Unmasked: How critics failed to tell you Miguna Miguna’s book was not all about Raila

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PIZ1-Miguna Miguna is shielded by his supporters after his the ceremony to launch his book Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya  was disrupted by goons in Mombasa.

~ Picture By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN

In this first episode of a three-part series, we focus on the intolerance to divergent views exhibited over Miguna Miguna’s book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya.

In Summary

  • Mr Miguna’s book kicked up a storm upon its release in July 2012 for its scathing attack on then Prime Minister Raila Odinga
  • It is not lost to many that the humiliation Mr Miguna suffered from Raila’s supporters then is likely to be repeated as he embarks on his campaigns for Nairobi’s gubernatorial seat
  • What was clear from all those who attempted to discuss Mr Miguna’s book was that none of them had read the book in its entirety
  • However, the book has its glaring factual errors about the happenings during Moi’s era and going by the doctrine of logical assumptions, one can conclude that Miguna’s account of the Kibaki and the ‘Mseto’ years — painting the government as inefficient ­— may also be erroneous

 

BY ABDULKARIM SHERMAN

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

As Miguna Miguna prepares to contest for the Nairobi gubernatorial seat, his political memoir, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, will likely come back to haunt him if the events that took place when it was released in 2012 are anything to go by.

The launch of Mr Miguna’s book was greeted with violent scenes from Cord leader Raila Odinga’s supporters, for its scathing attack on then Prime Minister.

MIGUNA02

An angry mob bays for Miguna’s blood outside a Mombasa hotel during the launch of his book. ~Pcture By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN

Mr Miguna’s critics felt his book was an attempt to bring down the then Prime Minister and for that he was roughed up and humiliated when he attended its launch ceremonies in different towns in the country.

Whether Mr Miguna has patched up things with the Cord leader and his supporters is another issue, but according to Dr Joyce Nyairo, in her book, Kenya@50, Trends, Identities and Politics of Belonging, the reception with which Mr Miguna’s book was greeted with reflected three key things about Kenya’s political culture;

“First, the tendency towards absolute intolerance to divergent views was evident because we saw vicious attack aimed at Miguna, including the cyber warriors who obtained and circulated illegal downloads of the book with the aim hurting Miguna’s sales. Other violent reactions were physical.

“We actually saw full-fledged combative riots at launches of Miguna’s book, long before we read a full-fledged review of the book that could suggest that someone had actually read it from cover to cover!

“Secondly, the use of ethnicity as a unit of literary analysis dominated many of the responses. And lastly, the fact that the read early habits of Kenyans are largely elliptical and second-hand and was evident all over the blogosphere,” Dr Nyairo argues.

But was the book all about Raila? It would not be surprising that far too many commentators had either solely relied on the Daily Nation’s serialisation of the book, or else they skipped large portions of the text and became dependent on what others were saying about Miguna and his book, to form their own opinion of the text.

Literary critics failed to intervene in the debate in a timely manner, thereby allowing politicians and their handlers to tell the whole nation how the book was to be read, according to Dr Nyairo.

Indeed, virtually all those who attempted to discuss Mr Miguna’s book in the mainstream media—whether seated on broadcasting benches or writing in newspaper pages—were united by one thing: none of them had read the book in its entirety.

If any of these discussants had actually read the book—rather than merely listened to Miguna summarising the content of his book at various interviews or skimmed through the media’s serialisation of a few pages of the book—we would not have heard so much aimless speculation about the identity of the facilitators of this book project because the answer to that question is stated so clearly in the closing pages of the book—to be precise, on page 562 under Acknowledgements!

But there is nothing new or peculiar in the brand of debates on Peeling Back the Mask that we were treated to. In the nearly two decades that I taught literature at a Kenyan public university, I experienced one rather depressing thing: very many literate Kenyans (even the ones studying literature!) are absolutely averse to reading anything that runs over fifty pages. They prefer to quickly skim through what others have said about the text than to learn firsthand from the text.

Anyone who regularly reads the comments section of our online dailies is familiar with this ultra-Kenyan form of criticism – making a comment on preceding comments very often without any reference to the issues raised in the article or the news item under discussion. This elliptical brand of criticism is invariably aided by tonnes of ad hominem engagement, manifested in vicious attacks of the author based on perceived personal traits.

It reduces the debate to a hateful personal attack, shaped by three main things: ethnic identity, political affiliation and economic status.

Any honest critic of Peeling Back the Mask should start by commending Miguna for having the dogged discipline to sit down and write. In the cycle of appointments to and dismissal from high office, very few Kenyans have had the mental fortitude to stare down our bloodthirsty media and reflect on their time in public service in ways that will enrich posterity.

Additionally, it is important for critics of Miguna to put his work within the traditions started by Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Odinga and Bildad Kaggia. For without doubt, Suffering without Bitterness, Not Yet Uhuru and Roots of Freedom were the precursors to Miguna’s “settling of political scores”.

The only difference lies in Miguna’s use of rather coarse and reckless language to poke at his enemies. But on account of Miguna’s voluble tell-all tale, subsequent memoirs have adopted a guarded tone, filled with disclaimers right from the very first page. Jeremiah Kiereini’s A Daunting Task is a case in point. This story of a former permanent secretary, head of the civil service and secretary to the cabinet, is a story of (dis)closures—a search for closure that is bogged down by the consequences of disclosure.

“There are truths not yet ripe for revelation and I have no desire to attain the short-lived fame that accompanies the loose disclosure of scandal and gossip … Discretion . Is strength, while bald truth is the path to dissention,” Kiereini writes.

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This story is mainly based on excerpts from Dr Joyce Nyairo’s book, Kenya @50 Trends, Identities and Politics of Belonging. You can get a copy in local book stores.

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