With his unmistakable picture of calm and serenity even in stormy political meetings, Wycliffe Ambetsa Oparanya became President Mwai Kibaki’s alter ego in the tumultuous Government of National Unity formed after the disputed 2007 elections.
In the days of performance contracting in government during the President’s final term, the now 64-year-old Governor of Kakamega County, was often rated as the best-performing minister.
He had harnessed his grassroots mobilisation skills in 2002 to beat academic Amukowa Anangwe for the Butere seat once held by the maverick Martin Shikuku.
A stealthy strategist, he won the first election on Kijana Wamalwa’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford-Kenya) ticket in the National Rainbow Coalition, NARC. But Oparanya leaned closer to Raila Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) even as he remained ideologically aligned to Kibaki, with whom he has much in common.
While the Governor is a commerce graduate and a certified public accountant, he enrolled for a PhD in economics at the University of Dar es Salaam, but has never completed the studies.
Deceptively uncharismatic (his surname in Marama, his local dialect, means something very weak), Oparanya wormed his way into the hearts of Butere voters through football and welfare clubs.
Oparanya considers the adoption of Sessional Paper No.10 of 2012 on KenyaVision 2030 which he presented to the House on 4 December 2012 the tailend of the Kibaki Administration as one of his most important achievements
He actively supported, as patron, many football teams and women’s welfare groups. AFC Leopards (a national football team) playing local teams became a frequent Christmas/Boxing Day football fixture long before he first ran for an elective office.
Having had a stint in football management at AFC Leopards, the national football club with origins and popularity in the western part of the country, he launched a tournament called Oparanya Cup which dominated the constituency for many years.
He formed groups of 60 youths, 60 women and 60 mainstream committees to campaign for him in every sub-location, teams that exist to date, 20 years on.
Unlike the Kenya African National Union (KANU) candidate who used the party approach, Oparanya worked with organised groups such as the Kenya National Teachers’ Union (KNUT) and the Kenya football Federation (KFF) officials, becoming a frequent guest at their functions.
His eventual entry into Butere politics was therefore expected and long in coming, having been an ever-present figure in the body politic of the constituency in south-west Kakamega.
He was also at the right place at the right time, arriving on the scene when the ground was fatigued with KANU — and by extension with Anangwe, who became the Minister for Cooperative Development on his first entry to Parliament in the dying days of the independence party.
In the 10 years he was Member of Parliament (MP) for Butere, Oparanya was patron of a unique benevolent scheme that attended to the needs of professionals during funerals. Word of this welfare-centred approach spread like wildfire and went before him in his campaigns.
As MP, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) management was lauded for its participatory approach that won the hearts of the constituents. He was known to get grassroots updates from his team daily, therefore figuring out beforehand how to react to each zone differently. With this pulse on the constituency his re-election was smooth.
And while he had spent his first term on the back bench in a region that produced many NARC luminaries such as Kijana Wamalwa, Moody Awori, Mukhisa Kituyi, Newton Kulundu, Musikari Kombo and Andrew Ligale — who all became ministers or assistant ministers in 2003 — Oparanya was destined for greater things in his second term.
His education and profession ranked him higher than other MPs from the larger western region, making him an easy pick for a ministerial post in the Government of National Unity.
It helped that he had aligned himself with Odinga who became Prime Minister in the arrangement.
His quiet mien also endeared him to the President, long acknowledged as the gentleman of Kenya’s politics. This, coupled with Oparanya’s solid corporate finance background, was a critical factor in getting him appointed as Minister for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030 — the beating heart of the President’s enduring legacy.
So close was Vision 2030 to the President’s heart that he used to call technical experts to take ministers through the blueprint during Cabinet meetings, according to recollections of ministers of that era.
Oparanya considers the adoption of Sessional Paper No.10 of 2012 on Kenya Vision 2030 which he presented to the House on 4 December 2012 — the tail end of the Kibaki Administration — as one of his most important achievements.
This paper sought to ensure the continuity of President Kibaki’s development legacy even as he left the scene. One of the broad goals of the Sessional Paper was to accelerate the ongoing infrastructural development, “focusing on quality, aesthetics and functionality of the infrastructure services developed”. Another was to develop infrastructure to support identified flagship projects to ensure contribution to economic growth and social equity goals.
The paper laid the foundation for continued infrastructural development under the Jubilee Party of Kenya Administration.
As Minister for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Oparanya also presided over the Kenya New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Secretariat that was coordinating the country’s position of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
Launched in 2002 by the African Union (AU) and established in 2003, the APRM is a tool for sharing experiences, reinforcing best practices, identifying deficiencies, and assessing capacity-building needs to foster policies, standards, and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development, and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration.
The AU Assembly later extended the mandate of the APRM to include monitoring of the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2030.
It was Opranya’s duty to prepare the country for peer review at a difficult time when Kenya was emerging from the 2007–2008 post-election violence. The period was characterised by volatile politics based on suspicion and division.
As a member of the Orange Democratic Movement Party (ODM), it was a major challenge for the Minister to rally the country towards a common agenda since there were groups that maintained that the government had done well in governance, while civil society was up in arms calling for the prosecution of the perpetrators of the post-election violence.
Oparanya’s confident, yet self-effacing demeanour, endeared him to members of the Party of National Unity (PNU) side of the Coalition, ensuring a smooth running of the Ministry that worked closely with such other critical dockets as Finance and the Office of the President.
As Minister, Oparanya was deputised by the Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, another legislator who was celebrated for his prudent use of CDF cash. Completing the top tier at the ministry was Permanent Secretary Edward Sambili, the economist who had been Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.
The Ministry of Planning, National Development and Vision 2030 and that of Finance, were instrumental in the dispersal of CDF monies which, before the advent of counties, was the first initiative of that magnitude to take resources directly to the people throughout Kenya.
It targeted all grassroots development projects such as putting up new water, health and education facilities in all parts of the country, including remote areas that had been marginalised for decades. The initiative went a long way towards combating poverty.
The Fund that began with a dispersal of KES 1.3 billion in the 2003/2004 financial year, had multiplied tenfold to reach KES 15 billion by the time President Kibaki was leaving State House in 2013.
The politician also presided over the 2009 census, the 6th in independent Kenya. .Ahead of the census, the Minister was in the spotlight in Parliament when MPs representing the pastoralist communities demanded to know how the government was going to capture data from those who had ventured outside their homes and across the borders to seek pasture.
Owing to the biting drought at the time, many pastoralists had moved to Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia. Oparanya, however, stood his ground and insisted that those outside the country were not going to be enumerated because the law did not allow it.
“We only enumerate people within Kenya borders during the census night. Legally, we are not supposed to include any part of the population found outside the country during the period. We have made Members of Parliament to be part of the District Census Committee, so that they are able to help in publicity and advocacy to ensure that they talk to their own constituents to make sure they are available during the census,” he told a jittery Parliament.
But even as a Minister, Oparanya did not shy away from pinpointing the shortcomings in government. In May 2009, donning the hat of the MP for Butere, Oparanya told Parliament that he found shortcomings within the Presidential Speech because he did not address the plight of the sugarcane industry.
“About six million Kenyans depend on sugarcane directly or indirectly, especially those people who reside in Western Kenya. This industry has been there. You will remember we had the Ramisi Sugar Company from the 1920s. It collapsed,” said Oparanya.
He took issue with huge debts that he said had saddled farmers for ages. “In the last Parliament, we said that the debt within the sugar industry was over Ksh20 billion with interest application being over Ksh25 billion by now. We have talked about it over and over again,” he fumed.
It was not usual for a member of the Front Bench in Parliament to criticise the President’s speech, but Oparanya, the shrewd operator, must have worried more about his voters in the sugar belt. In 2013 he left Parliamentary politics to run for the governorship of Kakamega County which he won comfortably. His calculated risk-taking had paid off.
Born in 1956, Oparanya first attended Mabole Primary School, then proceeded to Butere Boys Secondary School for his O’ level education. He did his A’ level at Kisii High School, before joining the University of Nairobi in 1977. He in 1980 with a Bachelor of Commerce.
In 1983 he became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA-K) before studying for an MBA in Finance from the University of Nairobi between 1999 and 2002. In 2006 he registered for a PhD in economics at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Before joining politics in 2002, Oparanya worked at Kenya Aerotech Ltd. Earlier, he worked at the audit firm Ernst & Young where he rose from Senior Audit Manager, Secretary to the Board, Finance Director and finally the Group Financial Controller.
In all he had more than 20 years’ experience in local and international finance management, audit and business consultancy.
In 2014 Oparanya was made a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (FCPA), a prestigious award for his contribution to the accounting profession.
As MP for Butere, one of Oparanya’s landmark projects was the clearing of mud-walled schools in the constituency and facilitating scholarships specifically into China for his young constituents.
So was the tarmacking of the Ekero — Buyangu and Sigalagala — Butere roads, the first such infrastructural development in the constituency since the country’s independence in 1963. For this he remains a darling of Butere even after he left to serve as a governor for two terms.
Oparanya’s development agenda, which started during the Kibaki era, has continued into the devolution age. Even Amukowa Anangwe, his predecessor as MP and schoolmate at Butere High, grudgingly acknowledges Oparanya’s political acumen.
The Governor has built a stadium and a hospital, and has constructed modern markets in all the 12 sub-counties and at least 14 bridges. He has also launched OparanyaCare, a fairly successful medical scheme.