One night in October 1991, a bespectacled, clean-shaven man in priestly robes walked into a house where his children had sought refuge. One of the daughters looked at the man and recognised the face of his father: Raila Odinga.
The man was a fugitive and that night, he had turned up at his sister-in-law’s house in a kind of final goodbye to his children, before he began his journey into exile in Uganda. That little girl, who recognised her heavily disguised father, was Rosemary Akeyo Odinga, the second-born child of ODM leader Raila Odinga.
With a grandfather who wears a tag of ‘father of opposition politics in Kenya’ and a father who has been the face of opposition politics in the country—even when he’s calling shots in government—Rosemary’s political genes were bound to explode at some point.
In fact, political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi in his 5th Estate online broadcast on YouTube predicted that there was more to Rosemary Odinga than met the eye. She could have declared her interest in running for the Kibra parliamentary seat, but Ngunyi sees something bigger in Raila’s daughter who recently underwent surgery and is now out of danger.
While her grandfather, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, having failed to ascend to the presidency – which her father, Raila, could be seeking for the umpteenth time – Ngunyi sees Rosemary as a potential presidential candidate, actually, Kenya’s first woman president from the Luo nation.
Ngunyi’s conclusions were from analysing the “Kikuyu-Luo support system that has existed over the years, and it is not outrageous to think that Rosemary Odinga will be the Kikuyu candidate for 2022, who will run with William Ruto,” argued Ngunyi. “It may be a far-fetched idea, but it’s very probable.”
In 2002, retired President Mwai Kibaki wasn’t a Kikuyu candidate. He was a Luo candidate in a ‘cooperation’ that stretched back to Kenya’s independence, when Jaramogi declared there would be no independence without Jomo Kenyatta being released from detention.
“The first Luo president will be a woman and that woman will be Rosemary Odinga,” Ngunyi boldly predicted, adding that, “Raila has checked and it has occurred to him that it didn’t happen with his father, and “it will not happen with me, and so I better start preparing for succession.” Ngunyi says that, “Raila is very smart, and that’s what’s prompting this woman, she has the fire of her grandfather and the charisma of her father, which is very infectious.”
At 39, tall – but the shortest in the family at 5’10” —she has already thrown her hat into the ring. She wants to be the MP for Kibra Constituency, which was part of her father’s political fiefdom for two decades when it was called Lang’ata. Kibra was hived off the larger Lang’ata.
That political gene showed up momentarily when the alumnus of Howard University (Sociology) and the University of Dallas (MBA, Marketing), was mourning her elder brother, Fidel Odinga, who died in January 2015.
At the time, there was political heat over ‘national dialogue’. The snail farmer in Kiserian asked her father to drop the conditions for dialogue and ask President Uhuru Kenyatta to humble himself and sit down with the opposition.
Rosemary then sang Bob Marley’s Redemption Song at the funeral – Bob Marley was Fidel’s hero.
After that introduction, with moments in the limelight, she never said, at least not publicly, that she was interested in a political seat. Prodded on her position, Rosemary told the press that she was “listening to the people” and “consulting.”
“I was born in a political family, so I do not fear leadership. If there is an opportunity for me to get into politics, I won’t shy away. I will sell my policies and people will choose the one whom they think meets the threshold,” she told Radio Jambo this January and She dismissed claims that she was her father’s protégé, a political project to keep the Odinga name relevant in Kenyan politics.
“If I am a project, I am a project of the people of Kenya, they’re the ones pushing me,” she said. Such statements show that since that day in 1992 when she accompanied her grandfather, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga to a rally in Wajir, she has been learning the art and science of politics, not just at the rallies, but also at the dinner table.
“If you are born in a pastor’s house, you end up knowing the Bible,” once said the member of ODM party headed by her father.
Rosemary’s entry into the Kibra race was announced early this year by Dr Boni Khalwale who decribed her as mtoto wa Khalwale wa kisiasa, a move that irked her father’s former campaign manager, Eliud Owalo, who is also eyeing the Kibra seat.
“The juvenile, misplaced excitement and unparalleled sycophancy exhibited in Kibra Constituency today in relation to the imposed parliamentary candidature of Rosemary Odinga,” charged Owalo, “may as well turn out to be Raila Odinga’s Waterloo in his quest for the presidency. Raila should choose between reclaiming the Kibra parliamentary seat through his daughter Rosemary and the presidency. Unfortunately, he will not get both at the same time.”
But to Rosemary, just as her father is depicted as a lion in that biography by Babafemi Badejo titled Raila Odinga: The Enigma of Kenyan Politics, she’s let it slip that mwana wa simba ni? to which the crowd roared back: “Simba!”