Author: Miguna Miguna
Publ: Gilgamesh Africa
Pps: 588, hard cover
Reviewer: John Sibi-Okumu
The general populace in Kenya was first exposed to Miguna Miguna’s Peeling Back the Mask by way of partial yet sensational serialisation in a local newspaper.
After twenty years in the metaphorical wilderness of self-exile Miguna chose to return to his native Kenya with messianic impulse. However, to sustain the biblical allusion, rather than upbraid the entire ruling class for having turned his fatherland into a den of thieves, he had the intuition to single out one of his compatriots, Raila Odinga, as being different from all the rest in ideological persuasion and thus worthy of Miguna’s help in his efforts to secure the ultimate prize, the presidency of Kenya. To this end Miguna decided to join Odinga, a Luo like himself, as an advisor and spin doctor, within a government led by a Kikuyu, Mwai Kibaki.
The year was 2007, the month was September. New elections were in the offing in December with Odinga, heading a new, breakaway party, set to run against Kibaki, who was seeking a second and constitutionally, final term as president. Come the said elections, it was a very close run thing and when Kibaki was declared the winner, the country was plunged into post election violence which left about a thousand killed and hundreds of thousands internally displaced. Kibaki and Raila were persuaded to become uncomfortable bedfellows in a coalition government, with one of them remaining president and the other being named prime minister. All the while, Miguna was a witness to and a diligent player in these historic developments and their aftermath. Yet the more he saw Odinga in action, right beside him, the more Miguna realised that his own, chosen emperor had no clothes. Disillusion turned to despair which in turn turned to disdain. And, in a scenario worthy of Greek tragedy, Miguna was eventually sacked, ostensibly for insubordination. But unlike Greek tragedy, he did not throw himself upon his sword or pluck his eyes out in self pity. He wrote a book instead. Hell has no fury like the wrath of a sycophant scorned and Peeling Back the Mask is, without doubt, a thoroughly engaging read. On reflection, it seems that this is largely because it flies in the face of all the admonitions which children throughout the world must have heard at some time or another from the mouths of mothers and teachers.
Warnings such as ‘Don’t blow your own trumpet!’ Miguna has a special take on the understanding that with opportunity we are all is capable of great achievement. For him, the fact that he managed to achieve beyond all expectation, despite a deprived background and much hardship and suffering, including torture at the hands of a dictatorial government, serves as proof of his superiority over others. The subject pronoun ‘I’ leaps out from every page in record-seeking regularity. Of his studies in Canada, his adoptive land, for example, he tells us that ‘By year-end, my grades were top notch.’ And later, ‘I had a first class degree and an admission letter to the most prestigious law school in Canada.’ Of his social standing abroad he informs us ‘By then, I had become a well-known writer, cultural critic and prominent political activist in Toronto.’
Or, ‘Don’t be rude!’ Miguna is an unbridled maligner of the character and intellect of others. Raila’s campaign manager ‘was by all accounts idle, an intellectual underachiever and incredibly corrupt.’ Of someone else, it is noted that ‘…he is generally clueless. He is incoherent, confused and shallow.’ And of Odinga himself: ‘Thus, Raila had flip-flopped again and again on grave matters with national and international implications. By then, I was convinced that Raila wasn’t a leader. He couldn’t even manage a bunch of squirrels.’ Apart from intellectual underachievers, stooges, puppets and buffoons also abound.
Or, ‘Don’t be a bully!’ Miguna’s self-righteousness indignation often leads him to impose himself physically and intellectually upon all whom he encounters. From the lanky lad of his youth he had turned, through good living, into a six feet four, two hundred and ten pound giant, wading in on his adversaries like a bull in a china shop. He is scornful of those who turn up late, unmindful of the fact that Miguna had learnt the benefits of time keeping after living in Canada for twenty years. In anticipation of a meeting of the coalition government, he finds the seating arrangement not quite to his satisfaction and is swift to make his feelings known to the presumed culprit: ‘With all due respect Ambassador, I am a joint secretary to this committee; you are not even a member; so, you shouldn’t even be in this room, let alone dictating to me how seats should be arranged. Secondly, Sir, this is the Permanent Committee on the Management of the Grand Coalition Affairs. Both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are co-chairs of this committee; they are also the two Principals in this Government. Unless you want to suggest, Sir, that you don’t recognise the Accord and the Constitution which put this government together…’ That shut him up. I continued to shuffle chairs around as I spoke. After three minutes, I was done…“Please you may invite them back in.” I had set the tone for the meeting.’
Or, ‘Don’t be a hypocrite!” Miguna seems to be in two minds as to his feelings about material wealth. On the one hand he loathes the rapaciousness of the (Kikuyu) political elite but, on the other, he sees no basic contradiction in pleading for Odinga to intercede in order to have an old judge and friend of Miguna compensated for the loss of about 3,800 acres of land, away from his birthplace. The picture of the home Miguna built before his return from Canada shows it not to be in some sprawling, residential estate inhabited by the masses but in the exclusive, plush suburb of Runda. It is also rather intriguing that, despite his declared hatred of ‘ethnic intolerance and jingoism,’ with the notable exception of the fellow revolutionaries of his youth, the great majority of the friends and acquaintances whom he names and acknowledges are of his own, Luo ethnic group. This serves to suggest that Miguna too has an Us versus Them mentality.
Or, ‘Don’t tell on your friends!” Miguna is quick to tell us how he once saw a ‘lady’ slink out of Odinga’s hotel room. On another occasion, he was enjoined to source another ‘lady’ for one of Odinga’s political henchmen, (married, with children). He reveals that a female nominated member of parliament might well have been the prime minister’s ‘squeeze.’The implication being that Miguna’s own conduct in matters sexual is either beyond reproach or, conspiratorially, much like Odinga’s. Miguna tells us how Odinga wept uncontrollably like a complete wimp in front of subordinates from utter frustration at the machinations of his rivals. ‘It didn’t help us that Raila was a disastrous negotiator, disorganised, often confused and unstructured.’ He wonders how Odinga might have acquired such a vast fortune in such a relatively short space of time, having spent much of his life subjected to the deprivations commonly reserved for political dissidents. We learn that Odinga is an ungrateful man: ‘Once Raila had no use for someone, he discarded and forgot about them.’ (Sic.) This is not the only instance of dubious grammar from a self-professed master of English usage. We are also informed, alas, of a mass exodus to the Dark Side: ‘Raila, his family and relatives have become too greedy. They have also all become too wealthy too fast.’ And as for value judgment, Miguna offers this damning, eventual appraisal of the man to whom he had once attributed greatness and whom he had once defended with such zeal: ‘Raila is not a leader. He is a vindictive, envious, jealous, confused, lecherous and evil man.’
And finally, ‘Don’t repeat yourself!’ Miguna is so intent on consigning Odinga to the rubbish bin of Kenyan history that he spends too many of his literary energies in concocting insults against his former comrade, thereby leaving the reader with the distinct impression that he doth protest too much and that his credibility is questionable.
Since its publication, heads have not rolled and minds have remained undecided: Was Miguna justified in writing Peeling Back the Mask? Was he motivated by altruism or selfishness? What is true, to date, is that lawsuits against him have not piled up, fast and furious and he has, indeed, dared any naysayer to ‘Come, baby, come!’ without any response. Therefore, Miguna has given credence to what must be a revelation only to the poor, village peasant, desirous of a handout, he himself might have become, had not merciful Providence intervened: namely, that Kenya’s body politic stinks.
Copyright: John Sibi-Okumu