Orie Rogo Manduli: This Drama Queen was licensed to thrill!

Orie’s ex-hubby was invited to their daughter’s wedding but she still warned the Bishop… ‘I don’t want to see that bastard around’

Live and let die: Some guests who attended Orie Rogo Manduli’s birthday party last month knew the diva with a raspy voice was battling cancer, kidney complications. But there were no signs the inimitable dresser in her trademark skyscraping head gear, would answer St Peter’s roll call so soon.

By Undercover Reporter


She staggered away from the mirror while applying make-up, readying for a medical check-up. Her 73 year old legs became rubbery inside the high heels doctors had long warned her against.

Ambassador Orie Rogo Manduli, the flamboyant politician, activist and outspoken fashionista, collapsed and died this week at her pad on Riverside Drive, one of her three homes besides others in Karen and Riara Close, Nairobi.

 The woman once known as Mary Slessor Orie Rogo had fought many battles before the cancer and kidney complications: a failed marriage to John J. Ondieki, the civil servant who gave her three daughters-Elizabeth, Janice and the late Alison Rogo- in between domestic battery, clobbering sessions inside a cupboard while paged, for instance. 

Ondieki yearned for sons. Orie was giving him daughters via C-Section, causing endless domestic kerfuffle

Lady of the Rose: When Elizabeth Rogo wed Nana Agyeman, her Ghanaian fiancé at the All Saints Cathedral in 2014, Orie didn’t want her ex-hubby to attend despite him having an invitation card. She warned the presiding Bishop “I don’t want to see that bastard around.” On Elizabeth’s left is Maid of Honour, Susan Oloo.

Orie married Ondieki after clearing from Machakos Teachers’ College and shortly,  they were off to Canada where Ondieki studied ‘the biology of cotton wilting’ at McGill University, finishing in 1965. Orie and her daughters all studied in Canada “to maintain family tradition.”

 But there was a problem. Ondieki yearned for sons. Orie was giving him daughters via C-Section, causing endless domestic kerfuffle. In retrospect, Orie later explained “when you are incompatible, it doesn’t matter what you cook, the man won’t see it. It doesn’t matter what you wear, he won’t see it.” She later gave birth to a son, Katyana with her Zambian hubby, Norman Manduli, the politician and cousin of future President Frederick Chiluba.

 Orie and Ondieki divorced after five years. Funny how, when Ondieki remarried the first two children were daughters!…but he went on to sire three sons.

She did not finish after two legs in three days without changing underwear!

Days of our lives: Renowned business fixer, Gor Semelang’o (left), Orie Rogo’s foster son said of her: “Mum never gave up, mum never took short cuts. Mum never accepted mediocrity and laziness. She installed such high standards and every child she brought up, all of us who had the honour to call her mum are go-getters.”

Orie won the custody battle for the children, and the experience left her so battle hardened, some dudes who came in later, were left crying in the toilet. Like television anchor and actor, Oliver Litondo. Educated in America’s Harvard and University of Iowa, Litondo had lived in Sweden,  England and worked for Deutsche Wella in Germany. Orie met Litondo when he was loaded like a gun.

See, 1974 was a very good year for both: Litondo was acting alongside Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine in the Wilby Conspiracy, a Hollywood film partially shot in Nakuru County.

That was also the year Orie was grabbing the headlines as the first African woman in world rally championship. She was co-driven by the late Sylvia Omino, wife of Joab Omino; the sporty businessman, politician and Freemason. But she did not finish, after two legs in three days without changing underwear!

Check books and women were still a rumour, yet Orie needed one for bidding

Wrong foot forward: Former television anchor and actor, Oliver Litondo and Orie Rogo Manduli were once an item. He was a  flamboyant high baller; dining with Prince Charles and Princess Ann during their tour of Kenya. Litondo was in the money, but by the time Orie was done with him, he was left recovering from a crash course in character development.

Orie was also a corporate woman who doubled as a presenter at VoK (now KBC) where Litondo, a trained broadcaster, also had gigs. The two became an item. More money came flowing with Litondo acting in films like The Bushtrackers.

But at the time, owning property in Kenya in the 1970s  for a woman, was like heading a soccer ball while swimming. Orie, was then working for Metal Box which produced bank checks and via internal contacts, she got wind that a 1000 acre ranch was under the hammer by CB Mistri Auctioneers. Orie even knew the reserve price.

But check books and women were still a rumour, yet she needed one for bidding and a first deposit. Without an appointment, she pitched tent at the office of Philip Ndegwa, then PS at Treasury and later Governor of the Central Bank. Orie was so persistent Ndegwa asked the National bank boss to assist her.

The two met, fell in love, she became Orie Rogo Manduli

First Grader: Oliver Litondo playing Kimani Maruge, the world’s oldest pupil in the 2010 film, First Grader. He acted in other films including Sheena Queen of the Jungle alongside Tanya Roberts. He and Orie were both anchors at KBC. He was also poached and worked as the Press Secretary to Nyandarua North MP, JM Kariuki whose famous speech of Kenya as a country of ’10 Millionaires and 10 Million beggars’ Litondo co-wrote.

That was how she acquired the 1000 acre Tondorie Estate, but the buying process including servicing expensive loans, left lover Litondo nursing an out-of-money-experience. Orie left her corporate job and for six months, holed up in a tent while refurbishing the colonial house in the Kitale ranch-the source of endless financial bread.

In 1980, Orie was asked by the BBC to interview Zimbabwean nationalist Joshua Nkomo then holing up at Intercontinental Lusaka in Zambia where Orie had gone with her three daughters. Across the road was the home of Norman Manduli. It was while their children played at the poolside with a nanny that the two met, fell in love. She became Orie Rogo Manduli.

Unapologetic loudmouth, unabashed feminist, a woman for all seasons

Forehead ever: Orie Rogo Manduli was a role model, a one of a kind woman. Her trailblazing entry into the Safari Rally inspired many women to follow suit including Sylvia King, Michelle van Tongeren, Pauru Choda (who co-drove hubby Prem Choda), Helen Shiri, Tuta Mionki, Linet Ayuko, Maxine Wahome and Chantal Young. But you easily couldn’t recognise her without her headgear!

Norman died in 2003 while daughter Alison Manduli, who managed her properties including Tondorie Estate, succumbed to multiple sclerosis in 2020.

 Such was the life of the woman whose love for fashion and all things beautiful started with winning Miss Kenya and Miss East Africa beauty pageants sponsored by Lux while still in high school baby fat at 16.

  Little wonder the unapologetic loudmouth, unabashed feminist, a woman for all seasons, died while applying make-up. Orie Rogo Manduli will be buried in her ranch on October 2.

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