Profiles

Orie Rogo: Classy lady who took no prisoners

Orie Rogo Manduli

Former MP Orie Rogo Manduli who died at her Riverside home in Nairobi on September 8, 2021.

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Summary

  • Ms Manduli who passed on Thursday was considered a woman of many firsts- the first woman to compete in Safari Rally in 1974, then considered a man’s game; the first woman to head the National Council of NGOs.
  • What you cannot take away from Ms Manduli was the fact that she always urged women to speak their mind and challenge everything conservative, which men hold dear.

A lot has been said about Orie Rogo Manduli. But her story can never be exhausted.

Ms Manduli who passed on Thursday was considered a woman of many firsts- the first woman to compete in Safari Rally in 1974, then considered a man’s game; the first woman to head the National Council of NGOs.

What you cannot take away from Ms Manduli was the fact that she always urged women to speak their mind and challenge everything conservative, which men hold dear.

“Come out of the kitchen and have fun,” she was once captured saying. And about beauty; “I take pride in looking good always. Today’s young women are simply not keen on how they look,” she said in an interview with the Daily Nation about a decade ago.

A lover of colourful African outfits, which she made herself, Ms Manduli was born in Kaloleni in Kisumu. She is famously known for her towering headgear and signature high heels.

She was trained as a teacher but never taught, saying she joined Machakos Teachers College because her parents — who were teachers — thought it would give her the discipline she needed in life.

She got married at the tender age of 16 and left for Canada. She regretted getting married as a teen and would later advise young girls to mature, build a career before settling down. She argued that at that age, one cannot make the best decisions.

“I got married so young that I never had a chance to be a girl. I jumped from childhood right into womanhood. I am now living the life I was denied all those years ago,” she said in an interview 12 years ago.

During her stint at the NGOs Council, which consists of more than 5,000 members, Kenyans witnessed drama as her detractors did not believe in her leadership. She left acrimoniously after her offices in Kilimani were locked to keep her out.

Even the intervention of then Culture and Heritage Minister Najib Balala to end the battle with a group led by Harun Ndubi of Kituo Cha Sheria did not help much. The iron lady stayed put.

It was retired Judge Michael Khamoni who wished that a day would come when members of the National Council of NGOs would stop what he termed as “kukanyangana”.

“That will be the day when sanity will reign within the governance, leadership and general organisation of the membership of the National Council of Non-Governmental Organisations in Kenya so that lawyers for the said NGOs also stop contributing to that lack of sanity,” the judge said in 2009.

Born as Mary Orie Rogo, she married Ondieki but divorced at 22 and dropped her Christian name, a move she said made her parents angry because she was named after a Scottish missionary.

She later married a Zambian, Norman Manduli with whom she got a son. She met her husband in Lusaka when she had gone to interview politician Joshua Nkomo for the BBC. Manduli passed away in 2003.

During the Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing, she was involved in the pre-conference lobbying, which earned a position at the International Council of Women and later a representative to the United Nations Environmental Programme and UN-Habitat.

Ms Manduli tried a hand in politics but she was not lucky.

First, she wanted to be elected an MP for Karasani in 2002 on Ford-People ticket but lost to William Omondi. She also tried the Kisumu East parliamentary seat in a by-election following the death of MP Joab Omino in January 2004 but came a distant third.

She was never shy to defend herself and in fact, Ms Manduli once said she doesn’t need a lawyer arguing that law is common sense and that lawyers are greedy and if she needed a reference, she would go to the library.

The mother of four owned a 1,000-acre wheat and maize farm in Trans Nzoia.

She was involved in the distribution of health products besides heading several NGOs. Other than the Kitale farm, Ms Manduli owned residences in Riverside, Lavington and Karen in Nairobi.