In ‘Peeling Back The Mask’; Why An Angry Aide’s Book Might Be An Unlikely Early Christmas Present For Kenya President Kibaki And Prime Raila (Part 1), we argued that after all the pre-publication promotion, former Kenya PM Raila Odinga’s book, “Peeling Back The Mask” was not really Earth-shattering.
It is an interesting read, and no doubt embarrassed Raila and many of his cronies in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), but it really did not surprise, and probably won’t do them – and anyone else painted negatively in the book – lasting damage.
Miguna Miguna helped his critics when he left the country immediately after the launch of the book on a “promotion tour”, meaning his voice has been absent as those who were the subject of his barbs punch holes in his tome. In perhaps the most revealing outcome, PM Raila’s lawyer Paul Mwangi this week wrote an article putting his man on a high pedestal, explaining why he would not sue Miguna. It was thinly disguised and arrogant dismissal, so much so that in the article/statement there was not even a single reference to Miguna directly by name or the title of his book even once.
Yet, for me, it is the book within the book, the “Peeling Back The Mask Junior” inside “Peeling Back The Mask”, the book that Miguna did not write – or wrote accidentally – that is truly fascinating.
In “Peeling Back The Mask”, when there was tension at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) and all the political warriors from ODM and President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) were squabbling over results, Miguna arrives. He finds the ODM chiefs in the main hall, and he heads in the backroom where the tally centre was, and there he found PNU operatives streaming in and out of the room, presumably doctoring the results.
Miguna is making a scene, when ODM National Chairman Henry Kosgey arrives and pulls him away, saying he was out of line. Miguna thinks the ODM leaders are either cowards, or too stupid to see that they were being cheated. But were they?
He returns to this theme of paralysis, short-termism, opportunism, and even political naivety on the part of his ODM again during the negotiations to divide the spoils of power that led to formation of the Grand Coalition government with Kibaki as president and Raila as PM. Some ODM folks wanted a re-run of the election, others wanted to go to court, others thought they should have a rogue swearing-in ceremony and install Raila as president, others thought ending violence was paramount, and as long as they got something, it was okay.
From my understanding, the thing about this is that it is the way the Kenya Political Class has done deals and shared the groceries since independence. And it explains why until 2008, Kenya had avoided the bouts of civil war and coups that consumed every country in the Greater Horn of East Africa except it and Tanzania. In other words the tendency of the ODM folks to go for a quarter or half a loaf of bread instead of the whole thing during the peace talks, is how the Kenyan political class in general succeeds, not how it fails. In Kenya, it seems it is more important to sit at the political dinner table, than to be at the head of it.
As someone who has covered wars in my own Ugandan, and in South Sudan, DR Congo, and Rwanda, as the December 2007 election approached, I was telling my colleagues at Nation Media Group – especially (now) Editorial Director Joseph Odindo, who is a long-term friend – that the election would end in violence. We had many arguments, and he kept telling me; “No, it won’t, in Kenya, we always go the edge of the cliff and step back”. The half-heartedness and cynical calculation Miguna’s “Peeling Back The Mask” describes, finally gave me the most vivid insight into what Joe meant.
So what went wrong? Every Kenyan election has had violence – but measured. Small scale ethnic cleansing and controlled mini-massacres in the Rift Valley and Mombasa. The political class, it seems, had always looked at this violence as “necessary” and actually used it to consolidate its power. In the Rift Valley and Mombasa, from some of the more thoughtful minds I have spoken to, the violence and ethnic cleansing of the Daniel arap Moi years had two purposes.
One, to frighten the many “immigrants” in the Rift Valley, especially the Kikuyu people there, not to vote in too many of their kin as MPs. That would ensure that the Kalenjin would never feel disenfranchised. Secondly, the small-scale ethnic cleansing enabled the “natives” in the Rift Valley to repossess small plots of land from the “outsiders” and hold out the hope that the Kalenjin Establishment – or the KANU party elders then – were committed long-term to land redistribution. They were not, because they were the largest land holders. However, the violence also forced the “immigrants” to invest in homage and loyalty to the Rift Valley Power Men as protectors, who would protect them and ensure they didn’t lose everything.
This charade happened all over Kenya, and the only way it could persist is if the Political Class did not fight for too long over sharing power. And, indeed, in 2008 the fight between PNU and ODM didn’t last long – at least according to “Peeling Back The Mask”.
And it worked. One beautiful example is what happened to Equity Bank in, of all places, Kisumu – Raila homeland. In Kenya’s divided public opinion, some see Equity Bank as the apex of “Kikuyu capitalism and economic hegemony”. The Equity Bank branch in Kisumu is on Oginga Oginga Street. The buildings before and after it were ransacked during the protests that followed the announcement of Kibaki’s victory. But it survived. If there had been a single institution that would have been taken down in Kisumu then, it was Equity Bank.
At the same time as Equity Bank went unscathed, there were reports of radicalised youth threatening to, or even trying, to attack the Kisumu Molasses Plant – owned by the Oginga family. Just like some see Equity Bank as a symbol of Kikuyu economic hegemony, the Kisumu Molasses Plant is to some a symbol of Luo economic aspirations. That one day, it is highly educated – and often snobbish – elite, will have its turn to rule and own a juicy piece of Kenya.
That any Luo would even cast a hostile glance at the Kisumu Molasses Plant in the midst of the post-election violence (PEV) – while leaving Equity Bank – suggests that the ground had shifted in ways the political class had missed. Indeed, even worse, in the Rift Valley, a farm belonging to the region’s patriarch, former President Moi was attacked.
The peace deal and Grand Coalition therefore was a collective panicked surrender by the political class. Kibaki could not insist on ruling alone or that he had won an unvarnished victory. He had to share. Raila and the coalition he had built could not insist on a re-run, or that Kibaki hand power over to them. They accepted to split the cake. In so doing, they cut their losses, and ensured that the PEV did not grow into a popular insurgency against the country’s collective political class. Though that is not the story “Peeling Back The Mask” set out to reveal, it is the one it ends up telling brilliantly.
And so we come to the point where the next election in Kenya is approaching in March 2013.
In one of the most-eye-opening sentences in his book, after Miguna repeatedly portrays Raila as shifty, calculating, image obsessed, and a man with an annoying tendency to go soft whenever he confronted Kibaki, he tells us that the reason for all this is because the fellow is too preoccupied with what civil society and the international community would think of him. That he was terrified of being seen by the international community as being “intransigent”. Wow! That, to me, is one of the issues that, in calmer times, if Miguna had examined closely, would have produced rich insights.
However, this tendency to want to be in the good books of, especially the west, is something in Raila that at least three Eastern African presidents have noted.
In the case of Uganda, for example, despite the fact that in the past there was little love lost between President Yoweri Museveni and Raila, State House in Kampala takes the view that the Kenyan PM’s strong bent toward cultivating the west, will be a “good asset in the management of Somalia in the future”. Most of the money that keeps the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM, going comes from the Americans and Europeans. Kibaki has tended to be a little aloof toward the west. Raila would cultivate them.
Because Raila likes to position himself as a pan-Africanist and nationalist, hence the reason he will run his ads on DSTv during the Africa Cup of Nations or when an African team is playing at the World Cup, we rarely see that Anglo-Saxon-phile side of him as we do in that snippet from “Peeling Back The Mask”.
But even beyond that, the book does help us understand that Raila is really just another member of the Eastern African Boys Political Club. Look at them; Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Uganda’s Museveni, even further afield the FRELIMO leadership in Mozambique, and so on. They were leftists, radicals, dyed-in-the-wool African nationalists who were scornful of the inequities of western capitalism.
Once in power, they became gung-ho capitalists and free-marketeers (to me a good thing), who surround themselves with and carry more businessmen on their foreign trips than politicians and journalists. But Raila not only goes over the top, according to Miguna he takes quite a few extra miles and helps himself too – thus becoming the head of a multimillion dollar empire spanning many countries.
Raila has over the years to overcome the fear that, like his father Jaramogi Oginga, he is a dangerous anti-business closet communist. Then along comes a book that promises that it will undress him. It does, but what do business people see? Not a naked emperor, but a torso lined with dollar bills. In other words, Raila is one of them.
Raila says he won’t sue Miguna. Don’t be surprised if he also buys a ticket for the author of “Peeling Back The Mask” to come home soon. As an enemy, Miguna has probably done Raila a greater political service than all his friends combined.
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