John Cheruiyot, a former Cooperative Minister, was among the people who benefitted from the infamous mlolongo (queuing) method that was used to elect leaders during the 1988 general election. Unknown to many even to people of Aldai Constituency before, Cheruiyot became the minister after his Tindiret counterpart was sacked hardly nine months into his tenure as the Minister for Commerce. Before the elevation, Cheruiyot was an Assistant Minister for Education.
Albeit his lacklustre performance, he served as minister from 1988 to 1992. At that time the Commissioner for Cooperatives, Raymond Bomet, was more powerful than the minister. In many instances, Bomet, who was Moi’s relative, executed his mandate which had implications on the entire running of the ministry, without consultations with the minister who unlike some of his colleagues, was not much visible. Bomet, who enjoyed unfettered access to Moi, could make decisions like dissolving cooperatives’ boards after consulting the former president without informing his minister.
It during Cheruiyot’s tenure that a number of cooperative societies and unions started were crumbling because of political interference. Cooperative societies like the giant Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU) were so powerful, and drew such huge membership from certain regions like the former Central Province, that they were viewed by the Kanu establishment as alternative opposition in the era of one party state. In the era when freedom of association was absent, cooperative movements, championed for farmers rights to a point where Moi became very uncomfortable.
“They were vocal about issues affecting its members. Leaders of cooperative societies were so powerful which made those in power devise ways of weakening or killing them,” says Kipkorir Menjo, Director, Kenya Farmers Association, North Rift.
KPCU was also at the time embroiled in leadership and managerial wrangles and thievery. The woes later led to its collapse, sinking with it billions of shillings of members investments. Menjo says the government had a hand in managerial problems at KPCU, claiming that powerful people wanted it to die.
“Kanu had an ideology to make people poor for it to rule comfortably. To achieve that, leadership wrangles in giant cooperative societies had to be engineered to hasten their demise,” he says. He adds that though Cheruiyot may not have directly participated, he was still blamed for presiding over the demise of cooperatives.
He used to carry the Bible wherever he went. He also used to preach in school assemblies. He was a darling of the school administration
“Farmers (still) blame him for being used to kill vibrant cooperatives which led to poverty and food insecurity. Cooperatives used to avail subsidised farm inputs and buy farmers produce,” says Menjo. He adds; “Problems farmers are now facing like lack of market for their produce and many others can be traced to the time when cooperatives were killed for political expediency.”
Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) which used to provide farm inputs and buy farmers inputs was one of the farmers’ entities to suffer from political interference. In 1989, during Cheruiyot’s reign, KFA changed from a farmers’ cooperative association to Kenya Grain Growers Cooperative Union (KGGCU). Farmers lost their shareholding with the changes, making them lose their say in the new structure.
KGGCU failed to discharge the mandate KFA which is now a limited liability, used to, rendering it useless and leaving farmers on their own. Also during Cheruiyot’s tenure, the giant milk processor Kenya Cooperative Creameries was on a steady decline, unable to pay farmers in time. Later, shareholders lost their shares when it changed ownership, courtesy of killing strong cooperatives. “All the problems farmers are facing now can be traced back from late 1980s when Cheruiyot was the minister,” says Menjo who is Uasin Gishu farmers’ activist.
Cooperative societies’ properties, like land and vehicles which belonged to millions of shareholders, he says were grabbed immediately they started crumbling. He says instead of reforming cooperatives, Cheruiyot sat watching them dying or being mismanaged, adding he left his ministry to be run from elsewhere.
Cheruiyot, who went up to form six, was plucked from his family business by the late Ezekiel Barngetuny, then Nandi power broker, to replace a former National Assembly speaker, Samuel Arap Ngeny, who was unable to do the bidding of powers that be. He did his A level examination at Kakamega High School in 1971 where he was a loyal member of the Christian Union (CU).
“He used to carry the Bible wherever he went. He also used to preach in school assemblies. He was a darling of the school administration,” says Japheth Kip’nyango, his contemporary who is now a retired teacher. He says his parents often visited him, adding that he was an average student who did not show any interest in leadership position. “He was ever smart and kept company of CU members. I don’t remember him being punished for indiscipline,” says Kip’nyango.
Apart from Ngeny, Henry Kosgey (Tindiret) and Stanley Metto (Mosop) were shown the door at the instigation of Barngetuny who wanted loyalists to work with him. Cheruiyot had an added advantage because he was the son of Ezekiel Birech, the head of the African Inland Church (AIC). Former President Moi, who is an ardentfaithful of the church, was then close to the late Birech.
Like all Birech children, Cheruiyot, then an ever smartly dressed man who was visible in virtually all Moi functions, was born and brought up in a strict Christian family. His elder sister was married to the late William Morogo Saina, a former Eldoret North MP and assistant minister Agriculture.
Shortly after 1992, he fell out with Barngetuny because of allegedly sidestepping him to access Moi, forcing him to look for his future replacement. A little known Paul Titi won the former nominated MP’s heart and during the Kanu nominations before the first multi party election, he easily trounced Cheruiyot to take the Aldai seat.Those days if one won nominations in Kanu strongholds, one automatically becomes an MP. Titi was before that the chairman of Mumias Sugar Company.
Before he was trounced, Barngetuny knew where to hit Cheruiyot and when he did it, he did not recover politically. He claimed that Cheruiyot was circumcised in hospital contrary to Nandi customs which dictates that a man should face the knife and spend healing in a secluded place, the thickets.
Being a church leader, Birech might have followed strict Christian norms prohibiting consumption of alcohol that is associated with traditional circumcisions when he initiated his favourite boy to manhood.
In 2015, a Nairobi court jailed Cheruiyot for six years for failing to pay a 20 year old outstanding debt of Kshs 2 million to businessman Anthony Lang’o. Lang’o successfully argued his case that he had printed and delivered 50,000 Kanu caps and other party materials to Cheruiyot in 1994.
Originally, the debt was Ksh565,000, but it over the years attracted a Ksh 1.6 million interest. The independence party, it is said, directed him to order for them and sign the purchase order, putting him in trouble years after he stop being an MP. He successful appealed against the court decision and the jail term was suspended.
After he was defeated, he was in 1993 appointed Rivatex Ltd chairman before disappearing into political obscurity. Supporters of Cheruiyot, who it was not uncommon to see on the streets of Nairobi until he recently retired to his father’s farm in Aldai, say he was not born a politician. “He was not used to the rough and tumble of politics. He was brought up according to Christian teachings devoid of name calling and peddling lies,” says Rashid Too, a former civic leader of Chepsonoi area in Aldai.
Like most politicians who hardly go back to their former constituencies after being defeated, Cheruiyot decided to spend most of his time in the city, perhaps hunting for jobs. He nowadays travels to Nairobi to meet his children and perhaps connect with those he met when he was in active politics. His former bodyguard, Gilbert Kiptanui, says Cheruiyot was an affable man who was loyal to Moi and the party, adding that the former head of state liked him.
He says he remembers when his father told Moi in State House, Nairobi to protect his son against onslaught by his political adversaries in his Aldai backyard. “We were about to leave after Birech and his son had a meeting with the president when the old man told Moi in Kalenjin that his son was having difficult moments in Aldai and asked him to offer him protection,” says Kiptanui.
He adds that the former minister had easy access to the former president, saying that there was no time they were blocked or were delayed when they went meet him be it in the various State Houses, State Lodges or his Kabarak home.