Chris Mogere Obure was one of the longest-serving members of the Moi administration having first been appointed assistant minister for Labour in 1984 with Robert Ouko as his minister.
His political career started in 1969 when he entered the race for the Bomachoge Bassi constituency parliamentary seat, which he lost. He lost again in 1979 and finally won the seat in the 1983 General Election. He was subsequently appointed an assistant minister.
In the infamous 1988 mlolongo (queue-voting) general elections, he won the Bobasi constituency seat after the former electoral area was split into two. This time he was moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation where he worked under Ouko before the minister’s death in 1990.
In 1992 Obure did not contest after the ruling party, KANU, ordered a repeat of its nomination exercise in Bobasi. He was replaced by Stephen Manoti.
However, he made a comeback in 1997 and was thereafter appointed assistant minister for Transport and Communications. “The main challenge at the time was introducing mobile phone services in Kenya. The minister William ole Ntimama appointed me to chair a Task Force composed of technical people from Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, the Office of the President and the ministry. We travelled around to look for investors and eventually found a partner in Vodafone,” he said.
“The problem was, we were thinking about small numbers. We were looking at 600 mobile units twice the number of landlines. Investors flatly refused, saying we had to increase the numbers to one million. Now, there are about 30 million registered mobile units. We did not think demand would be quite rapid as it was very expensive for one to own (a mobile phone). Things have changed.”
In February 1990 he was appointed Minister for Industrialisation and shortly after was moved to the Ministry of Cooperatives in the same capacity.
Following rationalisation of ministries that reduced their number to 15, he was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, where he said he undertook several reforms to boost various sub-sectors.
In a Cabinet reshuffle in 2001, Moi moved Obure to Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation where he stayed for less than a year before another transfer to Finance.
“In 2002, we did a lot of adjustments. It was a very difficult year. There was a lot of repositioning in politics and this gave us problems. The economy was performing very badly due to the political uncertainties, so tax revenue was very low. Donors were not providing loans; I don’t know how we survived. But as Minister for Finance, I had to hold hard to ensure the economy did not collapse,” said Obure.
In that year’s elections KANU, which fronted Uhuru Kenyatta as its presidential candidate, lost to an opposition coalition, the National Rainbow Alliance, led by Raila Odinga. The Alliance included politicians who had left the ruling party.
Obure was born in September 1943. He began his education at Kereri Primary School in Bobasi.
“I used to walk for 12 kilometres to and from Kereri Primary School every day for eight years. It was tough. The paths were rough and most of the time, there were a lot of rains. What that environment did to you, was harden your determination. It emboldens you to work hard and succeed,” he said.
After completing primary school, he went to Kamagambo SDA Secondary School in South Nyanza district for his secondary education and thereafter, he was hired as an untrained teacher at Riosiri Primary School in South Mugirango in the current Gucha sub-county.
The government had just introduced the Higher Certificate of Education, so Obure left his teaching job to enrol at Kisii High School for A levels.
“I found excellent facilities and teachers who were trained and committed and so I finished Form 5 and 6 in one year instead of two. I did this by enrolling for the London GCSE (A Level),” he said. He joined the University of Nairobi the same year, 1965, to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree.
At the university his interest in politics blossomed after he was elected as the vice president and minister for campus affairs in the student body. Horace Ongili Owiti, the Gem MP, was the president.
“At the time, the cold war was raging and students became a target group. We were invited to visit the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and other countries in Eastern Europe. We met many student leaders. It was an inciting moment,” Obure disclosed.
At the university, Obure also studied for a professional course offered by the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators of the UK, which would later prove vital for his career.
“At the time, the student population was very small and we were in demand from various institutions, including government. There were many offers for jobs but I chose the East African Bata Shoe Company. I was being prepared for a four-year programme through which they wanted me to go to the UK, but I already had a professional course. They were training Kenyans to take over from departing expatriates. Hence, my six-year waiting period was reduced to two years. I was appointed the Company Secretary in 1970,” he explained.
He worked at the shoe company up to June 1984 after which he took up an offer at Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) to work in a similar capacity.
After two years, he was appointed Group Company Secretary with East African Breweries Ltd but still retained his KBL job. In 1982, he was appointed a director at KBL.