Thursday, 9 August 2012

peeling back the mask: a quest for justice in kenya- my belated review

The book Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest For Justice In Kenya was written by Mr.Miguna Miguna and published by Gilgamesh Africa in 2012. The book is a political memoir meant to tell the world of Miguna Miguna's experiences from his return from Canada in 2007 to take part in the election campaign of prime minister Raila Odinga, to his acrimonious suspension as advisor on coalition affairs and falling out with the prime minister.
Miguna Miguna is a lawyer by profession who was, from 2008 until 2012 the prime minister’s senior adviser on coalition, legal and constitutional affairs, when he was indefinitely suspended. He had been a practicing lawyer in Canada where he had fled from Kenya after being arrested and tortured as a student leader in the late 1980s.

The book is written chronologically from Miguna's childhood in Magina village, in Nyando to his experiences in high school at Onjiku and Njiiri's high school. From there it tells of his coming of age as a young adult in NYS and university of Nairobi as a student leader. Finally, it details his subsequent arrest, torture in Nyayo house, exile to Tanzania, Swaziland and eventual asylum in Canada. In Canada, he eventually studied law and settled down, establishing a legal practice and engaging in political activism in university on issues affecting the black community in Canada. The book then proceeds to tell of his eventual return to Kenya to a political career in 2007 up to his suspension as advisor on coalition affairs in 2011.
By reading the book, the impression one gets is that MigunaMiguna was always a young man who was focused, extremely confident, well aware of his rights and not afraid to stand up to authority when he felt hisrights had been infringed upon. This insight goes a long way in understanding why Miguna raised so much hell when he was suspended by the right honorable prime minister as his special advisor.
The book’s main thesis is that RailaOdinga is not a reformer as many believe and that he is a nepotistic, incoherent and does nothing to investigate the alleged corruption by some of his aides. Says Miguna: “As this book will, I hope, show, I came to believe that Raila wasn’t honest or ready for the complete overhaul and transformation of the Kenyan society, starting with its leadership and politics. His rhetoric was intended to woo votes so as to ascend to power. Beyond that, he lacked genuine vision and commitment.” He goes further to state that Raila does not value loyalty. Miguna does this by quoting all the experiences he had with the PM in Canada, as an advisor and member of the ODM strategy team prior to the 2007 general elections, the ODM parliamentary nominations, post-election violence and subsequent mediation and setting up of the grand coalition government.
Miguna'sstyle is one of methodically quoting the dates, meetings and events so as to back up his arguments and theories.
Peeling Back The Mask: A Quest For Justice In Kenya comes across as a deeply personal book. It does provide a very thorough insight into the man MigunaMiguna, by detailing the experiences that Miguna went through from childhood till he was indefinitely suspended as the advisor to the prime minister on coalition affairs.
However, reading the “revelations” on the manner of sourcing for campaign funds and pre-election pacts, one gets the feeling that, “I know all this stuff, and sowhat’s your point exactly?”The point on ODM being made up of “KANU orphans” and Raila Odinga being more concerned with achieving power rather than the fighting for democracy, rule of law and natural justice cannot be lost on any casual observer of Kenyan politics since 2002 or even back to the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992.
That Miguna blames his lack of knowledge of Raila's true character and how ODM was to behave in the most trying times prior to and after joining the grand coalition government on “naivety and belief that the good was more than the bad.” To me this is just incredible. Miguna must have known what Kenyan politics stood for when he returned from Canada in mid-2007. Kenyan politics is governed by tribalism, backroom deals, opportunism and singular lack of ideological commitment to issues.
My evaluation of Miguna is that once he made his triumphant return to Kenya, despite the many financial, personal and mental sacrifices he made to the cause of Raila Odinga, he could never really fit in. his repeated criticisms of the lack of intellectual depth, planning and debating of issues in the presidential campaign amongst  all candidates and parties, the shoddy way in which the mediation efforts were carried out and the complete dysfunction of the grand coalition government are bemusing. I fail to see what is so surprising to him in all this.
Peeling back the mask: a quest for Kenyan justice is an OK book. The bitterness, the anger and the frustration so palpable while reading chapter after chapter do not dim the intellectual fire, legal sharpness and force of logic that Miguna Miguna brings to the table. Raila Odinga is not the reformer that many in the political class, media and general public purport him to be.
This argument is presented to the final conclusion with admirable intensity of logic and presentation of well-presented facts and evidence. Reading the book, I got the feeling that it needn’t have taken over 600 pages to get many political analysts to get round to that point of view. It is a book that is well written in parts, although many pages are gobbled up by unnecessary information that gets too detailed. However, I would still recommend anyone to read the chapters on the ICC, and how the ODM side of government eventually got to bargain itself into government following the chaos of early 2008.
Anyone hoping to read the book to get a feel of how the “two sides” of government have interacted since 2008, as well as how they came to being will not be disappointed. For those who have little knowledge of how Kenyan politics is carried out prior to elections, and what drives many of the political class to spend so much of their money and resources to get into government, this book is an invaluable resource. But few will change their mind on how they view Kenyan politics and their preferences. At the end of the day, peeling back the mask reveals open secrets on the Kenyan politics. It is all about the eating, and politicians are guided by their own material interests rather than deeper convictions and ideologies. Tribe is the key factor on how Kenyans vote and will vote. No side is better than the other.
And to me, how and if this can ever be changed is the real mask that we should be trying to peel.


  1. I concur buddy am currently reading this book...the strong emotion can be misintepreted 4 a more personal cause than justice bt the book is an Ok as uve rightly put it!

  2. Good post. Your concluding line said it all.