The Miguna has landed, said a Kenyan wag. Last year, Miguna Miguna, Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s controversial and combative advisor on Coalition, Constitutional and Legal Affairs was dropped from his job.
And with that, the country witnessed one of the bitterest political fall-outs between master and servant of recent Kenyan history.
An angry Miguna promised that he would write a book that would “undress” Raila and his cronies, and shatter the PM’s carefully crafted image as a nationalist, reformist, and clean leader.
He maybe many things, and Miguna’s critics accuse of being “delusional”, having an ego the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro, confrontational, reckless, bad-mannered, a litany of other failings and, even, of being a criminal. However, Miguna is also studious, a teetotaler, and clearly he sits up late into the night burning midnight oil huddled over his computer like no other man in his rank.
He didn’t disappoint, and delivered the book he promised last week, “Peeling Back The Mask”. Appropriately it caused a mini storm, and frenzy on Kenyan blogs and social media.
“Peeling Back The Mask” is a book that, clearly, had been in the works for a while before the Raila-Miguna fall-out, and the story of Miguna’s life is the best bit of it—although unfortunately, it will not get attention like the political pages.
It also seems that the book did not start out as an attack on Raila, his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), or a swipe at President Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity – especially their alleged role in stealing the December 2007 election.
The logical thread I sense is a story of Miguna, rising much like US President Barack Obama from adversity, to greatness. In that Miguna scheme, the ODM were probably a bunch of heroic, but confused and beleaguered bunch, with Miguna as the one who rides in to save and organise them as victory was being stolen from them in December 2007 at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) tally centre.
When Raila edged him out of office, he messed that script. Perhaps an angry Miguna then went and rewrote parts of the original script and sprinkled it with emotional and sharp attacks.
I, of course, don’t know if he did any of this. However, if he did, he did not really erase the entire old book, and bits of it still show through. I can detect the outline of THREE BOOKS in “Peeling Back The Mask” that jump at me. The more controlled story of his youth and triumph; the political story of his hero Raila and ODM; and the third book on Raila and ODM as villains.
It is, for example, striking for me that if one ignores all the special effects, Miguna does not actually put a smoking gun in Raila’s hands – he neither accuses him of personally stealing the public’s money in a PM’s office he portrays as peopled with thieving officials (except him), nor of giving direct orders for a corrupt action. Given the overall tone of the book that was surprising. Which suggests to me that while he was writing most of the book, he was not looking out for that kind of evidence or, if he has it, he still chose not to include it.
The image of Raila that emerges, as far as corruption goes, is that he tolerates crooked officials and surrounds himself with men of dubious ethics (except Miguna, of course). Not that he is the Crook-in-Chief. Hmmh!
Or is it that Miguna developed some kind of father-son complex with Raila, and did not want to totally burn him and cast away his ashes?
And that is what I find fascinating about “Peeling Back The Mask”. It is like an onion, with many layers that as you peel them off, you find many surprising revelations that go against the common view in Nairobi of many things in Kenyan politics today.
Which are these surprises?
THE REAL PRESIDENT MWAI KIBAKI: The common view in Kenya, is that Kibaki is a weak president, easy to manipulate, tired, inattentive, tends to suffer bouts of amnesia, and to sleep off in meetings.
The first person who suggested to me that is far from the truth – and that Kibaki is a sharp, alert, accomplished operator – was documentary maker Salim Amin. Kibaki was a good friend of Salim’s father, the legendary photojournalist Mo Amin.
In June 2006, Salim’s documentary about his father’s work and his sometimes uneasy relationship with him, Mo & Me, was released.
About two years earlier, Salim got an appointment to meet Kibaki to interview him for the documentary. The meeting took place at State House. Kibaki arrived, was wired up, and the cameras rolled. Kibaki told Salim nothing that he didn’t know, nor answered his questions about critical information gaps he was battling to fill.
Salim, almost in despair, asked Kibaki if he could walk with him in the gardens of State House so he could get a nice atmosphere shot for his documentary. The president’s microphone was removed, and they walked. When the got to some tree shades, Kibaki stopped, turned to Salim and answered all the questions he had avoided, and gave him other rich information he had not sought.
Salim was stunned. The old man’s mind, was alive and deadly. Kibaki wanted to help Salim make the documentary, and he made sure to give him the information he needed. However, it seems he didn’t want to appear in it, perhaps fearing that as president he might distract; he wanted it to be Salim and Mo’s story. Because he wasn’t wired, none of what he said was recorded. Salim, however, got his information and documentary. And Kibaki got his wish – he didn’t appear in it. And few will ever know that he had any hand in the making of Mo & Me.
This same Kibaki Salim encountered reappears in “Peeling Back The Mask”; going to Kilaguni go negotiate a peace deal with Raila as post-election violence was raging; then dodging all meetings; thus maneuvering the ODM and his PNU side who were eager to assure a burning country that their leaders were taking care of business, to issue a public relations statement claiming that a lot of progress had been made.
The thing about this, is that it allowed Kibaki not to be bound by whatever agreements were announced if he didn’t like them with a clean conscience, because the truth is that there had been no meeting or discussion at which those things were agreed.
That is a Machiavellian masterfulness few African presidents have, and Miguna’s revelations show that the real Kibaki is the very opposite of the vegetable and bumbling old man commentators, cartoonists, and some diplomats portray him to be.
In 2009, when the Grand Coalition was still going through a turbulent phase, and it was alleged that Kibaki was hiding out in State House, shamed by the election fiasco, disoriented and totally not in charge, a big delegation from an international organisation (that shall remain unnamed) came to Nairobi to discuss with government officials and to meet him.
At the meeting at State House, Kibaki showed up with four ministers and four Permanent Secretaries. His handshake was firm, he introduced all his ministers and officials by name, and got down to business. The foreign delegation had been warned that he would be a disaster. He turned out to be the most effective person on the Kenyan side of the table.
Though he didn’t speak much, when the discussion was meandering, one of the foreign dignitaries who is a long-term friend told me, Kibaki would intervene and bring the meeting back on track.
He surprised all when at the end of the meeting, he summed up the points of agreements, the actions outlined, and what each side would do. “Have I captured everything, and summed it up well?” he asked. “Yes”, the meeting agreed.
My friend still puzzled, told me later in the evening; “I don’t know what happened in the meeting, but the Kibaki we met was not the one we had been told to expect”, he said. “In that meeting he was, without doubt, the conductor of the orchestra”.
Reading between the lines, Miguna’s book paints him in much the same terms.
There are many other gems in Miguna’s book, but in Part II that will follow in a few days, I shall focus on …… (1) The insights of how, when the chips are down, the Kenya political class is very tight and more united in protecting its interests than the public food fights suggest. (2) How much Raila fits that curious profile of African radical turned pro-business leader – contrary to the popular view in Kenya that he is still some kind of closet communist. (3). How much Miguna’s book confirms what Minister Sally Kosgei is quoted as having said about Kibaki and Raila in the Wikileaks US diplomatic cables – that they are in a “mutual admiration club”. (4) Finally, how “Peeling Back The Mask” confirms the main reason some leaders in the Eastern African region are privately rooting for Raila to become the next president of Kenya because he is the kind of man they “can do business with”, as a senior official in the Uganda capital Kampala.
“Peeling Back The Mask” is, in more ways than one, an early Christmas present for Kibaki and Raila.
Watch this space for Part II.
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