The Star (Nairobi)

21 July 2012

Kenya: Raila vs Miguna the Mother of All Media Battles

Photo: Capital FM
Miguna Miguna claims in his book that he has evidence to link Prime Minister Raila Odinga and other leaders to post-election violence and corruption (file photo).

analysis

Nairobi — Kenyans have never seen anything like it. The media feeding frenzy was like none other in their history up to this point in time.

And coming in the era of digital media, including the social networks, Kenya's national discourse on the Miguna Miguna attack on Prime Minister Raila Odinga was far-flung indeed, roping in the Diaspora around the globe and exposing new fault-lines in strategising for the post-Mwai Kibaki State House.

As for the media and publicity sectors, they always knew that the run-up to the campaign proper for the eleventh general election, Kenya's biggest, most expensive and highest-stakes poll yet, would be more spectacular than anything that has ever gone before it. But not even they were prepared for the scope, the sound and the fury - signifying much, actually - of the multimedia and multiple newsrooms headline events of the past week. The book-length attack on the person and station of the Prime Minister of Kenya by an embittered former aide and the accompanying opportunistic black propaganda stealth campaign by the President's half of the Grand Coalition Government signaled a whole new level of playing power politics in Kenya.

The publication of Peeling Back the Mask, A Quest for Justice in Kenya, the book written by Prime Minister Raila Odinga's former Adviser on Coalition Affairs and Joint Secretary to the Committee on Management of Coalition Affairs, Miguna Miguna, started it all. Excerpts of the book were promptly serialised by the Nation Media Group and Miguna was page one news on a daily basis all week - and still continuing - in the region's largest mass circulation newspapers, including on their online editions.

Other media houses joined in the action too, including the Standard Media Group, which had tried a preemptive serialisation ahead of NMG but clearly had no rights to the material. The prime time news broadcasts, including K24's Jeff Koinange talk-show Capital Talk, also had a field day covering all things Miguna and anticipating the fightback from the PM's corner. The Kenyan Diaspora blogosphere was on fire, the social networks were all in a twitter too.

Civil society groups also enjoined themselves in the fray, mostly on the PM's side. Rarely-heard-of groupings came out of the woodwork, supporting the sensationalist contents of Miguna's tome. For a couple of days at the top of the week, it looked as if the PM and his formations on his side of the coalition had suffered a truly debilitating body blow, one which would result in loss of support the further away one got from his diehard heartland of Luo Nyanza. Speaking to Koinange on Capital Talk, Miguna, hugely enjoying his self-reinvention as an iconoclast, pronounced Raila to be politically finished right around the country, much to his host's glee. There were many responses to Miguna's stuntmanship, both pro and contra, particularly online, some of them unrepeatable in polite society. Like the coming of the book itself, it was known that the fightback from the PM's corner was going to happen - and happen big time.

THE FIGHTBACK

When it finally came, it was massive. It was multi-pronged and from different directions, ranging from press conferences by Cabinet ministers and MPs and activists to the spearhead of veteran journalist Sarah Elderkin's three-part Right of Reply essay in the Daily Nation beginning on Monday. In true guided-missile fashion, Elderkin went straight for the jugular of Miguna's own persona and credibility on the very day he and his family quietly slipped out of Kenya, reportedly Canada-bound.

This was also the day a number of Judiciary and police officials - led by Director of Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko and Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere - wanted Miguna to make detailed statements on certain of his gravest utterances made during both the book launch and the K24 interview with Koinange. In a typically intemperate and elliptical rejoinder, Miguna thundered: "Does Tobiko or Iteere work for the ICC? How does he know I haven't spoken with the ICC? Jokers! That's all I can say for now!"

And then, on Monday night, he slipped out of Kenya, keeping up his end of the controversy via Facebook, where he vigorously denied being a fugitive from justice. But this looked feeble indeed, coming so soon after he had challenged all-comers who objected to his book to bring it on and join him in the rough-and-tumble of massive litigation, presumably in Kenyan jurisdiction.

'MENTAL DARKROOM'

Among other withering remarks, Elderkin observed in the Nation: "Anyone who has watched Miguna on television will have seen the staring eyes, the jabbing finger, the overbearing ranting and raving. But it was Justice Mohamed Warsame who referred very succinctly to Miguna's inner turmoil, in dismissing, on December 15, 2011, the case Miguna had brought challenging his August 4, 2011, suspension from the Prime Minister's office. ". . . He spoke of Miguna as having a 'relentless sense of fighting back', as one 'who appears unpredictable and ready to fight'. Warsame added, 'He is described as a man living in [a] mental darkroom' ".

Writing in The Star on Tuesday, in a piece headlined "Miguna Might be an Alpha Narcissist", columnist Ngunjiri Wambugu, Director of NGO Change Associates, said: "Alpha narcissists are usually smart intellectuals, but they are also experts at psychological manipulation and mental abuse. ". . . as I watch Miguna enjoy his 15 minutes of fame, I wonder if Kenyans are witnessing an alpha narcissist in action . . ."

The PM's fightback included a massive advertising campaign in the press branded "This is Kenya's Moment", clearly aimed at keeping Kenyans' attention focused on the forthcoming presidential contest instead of spectacularly diversionary sideshows like the Miguna circus. This campaign included, interestingly, an online 24/7news update service that costs Sh5 per update but with the pledge "We shall account for all funds received from the public".

Another all-media advertisement from the Raila for President Secretariat took the form of a Public Announcement and clearly signaled that the PM's strategists are moving to take control of all elements of support for him and no longer taking any chances with spontaneous walk-through-the-door support (which is how, according to Elderkin, Miguna wormed his way into the Raila machine in 2007). The Notice announced: "A number of self-driven lobby groups are making independent efforts to position the Rt. Hon. Raila A. Odinga and the ODM Party for the forthcoming General Election. We thank them. It is necessary for any organized group that supports this campaign effort to receive formal recognition from this Secretariat".

In Op-Ed (opinion and editorial) pages throughout the week throughout the print media sector, including in letters-to-the-editor columns and blogs, as well as FM station breakfast and other talk-shows, and on primetime TV programming, and still continuing, the fight against the PM, and the fightback, raged.

Meanwhile, across the Grand Coalition divide, DPP Tobiko and Commissioner Iteere's determination to get to the bottom of Miguna's boast to the effect that he was in the room when ODM decided to make the 2007 Presidential contest a matter of 42 tribes ranged against one tribe was viewed dramatically differently. The PNU formations fairly salivated at the prospect of enjoining Raila and his key strategists in a crimes-against-humanity scenario not unlike the one that faces Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

"I can take every leader to The Hague, they should actually kiss my feet. They actually begged me to go back [into] office when they knew that I could spill the beans!" Miguna scoffed at his book launch.

Clearly, Tobiko and Iteere would dearly like to be the receivers of such beans in the event of their being spilled. But the PM's side of the Coalition views this investigatory zeal with extreme suspicion. In the politics of paranoia that are now clearly overtaking the Coalition as it hurtles towards the Kibaki transition, legacy and succession, the PM's retinue thinks PNU has smelt blood in the political waters and is going, shark-like, straight for Raila's jugular, perhaps even hoping to enjoin him in the ongoing cases at the ICC and introducing a whole new paradigm in the race for State House.

NEW FAULT LINES

New fault lines in the propaganda and counterpropaganda wars for State House included Kabete MP Paul Muite, anti-graft crusader John Githongo and former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere's interventions, which appeared to side with Miguna in a clear pattern to ratchet up the pressure on Raila. Speaking at the book launch, Muite challenged Raila to come clean on the August 1, 1982 attempted coup by elements of the Kenya Air Force, an event which in recent years the PM has openly admitted having supported alongside his late father, the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya's first-ever Vice President.

Muite also raised the increasingly prickly issue of the 2007 presidential poll having been a matter of 41 ethnic communities being arrayed against one community. Muite disingenuously asked whether the PM was aware of any such manoeuvre. Githongo's input was even more intriguing than Muite's a-nod-and-a-wink political games. "I have not read Mr Miguna's book," Githongo readily admitted, adding, "but I know that threats are given to stop information that is of public interest." He said Miguna had made himself a target.

Githongo was the subject of another would-be tell-all book-length assault on a national political leader, President Mwai Kibaki and all his works, British journalist-author Michela Wrong's It's Our Turn to Eat. Githongo and Our Turn to eat also had their 15 minutes of fame and were fodder for a massive media feeding frenzy, but this was before social networking media kicked in and the hullabaloo, now largely forgotten, was nowhere near on the scale of the Miguna affair.

Wamwere, who was once detained without trial for years on end in the same maximum security prisons and at some of the same times as Raila, said although the contents of Miguna's book should not automatically be taken as the gospel truth they "should be taken seriously". Muite, Githongo and Wamwere were hitherto viewed as being among Mt Kenyan operatives who would place no impediment in the PM's path to State House in President Kibaki's wake, although Wamwere has established a collaborative relationship with Raphael Tuju of the Party of Action, a Luoland foe of Raila's. That they have taken positions on the Miguna episode that are music to the PNU formations' strategists' ears is a clear indication of the complexity of the evolving scenario for the final confrontation of the presidential contest at the coming general election. It is a contest that is shaping up as the Mother of All Presidential Polls in Kenya.

It is a contest that will be fought on multimedia platforms as much as in teeming campaign rallies in stadia up and down the country and in the biggest single advertising spend yet seen in Kenya. Finally, on D-Day, at the polling booths, by what promises to be the biggest Voter's Roll yet - for the highest stakes ever, the Fourth President of Kenya will be elected. Expect, therefore, many a turn and twist, many a political acrobatic manouevre and many a surprise - and even a shocker or two - between now and the day Kenya decides and President Mwai Kibaki calls it a day.

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