Phoebe Asiyo: Jaramogi told me to guide, take care of Raila

Together with Mama Ngina, Grace Ogot, Julia Ojiambo and Grace Kiano, they inspired a generation of young women.

What side of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga didn’t Kenyans know?

He was soft and nice to those who worked under him. He treated us like family regardless of our backgrounds.  He was also a good listener; a leader who cherished new ideas.

How did you relate with him?

We were very close. We had a daughter-father relationship. He always called me nyar omera (my brother’s daughter).

What is the most memorable thing he told you?

He once invited me to his rural home in Bondo, and told me to guide and take care of his son Raila Odinga. I thought Raila was then an adult who didn’t need any guidance, but he insisted that we should show him (Raila) the way.

During your time as MP, which politician made the greatest impression on you?

 I have never witnessed a more forthright politician like Martin Shikuku. He never entertained corruption. He went into politics a clean man and died a clean one. He is the only politician I know that you could not compromise. Another forthright politician I remember was the late Jean-Marie Seroney. Seroney is the only MP I know who genuinely believed in nationhood. He wanted equality for everyone regardless of their tribal background. He was a thinker and scholar.

As an elder of Kenyan politics, how do you rate the politician of today?

The current political leader does not understand servant leadership; they are about themselves and their income. Because of this, they have compromised on the very principles underlying the role of a parliamentarian as a representative of the people. There are no consequences for those who engage in corrupt practices because all they need is to persuade, in whatever way, the relevant parliamentary committees and they are exonerated.

When you sit on your veranda and gaze into the future, what worries you most about Kenya?

The level of corruption, polarisation of people along tribal lines, and the fact that there are no role models in leadership positions for our youth to look up to. These make me very sad.

What do you consider your greatest achievements in life?

I am happy to have enhanced the position of women in the Executive, public service, the women’s movement, Parliament, the constitutional review process and the national cohesion process.

If you were a little girl again, what would you do differently?

I think I lived my life the way I wanted it and will do exactly the same things I did when I was a girl. But I would never go for some of the old initiation rites like the removal of six lower teeth as it was in the Luo tradition.

Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Grace Kiano, Julia Ojiambo and yourself, among others, inspired a generation of young women. Do you ever meet? If so, what do you talk about?

We don’t meet often, but if and when we do, we talk about the past and the future of this country and how we can inspire more young people, especially women, into leadership positions. 

Kenyans vote for Governors, Senators, Woman Reps, MPs and MCAs. Aren’t Kenyans politically over represented?

If it were up to me, I would ask for a change so that we focus on representation at the county level, where the true representation of Wanjiku lies. I would change the system at the national level to proportional representation, reduce the number of MPs in the National Assembly to 90, with 45 men and 45 women, and make sure that representation of special interests of youth, persons with disabilities and other minorities are catered for among the 45 men and the 45 women. I would retain the Senate as it is with nominations to breach the gap of unrepresented gender and other special interest groups.