The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: How Miguna Peeled Back Former Law School's Mask

opinion

MIGUNA Miguna shoots from the hip. He has been shooting from the hip since time immemorial. Those who attribute his bare-knuckled peeling back of masks to his fall-out with Prime Minister Raila Odinga are somewhat mistaken.

They certainly have not read Miguna's book Disgraceful Osgoode and other essays published in 1994 by Av Publications in Canada. The book reeks of the same defiance, tough talk and no-holds-barred approach of Peeling Back the Mask; a quest for justice in Kenya.

Right from "The first word" of Disgraceful Osgoode and Other Essays Miguna makes it clear that in his life, there is nothing which is exclusively personal to an extent that it lacks bearing to broader realities of life. Miguna went on to examine "all" aspects of the previous "six or so years" of his life and put on notice his critics: "Those who feel offended about my approach should be courageous enough to respond either through critical essays, or perhaps by full-length book products." He has made similar remark in Peeling Back the Mask.

He set about peeling back the mask of his former law school, Osgoode. In the foreword, he anticipated criticism but cared the less: "I am not particularly concerned about those who will condemn me for this undertaking- biting the hands that fed me." In his days at Osgoode, Miguna had written three series of articles Disgraceful Osgoode published in Obiter Dicta, the Osgoode Hall School newspaper which caused quite a fuss.

The three-part series are reproduced in this book published after he left the school and while working a Toronto law firm Roach, Schwartz & Associates. In the first article, Miguna took on Osgoode for its rot, elitism and arrogance. For all its name, he wrote, Osgoode was producing robotic intellectuals whom he dubbed "Osgoode lovers." Chief Justice Willy Mutunga did his doctoral studies in law at Osgoode.

"Few if any Osgoode lovers seem to question the legal principles, judgments and policies that they encounter in their reading materials. They do not challenge the assumptions, prejudices and arguments of the professors," he says. Osgoode lovers, he said, appeared more like cheerleaders and court jesters than students. Even where a text seems to perpetuate the dominant ideology, Miguna says Osgoode lovers "would be thumping and stomping with glee."

In fact, Miguna went on to describe Osgoode as a "workshop" which in three years manufactured soft brains and "new robots of the 20th century ready for extinction in the 21st century." Osgoode lovers shunned philosophical debates and preferred to be pragmatists. Miguna's initial criticism of Osgoode mirrored Plato's criticism of lawyers in his famous book Theaetetus, a dialectic on knowledge involving Socrates, Theodorus and young Theaetetus.

Miguna had studied philosophy and most likely came across this essential reading in epistemology. In the book, Socrates says lawyers are slaves and that philosophers are free. Lawyers are always short of time and their speeches are always about a fellow slave, and addressed to a master.

He says their contests are never for some indifferent prize but always that one which concerns them. Often they are running a race for life itself. "Because of all that, they become tense and sharp, knowing how to flatter their master with words and fawn on him with his deeds, but small and crooked in their minds," Socrates tells Theaetetus.

Socrates says lawyers are deprived of growth, straightness and freedom by their slavery. "They have suffered since they were young." It forces them to crooked things and imposes great dangers and fears on their minds while they are still soft. Herein, Socrates brings Miguna's pet subjects of truth and justice. He says lawyers are unable to sustain their contestations with the help of these two. Because of this failure, they turn to falsehoods and retaliate injustice with injustice.

"They get twisted and stunted in many ways", Socrates says and ominously adds: "The result is that they finally come from youth to manhood with nothing healthy in their intellects though what they think is that they have become clever and wiser." Finally, Socrates takes on lawyers for being intellectual lightweights, the kind of criticism Miguna leveled on Osgoode graduates. Socrates had said when caught in "essential" discussions of happiness, justice among others, "the man with small, sharp and litigious minds gets dizzy."

In contrast, philosophers - and whom Miguna required of Osgoode students aim for truth. Their intellects fly about everywhere "in depths of the earth and above heavens searching in every way into the total nature of these things taken as a whole, but never settling on any of the things near it."

Socrates says that philosophers cause laughter in public discussions because of their inexperience. Their gracelessness is terrible, they are indifferent to class and they see a lot of pettiness around them. Like falling Thales, they are ignorant of what is under their feet. But they are brought up in great freedom and leisure unlike the lawyers. This is why they are free men while lawyers are slaves of the law.

In contrast to Osgoode lovers, Miguna compares Osgoode haters to philosophers. They disdain privilege, power and class. For them, Osgoode is a legal workshop, not a school. "It is also a white-wash indoctrination camp." Osgoode haters are suspicious of legal profession for its propensity of being used by the ruling class to "guard the chains and bolts of oppression." The more Osgoode churned out more lovers, Miguna prophesized, the more the Canadian society was turning a criminal ghetto.

He did not state his place but Miguna was no doubt placing himself in the category of Osgoode haters whom he said are made to feel as they are not lawyerly. "Perhaps they are not if being a lawyer simply means wholesale consumption and regurgitation of intellectual garbage," he says. Osgoode lovers, he submits only excelled in toilet literature and graphics.

He signed off the first piece by stating to whom Osgoode belonged. It belonged to a group of racist, rich and inhuman species, species who loved to suck blood until they dropped dead. Disgraceful Osgoode II was not any less punchy. It took on Osgoode for its weak curriculum which only churned out "jargon-wagging wizards." It condemned the university for its "debauched Eurocentricity."

How could "diseased" European explorers like Columbus and Vasco da Gama discover Africans? And how could this be taught as education? Education according to Miguna must be viewed and used as a strategic arsenal in the struggle for substantive change and equality.

Disgraced Osgoode III published in September 1991 picked off from where the first article left. It took on Osgoode lovers for dancing around law rudimentaries "like twilight wizards." His pen was now aimed sharply at those whom he called Osgoode racists. According to him, the racists did everything without involving other groups. A times, they involved some black-sell-outs who Miguna called "a few variegated, mentally colonised and starving parrots." They controlled everything at Osgoode.

They were half baked intellectual dwarfs, the racists, and their exams merely tested the level of apeship and regurgitation. Like Peeling Back the Mask, Miguna had warned that Disgraceful Osgoode and other essays was not written to amuse anyone. His descriptions are however very amusing.

He describes Osgoode black students as "intellectually lazy and pliable. They walk with their chests hanging out like gorillas." He criticises former South African president Nelson Mandela for his "bloated theatrical shows" aimed at boosting arpatheid strategists and apologists.

"Mandela has become one of the most disappointing African leaders in modern history," he says. Miguna was no doubt deeply disappointed over the numerous concessions ANC, Mandela's party was making to the Frederick De Klerks administration in the then ongoing talks.

Incidentally and 14 years later, Miguna himself would be an insider of Kenya's "victorious" ODM party as it was milked dry of concessions by the "loser" PNU. Despite its jumbled up state- mixing up newspaper articles, press release, diary entries and short philosophical treatises, the book is quite an interesting read in understanding the man. Above everything else, the book attests to Miguna's consistency in peeling back masks.

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