By Prudence Minayo
Rosemary Odinga is a Kenyan businesswoman who comes from one of the most prominent families in the region. Her grandfather Jaramogi Odinga Oginga was a renowned politician and the first vice president of independent Kenya. Her father Raila Odinga is the ODM party leader, former Prime Minister and the doyen of Kenya’s opposition politics. She is a strong willed woman who has been through a lot and still manages to hold her head high. From suffering a loss that hurt her deeply to fighting a life threatening illness , this is her story.
Early Life and Education
She was born on 13th August 1977. She began school alongside her siblings at the Kilimani Junior Academy and had a normal childhood up until 1982 when their father was detained following the attempted coup on late president Moi’s government. Their mother, who was a teacher at the time, transferred them to a public school. Getting a school to accept them was not easy as schools feared angering the then president. Their grandfather, the late Jaramogi Oginga, intervened and they were admitted at Consolata Primary School in Westlands. It was here that she changed her faith from the Anglican Church to Roman Catholic.
Together with her siblings, Rosemary spent less time with their father who was always in and out of detention. Kids from their class were afraid to interact with them and their house was raided and ransacked so many times. Their mother, who was their sole breadwinner, also suffered several arrests. After high school, she moved to the United States where she worked and studied for a decade.
She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Howard University and holds an MBA in Marketing from Dallas University.
Rosemary is a snail farmer, an entrepreneur, an advocate for social justice and a supporter of youth empowerment and development and has also been a patron of the Upper Hill School Rugby Team.
In 2007, after returning to Kenya, she founded Raila Odinga Center (ROC), where she worked as the Chief Executive Officer. The foundation’s main aim was to support youth Education across East Africa. She also joined her father’s presidential campaign team in 2007, a role she played again in 2013 when she was a member of the lobby group called Nairobi for Raila.
She then decided to join politics with her eyes set for the Kibera constituency seat. Unfortunately, she suffered a grave illness that set her back.
She was diagnosed with an aneurysm, an enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the arterial wall and a brain tumor. While she got better, the tumor ruined her sight. Rosemary went to a number of hospitals outside the country in the hope that she would regain her eyesight. It’s in South Africa where doctors told her she would never see again.
Rumors spread that she was completely blind but that was not the case. She told Citizen TV Victoria Rubadiri of losing her eyesight:
“I don’t really see out of the left eye. I can see through the right eye but it’s foggy; it’s like looking through a glass with water in it. So I see mostly through the right eye but it’s half the vision, and I can see things that are very close to me…….”
In 2019, Raila’s first born daughter revealed that she had fully regained her sight and had stopped using the white cane.
Speaking at St Peter’s ACK Church in Bondo, she said: “I saw my children for the first time in two years”.
Speaking in the same church, Raila revealed how the family nearly lost hope of Rosemary seeing again:
“We got to appoint where we nearly gave up as a family after unsuccessfully visiting many hospitals including those in Germany, China and South Africa before she was finally healed in India”
“Doctors in South Africa said she will never regain her sight. However, a friend introduced us to a doctor in India who used herbal medicine to help her recover,” her father said.
She is the eldest daughter of Raila and Mama Ida Odinga. She lost her elder brother Fidel Odinga years back and is now sister to Raila Odinga Junior and Winnie Odinga. Losing Fidel was a big blow for her and the rest of the family. In an earlier interview, she revealed before his death, the only other close people they had lost were her grandparents.
Rosemary has two daughters who give her a reason not to give up. She said of her daughters:
“I draw strength from my daughters… because of them, I’m alive. I said to myself, ‘if I give up now, what am I teaching them? Am I teaching them that whenever you have a hiccup in life to give up?’ And I said ‘No! I have to continue and try and be successful,” the mother of two shared.