Kemi Badenoch - the right-wing MP who could become the first Black leader of the Conservative party
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Black History Month UK 2022 'Sharing Journeys' campaign - In the first of our history in the making articles, we'll be exploring the life and career of the cabinet minister, Kemi Badenoch.
Kemi Badenoch was born Olukemi Olufunto Adegoke on 2 January 1980 in Wimbledon, London, to Femi and Deyi Adegoke. Her father was a GP and her mother a professor of physiology. She spent her childhood growing up in Lagos and the US, where her psychology professor mother had lecturing jobs.
Before a change in the British Nationality Act in 1983, her mother travelled to London with the express purpose of giving birth to her in a private maternity home in Wimbledon. The family then returned to Nigeria where Badenoch was raised.
Life became increasingly hard for her family when Nigeria was thrown into political chaos after a military coup in the early eighties. The country was racked with financial ruin and severe human rights abuses. The Nigerian naira was devalued and the country was temporarily suspended from the Commonwealth for executing nine environmentalists including Nobel prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Living in such dire conditions, Badenoch’s father took the difficult decision to send her to the UK. She recalls: that Nigeria’s currency had suddenly become worth 10% of what it had been and “my Dad [had to] spend several months’ pay on my ticket. We went to the travel agent with all his savings stuffed in a plastic carrier bag. He had £100 left when he’d paid for my ticket, and he gave it to me to take to England. So that’s all I had when I arrived.”
“But I was so excited. When I saw my British passport [she qualified for one, having been born in England] it was like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. It was amazing, a very special privilege to be a citizen of this country. Many people use citizenship as an international travel document, but to me it was much more than that. I think of this country with affection, feeling, loyalty. Its values make it special.”
At the age of 16, Badenoch returned to the UK to stay with her mum’s best friend in Wimbledon. Whilst studying for her A Levels at Phoenix College in south London she worked at Mcdonald’s and other jobs. She told the Times of her time at McDonald’s: “You would have people from college who would turn up and laugh at me because I was there with my hat and badge and I didn’t have any stars. But it was what I had to do. I didn’t have money. My parents weren’t here and I was living with family friends. So I had a roof over my head, but I needed to earn to live. There’s dignity that you just get from working and earning your own money.”
After graduating from Sussex University with a degree in computer systems engineering, she worked for Logica, claiming she was “once the only woman on a building site with 300 men!” She then moved on to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland as a system analyst before pursuing a career in banking. She became an associate director at the private bank Coutts from 2006 to 2013. Developing an interest in law and politics, she began studying law at Birbeck, University of London and completed her LLB in 2009. She then took the tentative steps to move into politics while working as a director of the digital department at the influential right-wing magazine The Spectator. In 2015, she became a member of the National Assembly, going on to retain her seat in the Assembly in the 2016 election.