Mrs Ida Odinga, the wife to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, holds the larger figure of a mother to many Kenyans. She has stood by his husband in politics through out, both in low and high moments. Ida, who is the CEO of the family business East Africa Spectre, runs programmes across the country targeted at empowering women and girls. She is, sort of, the first lady that never was.
In the 2022 elections campaign, she was occasionally seen at rallies backing up Raila Odinga, who was running for the presidency on an Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Alliance coalition ticket. But, yet again, the prize eluded him – for the fifth time – as victory went to William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza coalition.
In 2010, The Standard newspaper named Ida, who is among the first women to head a major Kenyan company (East Africa Spectre), as one of the most powerful women in Kenya. Ida met Raila Odinga while she was a student at the University of Nairobi, while Raila was an employee of the university’s Department of Engineering. Together they have four children, the late Fidel (2015), Rosemary Akeyo, Raila Junior and Winnie Irmgard.
Just what does it feel to be Ida Odinga, or rather Raila Odinga’s wife? In this interview by BusinessToday editor Luke Mulunda, first published in The County Magazine of Siaya in October 2021, Ida talks about her life and times as a wife, teacher and mother. She pours her heart out, and reveals just how it feels for her husband to lose election after election – some times being denied victory.
What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
IDA: People don’t know that I was born at Kabarnet Hospital and I was the first baby to be born at this hospital, where my father and mother used to work. My father was a doctor and my mother was a nursé. I am very proud that I was born there. Sometime back, on my birthday, I visited the hospital and took presents to new mothers and requested girls born at that time to be named Ida.
Who has been your role model?
IDA: There are many, in different ways. Early days I used to admire Winnie Mandela a lot because she was strong, brave, committed and intelligent. I also admired Grace Machel. But the person who was the real role model for me was my mother, Mama Rosa. My father dìed when I was eight years old. I was the 4th child and my mother took the responsibility to raise all of us alone. She made sure that we had enough to eat, enough clothing and schooling. She gave us a home to grow up in. If she did this, I can do better.
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What are your hobbies, if any?
Many things. I love dancing to any music. I even play music in my house and dance to it. I do a lot of walking and working out at the gym. I like reading and chatting with my friends.
What has been your lowest moment?
When I lost my son Fidel. It still hurts me years later. I think of him every day (wiping tears) …every day.
What about your husband Raila Odinga losing elections every so often?
That’s disappointing, but I have had some worst experiences. For example, in 1982 when he was arrésted and charged with treason. I thought the end had come. I never saw a future after that. It was a dark moment.
The years that followed were really bad for me as a person and my family. I was treated like an outcast and crimìnal. It went on until I even lost my job as a teacher at Kenya High School. I was sent away. I was regarded ‘public interest’.
Since my husband was in jail and was a politician and they thought I was not good enough to continue teaching girls at the school. Until today I still don’t understand why I was being punished. Was it because I was Raila’s wife? They wanted me to denounce him. He had not wronged me, so I did not.
It went on for 10 years. No school was ready to accept my children. I had four children. But God has been good. Who would have dreamt that I would still be talking to you in 2021? I am most grateful to God when I look back at my history since my father dìed. I get married and my husband is thrown in jail for those years with the government giving me no peace. Nothing is impossible in this world, when the time comes, it will come. I thank God.
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Your worst decision?
I don’t know. Can’t think of any.
Given a chance what would you change about yourself or your life?
If I can have my son (Fidel) back. He was the first born. He is the one who understood me when others were too young to do so.
How is your typical day?
I wake up at 3am and do my devotion. From 4am I respond to messages and read newspapers online. From 6.30am Raila’s visitors start streaming in and I must be awake to meet them. After that I go to my workplace at East Africa Spectre.
Any political interests?
I am a good backup for Raila and his team. I don’t want any political position. I encourage other people and support them. When you are a teacher you don’t compete with your students. You show them the way and let them go.
You have been married to Raila for over four decades, what’s the secret?
Marriage is made to last. They say together until déath do us part. Déath has not come. So we are not parting.
In modern times marriages, people go for wrong things. Many go for glamour or wearing that wedding gown and once the wedding is done they can as well divorce the following day.
Others look at the status of the person they are marrying. I am marrying so and so’s daughter or son. They have nothing in common with their partners. Marriage is a commitment. You got to respect each other and engage on a daily basis. And, of course, understand each other. It’s not a walk in the park. You must have things in common and if you don’t have you should build something in common.
How was Raila Odinga when you first met him?
When I first met Raila he was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He used to live in Nairobi West in an extension house. He had nothing. He left teaching and started East Africa Spectre.
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