Life and times of Dr Joyce Cherono Laboso

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The late Dr Joyce Cherono Laboso. Photo/Courtesy

Seamless smile coupled with dark chocolate complexion, Dr. Joyce Cherono Laboso was not an ordinary village girl. She was self-effacing to the extreme and eschewed publicity while excellently serving her people. Described by those close to her as shy and conservative, doctors at United Kingdom were taken aback when she refused to be treated with the honor that befits a governor.

At her matrimonial home, Dr. Laboso was a typical mother and wife blending both Luo and Kalenjin cultures. Speaking to the Journalists, her son Brian Ochieng Kibet said that mursik (fermented milk) and obambla (dry tilapia fish) was her favourite meal.   

Born on the 25th November 1960 at Konoin in Bomet County, Dr Laboso assumed responsibilities at a younger age being the first born child to the late Fredrick Laboso and the late Mrs. Rebecca Laboso. The family later moved to Manaret village in Sotik sub-county where they settled permanently.

Born at the time and place overrun by culture and beliefs. Education then was treated as a manly affair but like many other academics of her generation, Dr. Laboso weathered countless challenges and rose to become the first Kalenjin woman governor.

Education

Dr Laboso started her primary education at Kaminjeiwet Primary School and later moved to Molo Primary School. She attended Kaplong Girls Secondary School for her “O” levels and later Kenya High School for “A” level education. Upon completion, Dr Laboso joined Kenyatta University to pursue a bachelor of arts course in French, Literature and Education. She then undertook a Postgraduate diploma course in teaching French at the University of Paul Valery in France.

In 1990, she enrolled for a master’s degree in teaching English as a foreign language at the University of Reading in United Kingdom. In 2006, she obtained her PhD in Gender and Language Education at the University of Hull in UK. A fete that put her as one of the first Kipsigis women to obtain a doctorate degree from a foreign University. She was a career educationist having started as a teacher of English at Kipsigis Girls High School in Kericho in 1985. From 2002 to 2006, she worked as an assistant lecturer and dean of students at Farrow House Education Centre, UK. It is during this time that she pursued her doctorate degree.

In 2007, she travelled back to Kenya and secured a place at Egerton University as a lecturer of French. She was later appointed the coordinator of Communication, Media, Library and Information Studies.

Political Journey

It was almost predictable that Dr. Joyce Laboso would switch to politics at some point in time considering that her mother was a councillor in Sotik while her late sister, Lorna Laboso was a member of parliament for Sotik Constituency. Lorna was a vibrant and most admired female politician in the Kipsigis land. She unfortunately passed on together with the celebrated Kipkalia Kones through a fatal plane crash in 2008.

Following the death of Lorna, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), decided to take the seat back to the family in her honor. Dr Laboso, albeit very shy and green in the murky political waters, managed to clinch the seat and became a member of parliament for Sotik Constituency from 2008 to 2013. In one of her campaign trails, her opponents cited that she was married to one, “Obonyo”. Many times, she was booed by hostile crowd that labelled her an outsider. She was unbowed. She garnered 23,880 votes against her closest challenger, Brigadier Alexander Sitienei who got 13,843 votes.    

Dr. Joyce Laboso served her constituents with intelligence and diligence. She championed for quality education, good road networks, clean water and electricity hence setting an exemplary leadership record in the country. She won the trust of the constituents and news of her good leadership swept across Sotik constituency like wild fire.

Owing to her outstanding development record, she was re-elected for the second term in 2013 general elections on a URP ticket thus becoming the first woman from Bomet to serve two terms in parliament and the first Bomet MP to defend her seat.

After her re-election, her political career blossomed making her become the apple of her constituent’s eyes. Dr Laboso was elected the first woman deputy speaker of the National Assembly where she carried out her duties with professionalism par excellence. While serving as the member of parliament, Dr Laboso sat in several parliamentary committees including the Women Parliamentary Association, Education, Liaison Committee and House Business.  

In 2017, Dr Laboso plunged deeper into political waters tackling the suave political titan Isaac Ruto of Chama Cha Mashinani. The epic battle for the Bomet County’s gubernatorial seat proved the salt in Dr Laboso’s leadership style. She not only won the seat but she trounced the political giant of Bomet politics- Isaac Ruto.  The contest was laced with national political undertones pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto and Raila Odinga on the other side. Isaac Ruto of Chama cha Mashinani was aligned to Odinga’s National Super Alliance Coalition while Dr Laboso’s ticket belonged to Jubilee Party. The two slogans “Kiwole” and “Mokiwole” which means change for Joyce and remain for Isaac took sway.

Dr Joyce Laboso at her office in Bomet County

Dr Laboso emerged victorious sweeping 67.2% of the total votes. Together with Charity Ngilu of Kitui County and Ann Waiguru of Kirinyaga County, Dr Laboso become pioneer woman governor. She was later elected as the Chairperson for Finance and Education Committee at the Council of Governors and Deputy Chair, Lake Region Economic Bloc.

Dr Joyce Laboso and husband Dr Edwin Abonyo

Marriage  

In 1983, the marriage bag hit the young Laboso but the love went against her father’s wishes and expectations. According to her husband Dr. Edward Abonyo, their path of marriage was rough but they withstood pricking thorns on their way to become the most admirable family. Her father, Fredrik Laboso a fierce reputable man expressed strong opposition towards their courtship citing his discomfort in her daughter getting married to a non-Kalenjin. Dr Laboso, however, stood firm with Dr Abonyo and their union withstood the test of time running into 36 good years. The family was blessed with two sons; Bryan Abonyo and Ted Abonyo and later fostered Marco Laboso. Dr Laboso was a responsible, hardworking, dedicated and a no-nonsense mother.

Dr Joyce Laboso and Dr Edwin Abonyo together with their three sons

At one of the political rallies in 2017, some supporters of Isaac Ruto cheered “Abonyo…Abonyo” trying to discredit Dr Laboso for marrying a Luo man, she just replied, “that’s my husband” and the story ended there. While starting her political journey in 2008, Dr Laboso temporarily dropped her husband’s name so as to endear herself to the people of Sotik, this worked out very well.

Health

Dr. Laboso though in silence, bravely battled against cancer for three decades. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 1991 but she was not the person that gives up at the sight of a mountain to climb. The passionate and ardent leader went ahead to achieve her goals in life. Even after receiving the stunning news of an incurable disease, Dr Laboso soldiered on and enrolled for her master’s degree and later PhD. According to her husband, Dr Laboso kept her pain and grieve from the public and her closest friends. “My wife lived her life despite excruciating pain and I can say yes, my love has rested” Dr. Abonyo told the press.   

She went in and out of hospitals in Kenya and India before the disease struck with full force in March 2019. On May 29th the family sought medical attention in Royal Madden Hospital in the UK and later BLK Super Specialty Hospital, India in a desperate move to lengthen her life but things hit a brick wall. Doctors informed them that nothing much could be done to save the life of a 58-year old Governor.

While in Britain, NASA leader Raila Odinga, Ambassador Manoah Esipisu, Chief Justice David Maraga and Kericho Governor Professor Paul Chepkwony visited her. Former Bomet Governor Hon. Isaac Ruto also paid her a visit while in India. 

She jetted back home on July 14th 2019 where she was put under close surveillance at Nairobi Hospital. As fate would have it, curtain fell on the loved, admired and dedicated scholar and politician on the 29th July 2019. A dark gloomy cloud hovered in the country. News of her sudden demise swept across the Kalenjin nation evoking sharp memories of cancer devouring the children of Israel.  

Dr Joyce Laboso was a prayerful woman and a strong believer of a just society. She advocated the space of women in leadership and passionately championed for truth, justice and transparency. She was laid to rest on Saturday 3rd August at her matrimonial home at Koru village in Kisumu County.

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