By Dominic Odipo
It is an angry book, very angry indeed and the author makes very little effort to hide this fact from the reader. The anger, which apparently arises from the fact and manner of his suspension as the Prime Minister’s Advisor for Coalition Affairs, festers and courses through its pages.
But, for the first time ever, someone who has worked very closely with Raila Odinga, both before and after he became the Prime Minister of Kenya, has taken him on directly, no holds barred, and the effect, as they used to say in the old Smirnoff Vodka advert, is shattering.
When you finally come to page 559, the end of the main text of Miguna Miguna’s latest book, “Peeling Back the Mask: A quest for Justice in Kenya”, the question that immediately springs to mind is this: Which one is the real Raila Odinga? Is he the former political activist and indefatigable fighter for political and constitutional reforms whom his Luo compatriots reverently refer to as ‘Jakom’ or ‘Agwambo’?
Or he the would-be emperor without any clothes that Miguna so stridently tries to depict in this chronicle? Yet that question is not just a simple question; it is an answer within a question.
The fact that such a question can now be asked at all about the Prime Minister’s political and personal DNA is the real issue here.
If Miguna’s primary objective was to lift the veil and let his readers peer behind the halo that has hitherto enveloped the Prime Minister, then he has succeeded even beyond his own expectations. If, in his anger, he meant to begin the structured deconstruction of the Prime Minister as a man, a leader, a reformer and a politician, then, there again, he has largely succeeded.
Last week, it was announced that the Prime Minister would not be going to court to sue Miguna over the assorted allegations against him that litter this book. Whoever advised him accordingly must be a very good lawyer. If you go to court in this situation, you could be setting up a rogue and chain reaction whose final course and outcome you might not be able to control.
Fortunately for the Prime Minister, Kenya is not a reading nation. Those who will join me in reading every page of this book from the “Declaration” on page 11 Roman to the “dream that tomorrow will be different” on page 559 will probably not reach ten thousand.
And since the libel and defamation laws will loom over the mainstream media and keep the more juicy and unflattering anecdotes about the Prime Minister out of it, the dogs menacingly sleeping in this book might continue to lie, maybe until after the next presidential elections which Raila is set to contest. For Raila and his political supporters, they had better.
But if any of them goes around preaching to fellow believers that this book will not have any impact on Raila’s future as a politician or as a person, then he is either living in Cloud Cuckooland or has simply not read the book. As simple as that.
One of the more notoriously frustrating characteristics of the Miguna approach and style is that he does not just throw around his opinions and conclusions haphazardly.
He carefully assembles the relevant facts and then meticulously presents them to the reader, complete with dates, times and the exact settings and locations in which important meetings or discussions were allegedly held.
Throughout the book, you will find references to meetings, which began, for example, at 12:07 and ended at 3:10, together with the names of all the people who attended. Important mobile telephone calls or messages are also mentioned and quoted, along with the exact time they were made or received.
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Conversations are reproduced verbatim and he invariably brings his legal mind and eye to bear on game-changing meetings and situations, fully capturing those messages, which, he says, can be conveyed only by body language.
“Thereafter, Raila and the rest of the office tried to avoid me like the plague. I didn’t care. I hadn’t taken the onerous public service position to please anyone. I was engaged to advise. To do that I needed to be professional, objective and competent. Raila hired me to provide him with unvarnished truth. Had he wanted a court jester, they were in adequate supply in Kenya.”
Scores of scathingly opinionated, if rather juicy titbits like this litter this highly readable book.
That many of them not just badly bruise the Prime Minister but seriously wound him, there can be no doubt. If the Prime Minister’s closest political confidantes actually advise him to ignore Miguna’s book, they will be doing him a great disservice. There are books and people you can ignore and others you simply can’t.
Is “Peeling Back the Mask: A quest for Justice in Kenya” a good or a bad book? According to Oscar Wilde, the 19th Century British author and poet, there is no such thing as a good or a bad book. “Books are either well written or badly written”, he used to say. And there it is in one word.
This book is angry, indeed, but it is well written. It lifts the veil surrounding the Prime Minister for reasons, which could very well have been personal and vindictive.
But it gives ordinary Kenyans an invaluable peek behind the curtains and corridors of power, even if some of its peripheral assertions were to turn out questionable