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Elizabeth Ongoro, the Iron Lady of Orange party

Nominated Senator Elizabeth Ongoro. [File, Standard]

The first time she hit the headlines in a notorious manner was when news filtered one morning five years ago that an assistantminister had beaten up her husband. To the rest of the country, this was just the salacious gossip of the powerful and mighty going through the shame of domestic violence.

But to Elizabeth Ongoro and her husband Ferdinand Masha, it was an unwelcome intrusion into their privacy; a lie concocted by outsiders and spread by a willing media keen to serve a great story to a ready public.

At the time, Ongoro was eight months pregnant. Such news sent her into shock. She became sick.

“I almost lost the baby because of the shock. I went through so much trauma, I almost resigned from my seat,” she recalled in the TV interview reviewed by The Sunday Standard. “For somebody to accuse you, a woman who is eight months pregnant, of battering a very physically fit man, it was so hilarious.”

Questions were raised when she wasn’t seen at the hospital to pick up her husband, but she was very pregnant and sick, and she actually confirms that she “really cried” and was “really depressed” and that is why she didn’t appear in public to explain herself.

But she picked herself up, and as the clock ticked towards March 2013, she dreamt big and sought to be elected the next senator for Nairobi. She launched her campaign and was the front-runner for that seat within ODM, until questions arose about the academic papers for Margaret Wanjiru who had sought to vie for the gubernatorial seat.

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Wanjiru’s papers were rejected, and ODM, through Franklin Bett, the chairman of the party’s National Elections Board then, took the nomination certificate from Ongoro and gave it to Wanjiru. Bett explained that with Dr Evans Kidero having been given the gubernatorial ticket, there had to be another person (read a non-Luo) in the line-up, and Wanjiru, a Kikuyu, was ODM’s choice to balance the candidates in the city.

Catfight

“Did I have any problems? My certificate was given to Margaret, I didn’t go after her; I didn’t do anything,” she said.

They offered her the Ruaraka parliamentary seat, although the nomination certificate had already been given to  city lawyer Tom TJ Kajwang’. Ongoro rejected the certificate.

“I do not believe that because my seat was taken, I should take another person’s seat,” she explained at a news conference.

After the polls, she was nominated to the Senate. At a party retreat in 2013, held at a luxurious tourist hotel in the resort town of Naivasha, she offers to run for the position of Deputy Minority Leader. But then, she was prevailed upon to surrender the seat, and give it to someone from Northern Kenya.

But at that Naivasha meeting, her stubborn streak  got her into trouble.

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The news that came out through lawmaker Mpuru Aburi — that gregarious look-alike of Raila Odinga — was that a woman senator had pounced on another, and a vicious catfight ensued, right in front of the opposition party chiefs.

The two women in question were Elizabeth Ongoro and Janet Ong’era. Before that meeting and the cat fight, Ongoro was better known for her role as assistant minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development, while Ong’era had just served as the Executive Director of the Orange Democratic Movement.

If you ask Ongoro about what happened, she’d tell you that it wasn’t a fight exactly, but that Ong’era attacked her. Reason? She told Ong’era that as ODM’s Executive Director, she mismanaged the nominations and cost ODM the presidency.

Unshaken

“Sometimes it hurts when people are confronted with the bitter truth, and sometimes people don’t know how to deal with the truth, so for her, it was a violent reaction and that is what it was,” Ongoro said. “The buck stops with somebody and that is the executive director”.

She went on: “Why would she (Ong’era) put her name as number one in the (party) list (for nomination slots). She has to go for ODM to move ahead. If that drew anger and a violent reaction from her, it really doesn’t shake me. I still stand my ground that she has to quit. I still stand my ground that she has cost us the elections. It is not something I am gossiping about, or something I am talking about in secret”.

Ongoro denied that they fought. She was assaulted, she said, and vowed to file charges.

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“I have never fought. I think it is very demeaning for any leader to turn violent or to go physical. I mean people fight mental wars, not physical, at least not in this age and era.” 

But that ended, and she served in the Senate, occasionally popping up in Mombasa after she ousted Wavinya Ndeti from the leadership of Political Parties Liaison Committee in elections that were declared a sham. Or that day in church when she told off the then Party of Action boss Raphael Tuju for failing to use his time in Cabinet to influence policies. Tuju is now the head of the Jubilee secretariat.

“(You were) a Cabinet minister and an MP… there’s really no need coming to cheat wananchi that you now symptahise with them when you never influenced the se issues during your time in Cabinet,” Ongoro said.

Not budging

Now she is back in the limelight, because, again, even her attempt to go for the Ruaraka seat has been thwarted.

“When I was vying for the Senate, they said regional balancing, I go for a parliamentary seat, they give direct tickets. I am not budging, I am not bowing out of the race. I am not being cowed, no more intimidation. Enough is enough, everything that has a beginning must have an end. I have taken enough nonsense so far,” Ongoro said this week when she stormed Orange House, ODM’s headquarters.

She made allegations of bribery against the NEB chair Judith Pareno and the Executive Director Oduor Ong’wen.

They say, third time is a charm. Will Ongoro be lucky?

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