The cover of Miguna Miguna’s memoir, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya.
In this second episode, we continue to look at the inconsistencies in Miguna’s memoir,Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya.
By BY ABDULKARIM SHERMAN
Miguna’s elaboration of a memoir tradition that was started back in the 1960s did not, therefore, urge other high-ranking members of our society to come forward with their truths. Instead, it triggered the return of silence and muted rememberances.
Overall, Miguna’s contribution to our nation’s history suffers some critical errors in the rendering of that past. He tells us that the constitution was “amended in 1983 to make Kenya a de jure one party state.” That is incorrect. The Constitution was thus amended in 1981. Miguna rightly depicts the University of Nairobi in the mid-1980s as an institution that danced to the whims of the Moi government.
But he stretches this argument unduly when he lists books that were banned in those years, including those by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I was a postgraduate student in the Literature Department at the University of Nairobi when Miguna was an undergraduate and I regularly bought Ngugi’s books at the university bookshop.
My lecturers taught them openly in class and I wrote copious term essays and examinations on Ngugi. I studied A Grain of Wheat for my A levels. Dr Eddah Gachukia taught me The River Between and The Black Hermit in the first year of my undergraduate studies. Decolonising the Mind, Devil on the Cross and Petals of Blood were core reading in my MA Criticism of African Fiction course, and I have a vivid memory of buying Detained, Moving the Centre andMatigari from Prestige Bookshop on Mama Ngina Street.
So when were Ngugi’s books banned? From where and by whom? This claim has been made far too often but no one has ever tabled the Gazette Notice that stipulated this alleged ban. Perhaps,Miguna and others conflate all of Ngugi’s works with the banning of live performances of “Ngaahika Ndeenda” (I Will Marry When I Want) in Kamiirithu in 1977.
I detail my prescribed engagement with Ngugi’s works in high school and throughout my years at the University of Nairobi to support my argument that Miguna’s word is not gospel. Sometimes he is careless with the truth. The doctrine of logical assumptions leads me to conclude that if this aspect of Miguna’s account of the Moi years is incorrect, there are likely to be other errors in his rendering of the Kibaki and the mseto years—a tendency to paint government as unduly brutal, backward and interfering.
In Ike Oguine’s A Squatter’s Tale, we encounter this psyche of the African exile, an incessant need to paint the government as unrelentingly tainted and brutal and the economy as hopelessly beyond redemption.
While one might account for Miguna’s tendency to expect the worst from successive Kenyan governments, there is no excuse for his failure to get fundamental facts right about who served in government and when. Errors of this kind make some of his claims simply ridiculous. For instance, he argues that the reason Kikuyus and Kisiis constituted more than 60 per cent of the Kenyan diaspora community in the early 1990s was because “up to that point, only Gikuyus and Kisiis had served as ministers of finance … it is conceivable that those ministers were only assisting members of their ethnic communities to get scholarships or obtain the necessary foreign exchange to travel abroad.”
Musalia Mudavadi, a Luhya, was finance minister in 1993 before Simeon Nyachae, a Kisii, was appointed to the ministry in 1997. Other finance ministers were Dr Francis Masakhalia and Professor George Saitoti. Going by Miguna’s claims, Luhyas and Maasais should have flooded the diaspora.
Another factual error relates to Simeon Nyachae’s son, Charles, who has never served as a cabinet minister, as Miguna states.
Miguna’s rendering of the chronology of the election related violence of 2007-08 is rather shifty. He forgets that in the Rift Valley, forced evictions started as early as September 2007 in Kuresoi constituency. He omits to mention that on November 25, 2007, the PNU branded T-shirt worn by fifteen-year-old Laban Githaiga incensed some young men in Kibera’s Laini Saba so much that they beat him and dumped him unconscious by the railway tracks. He died in hospital two days later. Miguna does not seem to recall the killing of administration policemen in Nyanza on December 26, 2007. His outrage over the shooting of “thousands of Luo youth” in Kisumu and Nairobi washes out the story of the thousands of Kikuyu and Kisii peasants mercilessly killed in Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Kericho and Nandi in the four weeks of January 2008 before Mungiki’s brutal revenge attacks in Naivasha on Sunday, January 27, 2008.
Miguna’s fury with the violence of the security forces is palpable and repeatedly expressed. But it does not extend to cover his account of the burning of women and children in that Kiambaa church near Eldoret on New Year’s Day in 2008. He mentions that defining moment in the post-election violence just once, in a bland and fleeting tone, completely devoid of indignation or compassion. So this is not a matter of outrage at wanton destruction of human lives; it is outrage over which human lives. Those of suspected PNU sympathisers command no raised tone of voice, no persistent and repeated mention and fury. And this comes from an indefatigable human rights defender, a vocal advocate of individual rights who tells us later in the story that he has “never subscribed to the belief that all struggles need martyrs”.
In documenting the fallout after the announcement of the presidential election, nowhere doesMiguna, the master of broadcasting injustice, proffer an opinion on the tortured land question and cycle of dispossession that was tied to ODM’s demands over a stolen election and used to justify the horrors in the Rift Valley.
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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