Kipng’eno arap Ng’eny – A reluctant politician

Kipng’eno arap Ng’eny, a Cabinet Minister in the final term of President Daniel arap Moi’s administration, was a career public servant who joined politics rather reluctantly. The technocrat entered politics in response to prodding by Moi, who thought Ng’eny would be a political asset to him.

Born on 1 July 1937 in Sigowet/Soin area of Kericho District, he attended Kabianga Intermediate Primary School then joined Kapsabet Boys High School for his O’ level and later Kakamega High School for A’ level. He proceeded to India for an undergraduate degree in engineering and later pursued a postgraduate qualification in the same field at Moscow University. When he returned to Kenya, Moi deployed him to the Ministry of Water as a Permanent Secretary. He is remembered as being the longest-serving managing director of the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC), a position he held from 1979 to 1993.

Nicholas Biwott, also a Cabinet Minister in the Moi administration, was among his contemporaries at Kapsabet Boys High School. William Kettienya, a fellow student at Kapsabet, confirmed that Moi trusted Ng’eny, adding that after his long tenure at KPTC, Ng’eny had wanted to retire and concentrate on his business ventures but Moi prevailed on him to go into politics. After the delimitation of electoral boundaries, Moi asked Ng’eny to vie for the newly-created Ainamoi Constituency seat.

“When he went for it, he easily won in 1997. He was later named Minister for Water Development, a position he held until 2002,” recalled Kettienya, who sits on the Board of James Finlay Company Limited, a tea manufacturing firm in Kericho. He said Moi wanted loyalists and people who could assist him scatter political opposition in Kericho and other Kipsigis-inhabited areas of the South Rift region.

Kettienya, who was Ng’eny’s confidant until his death in 2014, added that Ng’eny was a shy person who would not have made it in politics without Moi’s backing and support. Moi spent time at Ng’eny’s Mid West Hotel – which has since been turned into a constituent college of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology – whenever he visited the area. During those visits, Moi would host delegations from the South Rift, Kisii and parts of the former Nyanza Province at Ng’eny’s hotel.

Kettienya said Ng’eny spent his personal funds to mobilise support for the KANU party in Kericho and to pay school fees for children from needy families.

“Moi liked Ng’eny because Ng’eny wouldn’t go to him begging for money to popularise KANU and himself in Kericho and Bomet. He used his own money to mobilise mass support for the former ruling party.” Kettienya added that whenever Moi visited the region, there would be a huge turnout for his rallies, courtesy of Ng’eny’s mobilisation efforts.

“He only used to go to Moi when he was called. Moi dedicated time for him whenever he visited. Many development projects were initiated and education was promoted in an era when there was no Constituency Development Fund,” said Kettienya. Had the CDF been in place, he speculated, Ainamoi would have been one of the most developed constituencies in the country.

Franklin Bett, a former Cabinet Minister and State House Comptroller, confirmed that Ng’eny had a special place in Moi’s heart, explaining that there was mutual understanding between the two.

“Moi trusted and respected him. Whenever they met, you could see the chemistry,” said Bett. He said Ng’eny was respected locally and nationally, adding that his death was a blow to the people of Kericho and the country. “He served his people and the country selflessly. He was a man of few words who wanted to change things for the better,” said the former Bureti MP who is currently Chairman of the Agricultural Finance Corporation.

The humble and soft-spoken engineer, according to those who knew him, was a hardworking person who did not tolerate idleness or empty talk. Donald Bett, a former KPTC human resources manager, said Ng’eny was a focused person who ventured into politics by default; unlike other politicians who were known for rarely honouring their word, Ng’eny always kept his.

“He was a man who would not have made it in politics because he was not a liar. He reluctantly ventured into the murky waters of politics at Moi’s request,” confirmed Bett, who was later to become his political strategist. He added that Moi wanted Ng’eny to assist him in managing Kipsigis politics after the deaths of Isaac Salat and Jonathan Ng’eno.

“It was also the time when Ayub Chepkwony, another veteran politician, had exited active politics and after Kipkalya Kones’ support for KANU and Moi was being questioned,” said Bett. He revealed that unlike other popular Kipsigis leaders, Ng’eny was not an orator, and neither was he tough or forceful; indeed, emotions often overcame him during campaign rallies.

“He cried often when he was faced with challenges. I remember there was a time he cried in front of Moi during a public rally in Soliat,” Bett said, adding that Ng’eny could not withstand heckling and name-calling during political rallies and campaigns. As a Minister, he spoke in Parliament only when answering questions from MPs on matters touching on his ministry.

“He was always absent from the House (because he was busy) meeting his constituents in his office. He only came in to answer questions,” confirmed Jesse Mais, a former Eldoret South MP. “Because of this, he could influence development in his constituency; he saw no need to spend much time in Parliament.”

But Ng’eny reportedly fell out of favour with Moi before the 2002 General Election, allegedly because the President wanted to replace him with the former Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Director Noah arap Too. “Towards the end of his term of office, their relationship was not as cordial as it used to be. It was like there was a debt Moi wanted to repay to the former sleuth,” said Bett.

Bett speculates that Too was being rewarded for the manner in which he had handled investigations into the death of Robert Ouko, Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as other mysterious political deaths during his time at the helm of the CID. “Too might have handled well the investigations in which the Government might have been complicit. I think that is why he was rewarded,” Bett speculated. Moi had many ways of rewarding retired senior police and army officers; influencing their election to Parliament was one of them.

Ng’eny lost his bid to defend his seat during the 2002 controversial KANU primaries, but remained a supporter of both KANU and Moi. In Kericho, like any other KANU stronghold at the time, a win during party nominations guaranteed the contestant a place in Parliament.

Bett said Ng’eny will be remembered for various development projects he initiated or boosted such as building of education infrastructure, roads, churches and provision of water among others. He is credited with having founded or financially assisting Boiywet Secondary School, Ainamoi Secondary School, Cheptenye High School and Soliat Primary and Secondary schools.

The politician also helped to establish Soin Sugar Company Ltd that serves more than 7,000 small-scale sugarcane farmers in Kericho and Kisumu counties today.

During Ng’eny’s tenure as Minister for Water Development, Bett said, he established and expanded a water plant in Kapsoit and tapped El Niño water in Ainamoi, which the residents still benefit from. He was also instrumental in bringing electricity to Ainamoi.

According to people who knew him, Ng’eny employed many people from his home area when he headed KPTC and the Ministry of Water.

Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony said during his tenure in the telecommunications sector, Ng’eny created hundreds of jobs, and that as an MP he initiated projects that are still benefitting many people.

Among those he assisted when he was at KPTC are former Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir, his former Agriculture counterpart Felix Koskei, Sarah Serem, a former head of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and John Mosonik, a former Principal Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure.

“He tapped talent and helped many people who are now in various positions inside and outside the Government,” said John Bosuben, a prominent wholesale trader at Kapsoit Trading Centre along the Kericho-Kisumu road who was in the same cohort as Ng’eny when they underwent the traditional rite of passage in the late 1950s.

Nick Salat, the KANU Secretary General, remembers Ng’eny as an outstanding servant who left an indelible mark wherever he was called to serve. “He remained in KANU even when he was out of politics,” said Salat. “As a senior engineer at the defunct KPTC, he helped to expand the entire infrastructure and digitalisation that led to the birth of the mobile telephony and Internet sectors.” Salat added that Ng’eny was a man of few words but full of ideas, a virtue that made his presence felt wherever he was deployed.

Ng’eny weathered a low moment in his robust life when he was charged with abuse of office by an anti-corruption court in Nairobi in 2001, when he was Minister for Water Development. He was accused of influencing the purchase of land for the ministry at an inflated price, failing to adhere to the laid-down procurement and disposal laws. In 2001, a parliamentary anti-corruption committee chaired by Musikari Kombo, the Webuye MP at the time, named him together with former Vice President George Saitoti and Cabinet colleagues Biwott and Henry Kosgey in the Corruption List of Shame. The committee recommended that he be investigated by the defunct Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority over the fraudulent purchase of land.

Moi spared him from dismissal as he defended himself in court, leaving the Opposition to speculate over why he seemed to enjoy such favour with the President. He remained in the Cabinet until the National Rainbow Coalition took over power in January 2003.

Ng’eny’s health reportedly started failing soon after he withdrew from active politics. He had lost his wife in a road accident in Gilgil along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway. Those who knew him say that his loneliness was aggravated after KANU lost power and Moi left State House. He retreated to his Nairobi home and lived a reclusive life. He succumbed to complications from a stroke he suffered some years prior to his death, and was cremated in accordance with his personal wishes.

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