Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has recently been elected the new chairman of the powerful Council of Governors and Murang’a’s Mwangi wa Iria the vice-chairman. The Governor who was at the forefront of announcing that the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party will form fresh alliances with other parties and individuals ahead of 2022 has recently caught the glam of social media.
The Central Kenya politicians, who held a four-hour closed-door meeting with the ODM deputy party leader declared support for the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. The private meeting which was held at Mr Oparanya’s home in Karen, Nairobi has caused quite a stir on social media. Led by former senators Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri), Kembi Gitura (Murang’a) and Muriuki Karue (Nyandarua), the politicians on Saturday, 26th January 2019 said they were also checking on the Kakamega governor since he has been unwell.
They said although their discussion touched on the 2022 presidential election, the issue of a referendum to change the country’s governance structure from a purely presidential to a parliamentary system took centre stage.
So who exactly is Governor Oparanya and what role could he be playing in 2022 politics?
Today, Oparanya is serving his second term as a governor of Kakamega County under the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket. Before going for the gubernatorial seat, he was a Member of the National Assembly of Kenya for one five-year term starting 2007, representing Butere Constituency. He joined politics and successfully unseated Amukowa Anangwe, the then Member of Parliament for Butere constituency. These are positions he secured through the Kenyan parliamentary election.
He was appointed in the final term of Kibaki regime as a Minister in the Ministry of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030. This is a position he held for five years since 2008 after being seconded by the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the Orange Democratic Movement party in the grand coalition government in Kibaki’s second term in office.
Before giving a shot in politics in 2002, he worked as Chief Financial Controller at the Kenya Aerotec Ltd. Currently, Oparanya is a member of NASA’s affiliate party, ODM. In the 4 March 2013 general elections in Kenya, he was elected by the people of Kakamega County as their first Governor, a position he successfully defended in the August 8, 2017, elections under the ODM ticket.
During a recent tour of the Kakamega County Referral Hospital to assess services President Uhuru lauded governor Oparanya over a new Sh6.3 billion, 750-bed capacity Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital that is under construction. He told other governors to follow suit and leave a lasting legacy that will benefit the people. “Governor Oparanya has started major projects like the rehabilitation of Bukhungu Stadium, construction of this referral hospital from scratch and modernisation of the road network. The people of Kakamega will pride themselves in these projects,” the President said. Oparanya said he fully supports the President’s Big Four agenda requesting the government to help equip the hospital.
With the current in roads of Jubilee politicians and the commendation of the President, it could be that Governor Oparanya is being groomed to be the next deputy president. Oparanya, who started schooling at Mabole Primary School and sat his O level at Butere Boy’s before joining Kisii School for his A Levels. He has a Bachelor of Commerce and MBA Finance, both from the University of Nairobi. He is now pursuing a PhD in Economics from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
He also served as Planning and National Development and Vision 2030 minister during President Mwai Kibaki’s second term, under the coalition government. He was from the ODM wing. It is during his tenure that Kenya conducted the 2009 controversial census. In February 2012, Oparanya tabled a revised post census figures in Parliament showing that figures in eight sub counties — Lagdera, Mandera East, Mandera Central, Mandera West, Wajir East, Turkana North, Turkana South and Turkana Central — were inflated in the population count. The inflated figures read that the regions had 2.35 million people but the then minister’s figures read 1.3 million people as the actual population size.
His election as the Council of Governors chairman on January 14, and last year as the Lake Region Economic Bloc boss is seen as a vote of confidence, which is likely to spur his political career. The conversation on Oparanya comes at a time when the Western region is seeking for unity ahead of 2022 polls. Oparanya last year said that Luhyas must organise themselves to ensure the community is in government.
In February last year, Oparanya hinted he would run for presidency in 2022 after completing his second term. “You have seen how we have worked to transform Kakamega. In 2022, I will be looking for a higher seat because my development record at the county can be seen by everyone,” he said in Khwisero, Butere.
In a survey December 2016 commissioned by Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli and conducted by University of Nairobi, Oparanya emerged as a second popular leader in Western, after Amani leader Musalia Mudavadi. Mudavadi, who was named the Luhya community spokesperson, had 38 per cent rating, while Oparanya and Ford Kenya leader and Bungoma senator Moses Wetang’ula garnered 30 per cent each.
He is also a financially well off individual, he currently earns close to one million Kenya shillings every month. However, according to one of his speeches, the governor made it open that his wealth is enough and was accumulated during his tenure as a Member of Parliament for Butere constituency. Like mentioned before, he served in that position for two consecutive terms since 2002. Other money was accrued when he was appointed a minister for Planning and Vision 2030 in the grand coalition regime. To restore public confidence in his leadership, the governor said that his accumulated wealth is enough to sustain him and his family for many years and, as a result, he is not interested in looting the county funds.
The governor’s ascension cannot ignore the force mounted by his first wife in his political life. As a Corporate Communications expert and hotelier, Caroline Ambetsa Oparanya has both a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree from Daystar University in Corporate Communications. The First Lady, as popularly referred to, has a Diploma in Hotel and Catering Management as well. She acquired her earlier education, both at the primary and secondary school level in the neighboring country of Tanzania.
To show her support for Oparanya’s political ambitions, Caroline quit her businesses including running several shops and managing Shooters restaurant in Nairobi to take care of the family and also facilitate the husband in his political endeavors. Moreover, the First Lady spent most her time in the past general election with youth groups as well as with old and young women in different constituencies in the County to campaign for the governor. Thanks to her efforts that Oparanya was able to retain the seat.
She, among other things, played a big role in preparing speeches for him based on the function ahead. The First Lady also reminded Oparanya about any undelivered public pledges since she always knew that it was her responsibility to do so. That is evident because even the governor himself acknowledges the role her wife played in the last election to deliver a victory for the gubernatorial seat.
In collaboration with his wife, the two equally shared to vast County whereby he concentrated on six constituencies while his wife campaigned in the remaining six. This concerted effort of Caroline and the potential she holds to stir him to a greater seat cannot be ignored in Oparanya’s political life.