columnBy Joe Adama
Long-awaited book lands with a thud and raises an interesting question: Who wears the mask - the PM or his disgruntled former aide?
The last book on Raila Odinga that had a fairly wide circulation in Kenya was Raila Odinga: An Enigma in Kenyan Politics, by the Nigerian lawyer and political scientist Dr Babafemi Adesina Badejo. A later book, Raila Odinga's Stolen Presidency, Consequences and the Future for Kenya, by Okoth Osewe, has been read more widely in the far-flung Kenyan Diaspora than at home and remains largely unknown to the vast majority of Kenyans.
And now here comes Peeling Back the Mask, a Quest for Justice in Kenya, by lawyer-writer Miguna Miguna, the Prime Minister's former adviser on coalition, constitutional and legal affairs. Unlike the first two books on the PM, this latest tome is a poison-pen portrait written specifically to have career- and reputation-threatening consequences on the subject. The title echoes that of another book, the late outspoken Anglican Bishop Henry Okullu's autobiographical Quest for Justice.
Miguina's book is published by Gilgamesh Publishing Ltd, of the UK, who are also the publishers of the remarkable Tripoli Witness by the British-Lebanese journalist Rana Jawad, who has long worked for the BBC, and who found herself the last British journalist reporting from inside Tripoli early in 2010. It is a firsthand account of life during the first phase of the Libyan uprising.
Dr Badejo's book made headlines in Kenya for being the first authoritatively documented account to confirm that the August 1, 1982, abortive coup plotters had the support of both Raila and his late father, the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya's first-ever Vice President.
Osewe's book is read mainly in chapter-length excerpts mostly on the Internet, particularly the blogsite Kenya Stockholm Blog, and celebrates Raila's second stab at the Presidency in 2007, comparing him favourably to the rest of the political class and painting a portrait of President Mwai Kibaki as a big-time electoral fraudster, something which Miguna's book also reiterates.
'Doing the Dirty'
Miguna's portrait of Raila in Peeling Back the Mask is the first book-length criticism of the PM and the first such attack in Kenyan political history by a former aide on a national political figure of Raila's immense stature. Other senior aides of political figures have fallen out with their benefactors before, but none has "done the dirty", as it were, on a former boss the way Miguna set out to settle scores with Raila. For instance, both Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki and the writer-editor George Githii (the only journalist so far to have headed both the Nation and Standard media groups)who were private secretaries to Jomo Kenyatta at State House in the early years of Independence, fell out dramatically with him and never wrote books about the relationship.
The biggest blow Kenyatta suffered during his life as a result of a book written by a fellow politician was occasioned by the publication of Odinga's Not Yet Uhuru after he stormed out of both Kanu and the Government as Vice President of Kenya. Among many other things, Odinga identified Arthur Wanyoike Thungu as one of a hard-core group of only seven that kept Mau Mau going after the arrest of Kenyatta and other nationalist leaders on the night of October 20, 1952, and the Declaration of the State of Emergency. This group not only kept Mau Mau going but dramatically stepped up the violence. Wanyoike was Treasurer of Mau Mau. But in 1967 he was President Kenyatta's closest and most trusted bodyguard. Kenyatta, who strenuously denied being "Manager of Mau Mau" as accused by the British at Kapenguria, had never been so closely connected to the movement in print by such an authoritative source as Odinga.
The Mask is being launched today at the Hotel Intercontinental. Miguna had kept the contents of the book such a closely-guarded secret that he ridiculously declined to show a copy to Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, despite having invited him to launch it. And then, beginning on Monday this week, the Daily Nation begun a serialization of selected chapters and episodes for which it must be paying top dollar.
The CJ declined to launch a publication he had not read and Miguna accused him of bending to undue pressure from within the PM's inner circle.
The writer missed the point by a million miles - why would a jurist of Mutunga's experience commit both his good name and office to a controversial book he has never read? Among many other adverse factors, suppose the publication of the book results in massive litigation - how would the CJ look heading up the bench whose members would have to adjudicate the matter?
All manner of analysts, including political scientists, are going to read Miguna's take on the PM closely, watching out, among other things, for how closely he in fact researched his subject or failed to do so. The book will also be assessed on authoritativeness. Above all, it will be minutely examined to see whether it tables new and genuinely eye-opening documentary evidence or insights into the Raila political, private and psychological persona. All these factors will determine how historians of Kenyan politics and analysts of current affairs ultimately rate the Miguna version of the Raila Odinga story and life lessons.
Despite the premium they place on education, Kenyans are not generally a book-reading public. In fact, there are millions of Kenyans who never again read a book cover-to-cover once they graduate from high school or university. Those Kenyans who do occasionally read a book other than the Bible or the Koran are to be found buying motivational titles like How to Make Your First Million, romance or crime thrillers. There are a few Kenyans who proudly display Bill Clinton's, Tony Blair's or George W. Bush's memoirs in their bulky hardcover editions in their homes or offices, but you can bet your bottom dollar these tomes are largely unread and undigested.
No Votes Lost
The most widely read book in Kenya remains the Bible in its Old and New Testaments twin-books. There are rural folk who know the Bible in its entirety in their mother tongues, chapter and verse, and who never read anything else except perhaps the occasional newspaper. These Bible-thumping Kenyans implicitly believe that the rest of "book learning" is secular and suspect. They never make important decisions based on something they read outside of the Bible. Whatever Miguna has to say about Raila will be judged by this rubric even in Central Kenya. The Mask will not lose Raila any votes he did not already have.
It is into this desultory reading culture that Miguna is hoping to insert an "earth-shaking" book. He needn't bother keeping an eye on the Richter scale, for Peeling Back the Mask will barely register there with anything much more than the strength of a good post-prandial burp. Kenyans give no credit whatever to self-declared hatchet jobs, in fact they consider reputation- and career-shattering efforts, oral or written, to be basically childish and child-like and petty do not base their decisions, particularly political decisions, on the content of such endeavours.
Osewe's Raila's Stolen Presidency and British journalist-author Michela Wrong's It's Our Turn to Eat are good cases in point when it comes to the short shrift that Kenyans reserve for the most egregious political allegations and would-be spilling of beans. In President Kibaki's Central Kenya backyard, the existence of the Osewe book is not even known about even among literate book-reading folk. Ms. Wrong's take on Kikuyu hegemony and grand corruption was read in Central Kenya and elsewhere in this country mostly in its serialized form, again in the Nation. And this despite and in spite of the fact that it placed responsibility for the Anglo Leasing scam squarely at President Kibaki's doorstep. Clearly, the damage it was calculated to do to his reputation and standing, not to mention his legacy, was grievous. But it is now largely forgotten.
What's more, among Raila's legions of political supporters, the story Stolen tells does not need "book knowledge" to retail, it is told in deeply ingrained orature - or oral literature - it is no news and is worse than preaching to the converted. In Luoland and its Diaspora, Miguna's The Mask will suffer exactly the same fate as Osewe's Stolen in Kikuyuland and its many Diasporas.
And this is despite the fact that Miguna is writing on Raila "from within", having been a member of his retinue and diehard supporter. The worst that Miguna has said about Raila will come out sounding like a conspiracy theory, not a shattering, dazzling truth that forever makes us look at the PM with new eyes. A couple of European Union and North American envoys will be upset by Miguna's reporting that the PM is a receiver of bribes from people like Joshua Kulei, former President Daniel arap Moi's longtime Private Secretary at State House. But less impressionable readers will ask for hard and fast and irrefutable evidence. Falling back on the plausible denial factor invoked by the high and mighty everywhere, Raila, Chief of Staff Caroli Omondi (fingered by Miguna as having been the bagman in a Sh54 million corrupt transaction) and Kulei will no doubt go to their graves denying that any such payment ever took place and there is no way Miguna can prove the contrary. In other words, it's Miguna's word against theirs.
No Re-inventing the Wheel
Those who loathe the PM will drool over the Miguna story, dredging it for choice tidbits to be deployed in adverse campaign materials at the forthcoming Presidential elections campaigning. Those who adore him will ignore all the adverse "insider" information. So what if Raila lusts after power, is too ambitious, tells lies or has become a shilling billionaire in less than five years of becoming Prime Minister? After all, his job description is "politician" and he has been involved in no reinvention of the wheels of power-lust, ambition, fibbing, or amassing wealth.
Peeling Back the Mask is a series of informal stories designed to cause shock and horror and to occasion the Prime Minister the maximum PR, image and reputation crises at just the point in his career when he is poised for the political opportunity of his life, a run for President in a field in which Kibaki is not a contender. Its main problem is that informal stories remain forever just that, on top of which they are largely disbelieved because they emanate from the political enemies of those that they target. In other words, they are hostile-witness perspectives, loaded with every known negative motive in the very wide spectrum from pure hatred to the green-eyed monster of jealousy, from vengefulness and boastfulness to inferiority complex and self-loathing.
To the percipient and experienced reader, all of these negative reflexes (and more) are to be found in Miguna's book, which has the further weakness of bad-mouthing practically everyone - including the President - and of showing up the author as a man with neither friends nor allies. When he retails the episode during which he says Sh54 million from Kulei given to Raila was carted away from a petrol station in Westlands by Caroli, Miguna takes time off to make the observation that, like him, veteran journalists Salim Lone and Sarah Elderkin and former political prisoner Prof. Edward Oyugi would never carry Sh54 million in plastic bags from Kulei. It will be interesting to hear what these three have to say about the rest of this book.
Miguna paints a portrait of himself as being the only ODM operative who knew how and when PNU stalwarts "stole" the 2007 Presidential election as the theft was in progress. He describes an episode whereby he makes a beeline for the very room where the rigging is taking place, the Tallying Centre at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, but is loudly chased away by no less a personage than ODM Chairman Henry Kosgey himself!
Peeling Back the Mask is an incredibly naïve narrative in some of its allegations and observations. Miguna really has it in for Caroli Omondi, the PM's Chief of Staff. When Caroli is not lugging Sh54 million in plastic bags all over town, he is busy acquiring a three-star hotel for between Sh800 million and Sh1 billion. The said establishment is the well-known Heron Court Hotel in the city's wealthy Milimani area, an extended neighbourhood of State House. Listen to Miguna mulling over this particular allegation: "His take-home pay was less than Sh300,000. By April 2009, Caroli had worked for the OPM [Office of the Prime Minister] for exactly two years. Even if he was saving 90 per cent of his net income - an impossible feat in any society - he would still not have saved Sh800 million within two years."
The pointlessness of Miguna's would-be insight into Caroli's alleged acquisition of Heron Court is breathtaking. Speaking of any society, who has ever bought a hotel from the proceeds of a pay-slip, no matter how long the period of savings? And hasn't the probability occurred to Miguna the international lawyer that, far from acquiring the hotel entirely on his own, Caroli could be part of a larger group, even the nominal figurehead, of investors, some of them people with the requisite financial clout?
This pointlessness is symptomatic of too many other hugely unproven and thoroughly unreliable allegations throughout this book. Which is one of many reasons that it does not deserve to stand on the same shelf, for instance, as a real expose like Maxwell: A Portrait of Power, by Peter Thompson and Anthony Delano, published in 1998, about Robert Maxwell, the larger-than-life British media mogul and rogue businessman who died in 1991.