God,” he had advised them when they were about to be kicked out by the Government in July 2005.

He took pride in opening up Narok by influencing the construction of the Narok-Bomet road for easy access by the Kipsigis as they travelled to their homes from Nairobi.

Nick Salat thought Kones had been unfairly branded a warmonger. “Though we were competitors, we respected each other. He pulled no punches, which led some people to conclude he was a warmonger,” he said.

He noted that Kones had straddled the political landscape and left an indelible mark. “His interest and that of his followers mattered to him. Other things were secondary,” said Salat.

Kones was said to be a sociable person who had the ability to mingle with people from all walks of life. He bought drinks and food for everyone — those he knew and those he did not know.

His nephew Robert Too said Kones liked to read a lot when he had time, adding that he enjoyed reading books by a prominent fiction author Nicole Machiavelli and biographies of prominent personalities, including politicians like Nelson Mandela.

“He read and did research. That was why he was informed, knew how to pass loaded messages and spoke good English despite his modest education,” he said.

Politician Isaac Ruto referred to him as someone who was friendly, who did not hold grudges and who one could count on at all times.

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