Andrew John Omanga first became Member of Parliament (MP) for the larger Nyaribari Constituency after defeating Lawrence Sagini in 1979. He was among several new faces in President Moi’s first Cabinet, a position he landed with the support of Simeon Nyachae, the influential Chief Secretary, the earlier equivalent of a post now known as Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet.
The other new ministers were Nicholas Biwott, Moses Mudavadi, Joseph Kamotho, Charles Rubia, John Okwanyo, G.G. Kariuki, Arthur Magugu, Jonathan Ng’eno and Kabeere M’Mbijjewe. Moi announced that his new administration was based on nation building and restructuring to ensure maximum efficiency. Omanga was appointed Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. He was later moved to Industry.
In his book, Trails in Academic and Administrative Leadership, the former Vice Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Ratemo Michieka, narrates a brief encounter with Omanga where the minister, a lover of education and scholarly disciplines, did not waste time. He simply congratulated him for the good work he was doing at the university and handed him a letter appointing him as a member of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Board to go and save the coastal region which, due to environmental degradation, was in danger of losing its marine life.
Omanga made history in May 1980 he when took leave and Moi exercised his powers under the Interpretation and General Provisions Act to temporarily transfer his mandate to Water Development minister Jonathan Ng’eno. Ng’eno was named Minister for Tourism and Wildlife in a subsequent reshuffle.
Despite serving a very big constituency he ensured he personally took part in development projects he initiated in the 1980s such as schools
The highlights of Omanga’s tenure include the controversial funding of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). A KANU conference held between 2 and 5 December 1985 at the Kenya Institute of Administration (renamed the Kenya School of Government) in Kabete, attended by 300 delegates, had voted to have KICC become part of the party’s properties along with the Kenya Times Media Trust Ltd and the Press Trust Printing Company.
However, the Tourism ministry continued to fund KICC as Omanga said the government wanted to ensure that KICC had enough facilities. This, despite the fact that the ruling party, whose headquarters were at the KICC, was plotting to gain ownership of the building.
“Mr Speaker Sir, I would like to touch on the Kenyatta nternational Conference Centre. I will not say much about KICC because you will know about the importance of the conference centre to us. It is at that conference centre where the World Bank held its conference sometime back. It is at that conference centre where the United Nations Women’s Decade Conference was held. This conference placed Kenya highly on the world map. It is also at that conference centre where many world conferences are taking place today; in fact one conference is being concluded today,” he told the House during proceedings of the Committee of Supply on 9 October 1986.
“Mr Speaker Sir, in terms of development, conference tourism has become very important. It has become so important that these days, when people come to Nairobi, they try to combine a holiday and business meeting,” he added, while emphasising that the government hoped to match the facilities found in countries such as Singapore.
KANU, however, managed to take over the facility in 1989 after the land on which it stands was transferred to the party even as the government continued to maintain it. The transfer was annulled through an Executive Order when Mwai Kibaki became president in 2003.
In 1988 Omanga led a group of local MPs against Simeon Nyachae who was contesting the Nyaribari Chache seat. In what became known as the Kebirigo Declaration, the MPs claimed Nyachae, who had left the civil service, was intending to finance competitors in their constituencies. This opposition led to Nyachae being barred from taking part in the General Election.
In the first multiparty elections Omanga, who remained loyal to KANU, stepped down for Nyachae. He was appointed Executive Chairman of the Kenya National Assurance Corporation in January 1993.
Omanga, who died in 2004 at the age of 72, left behind two widows, Clare and Grace, and 10 children.
Clare Omanga served as a nominated councillor and took up her husband’s community work upon his death. She was also part of a delegation that attended the landmark United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, in 1995. She married Omanga in 1961 after they fell in love while she was still a student at Lenana Girls. “He must have heard of the first girl from Kisii who had broken the record to step in a Form One class,” she told a journalist in a past interview.
Nicknamed “Guinness Export” (the size of a 250 ml bottle of Guinness stout at the time) because of his short frame, Omanga shied away from publicity unlike some of his colleagues from the region such as Nyachae, Zachary Onyonka and Sagini. He was, however, active on the ground, initiating development projects which earned him the admiration of his Nyaribari constituents (before the constituency was split into two). He was also known for his down-to-earth demeanour. Omanga is credited with the construction of many of the permanent structures in schools and other institutions in the region and was a strong political force in the region.
“Despite serving a very big constituency, he ensured he became personally involved in the development projects he initiated in the 1980s, especially schools. And he had a unique way of doing it by literally carrying materials from source to site. He would, for instance, line up students, parents and guests and they would then pass bricks to one another until they reached the school. That helped strengthen the community and also saved a lot of money as opposed to using motorised transport,” said David Okindo, who was a parent at Emeroka Primary School, one of the beneficiaries of the minister’s development efforts.
Omanga attended Amasago Intermediate Primary School in Keumbu between 1943 and 1945 before moving to St Mary’s School, Nyabururu, where he completed his primary education. He was admitted to Yala Secondary School in 1947 and in 1950, joined Mangu High School. He enrolled at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, in 1954 to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Geography and Economics.
In 1956 Omanga was admitted at the Tata Institute of Social Science in Bombay, India, to study Political Science, graduating with a Master’s degree. After his return to Kenya, he was employed as a Personnel Manager at the East African Tobacco Company, as BAT was then known. His other credentials included a Social Services Administration diploma, a UK Management course and a certificate in Public Administration from the Royal College, Nairobi. He joined public service in 1961 as an Assistant Secretary. Omanga was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Vice President’s Office and Ministry of Home Affairs by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in May 1966, paving the way for his political journey.
“Omanga shied away from publicity…He, however, was active on the ground, initiating development projects which earned him the admiration of his Nyaribari constituents.”