Roseline Njogu: The Harvard graduate helping Kenyans in diaspora

Roseline Njogu during a past interview. [File, Standard]

Roseline Njogu is the first Principal Secretary for Diaspora Affairs.

The 38-year-old lawyer, from a humble background in a little-known town in Meru, also boasts of, a Master’s degree from one of the most selective Ivy League institutions — Harvard University.

Ms Njogu, an ex-lecturer at Riara University Law School and Kenyatta University, is a PhD Candidate with a Master of Laws degree (LLM) from Harvard Law School, and a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) from the University of Nairobi.

“It's a real honour. It's a pleasure,” she said on her appointment as PS for Diaspora Affairs. “The responsibility on my shoulders is also quite heavy. You have to ask yourself what does a diaspora facing a desperate centric State Department looks like. How does the government begin to embrace people who are traditionally not within its borders? So It's the hard work of building a startup now, but also seeing what 100 years from today it looks like, and building strong enough foundations that will allow us to grow and pivot.” She spoke during an exclusive interview on KTN News' Globe Traktion.

Ms Njogu is the last of five children, born in Kitale in 1984 to civil servant parents — a teacher mom and a father working in the Prison Service. They moved around a lot as a family as their parents changed workstations. They lived in prison camps for a while, and she went to boarding school at the age of nine; which exposed her to a vast array of cultures from all over the country. She describes her childhood as tough, but fun.

“I look back to my childhood with a lot of glee, it was interesting. A big part of my upbringing was in the country. We would go hunting with dogs, and fetch firewood with my brothers and sisters. There's that part of my life which is fun and just living out there herding cattle,” she says.

If you didn’t take the hint at “Harvard”, Njogu is a clever clogs, who rode the brilliant train through to Alliance Girls High School and beyond.  

“I think the four years I spent at Alliance are some of my favourite … meeting lifelong friends and building a community that continues to nurture me and work with me over the years.”

She attributes her success to a great support system.

“I had a good and fairly firm support system. My parents were very no-nonsense. They were very firm, very loving … but very firm, they were not going to suffer foolishness. It was dealt with quickly and conclusively. Now I look back, and I'm quite glad,” she says. “I had a lot of tough love from some of my teachers, very tough love. But it didn't feel they were out to break me.”

Njogu describes herself as a nerd, but she also had a bustling social life, what with all the basketball playing and choir singing.  

Important to note, she did very well in high school. “I had all A’s. My name was the newspaper!” she chortles.

Roseline Njogu appearing for vetting before the Defence, Intelligence & Foreign Relations Committee at Parliament buildings, Nairobi on November 15, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Her progression from the University of Nairobi to Harvard Law School was not exactly easy-to-do, but it’s a classic example of shooting your shot no matter what. She had just one chance and an 80-dollar donation from her brother to make it happen.

“I had this yearning to go and study abroad. So I made a list of the biggest schools in the Ivy League. And at the time, I had application fees for only one school, it was like $80 or $70 - that's a lot of money. At the very last minute, my brother gave me $80 … I had one shot and I applied to Harvard!” she explains.

Her acceptance into Harvard stirred some mixed emotions.

“When you are young, you think you're unbreakable. You think the world is yours for the taking. You haven't been dinged up yet and you don't have that many bruises on your knees … At the time, I was much more confident than I am now about the things I could do with my life. I thought, I will run this country at some point,” she says.

“I was very excited. And very quickly my excitement turned into ‘Oh my goodness!’. Harvard is a collection of the smartest kids from around the world. This is law school. This is in my class. There were judges. There were a lot of students who had been practising for a long, long time. I was the youngest in my class, it was just it was extremely intimidating!”

“People are just people -  even the fanciest, the richest, the smartest. I met literal rocket scientists and others... And certified geniuses are just people. They are people like everybody else. They are people like me … Figuring that out I think was liberating for me.”

Despite being a student in one of the most prestigious schools worldwide, there were some challenges that forced her to learn how to be assertive.

“I have now learned to work with the things that work for me. How can I best perform here? What are my strengths? How do I leverage those strengths?”

When asked about her job as PS for Diaspora Affairs, she said, “It's been the adventure of my life. I am having the time of my life. It is fun ... It is hard work. It is some of the hardest work I've ever done! … I am loving my team. I have currently a team of about 35 or so and looking to grow to about 130 in the next few months. There will be active recruitment coming up soon.”