Friday, July 06, 2012

Mutunga, Miguna & Memory

 The Persistence of Memory, painting by Salvador Dali

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo

Before I segue into this digital essay proper let me say that comrades, colleagues and friends of Ndugu Kamoji Wachira, one of Kenya’s veteran anti-imperialist thinkers and activists are wishing him a speedy recovery. Sometime between 1 and 2 pm on Thursday, July 5, 2012 he was crossing the busy University Way via the zebra crossing near the Central Police station. As he was about to reach the Muindi Mbingu side a Subaru Legacy whose driver was yakking on the cell phone knocked him. Luckily, the driver had the presence of mind to apply the breaks and so Ndugu Kamoji was thrown against the windscreen which softened the impact of the crash. He was quickly rushed to the Nairobi Hospital. There he had to endure several hours in the emergency ward as that private hospital basically held him hostage while sorting out under what system Kamoji would pay before he received the actual treatment. Thanks to Prof. Ngotho wa Kariuki who broke the news to Ndugu Wachira Waheire who in turn called me and other comrades and I for my part contacted Betty Kaari Murungi, Zahid Rajan, Oduor Ong’wen (who already knew), Miguna Miguna and others.

Interestingly enough Kamoji had just finished participating in the making of a documentary put together by a progressive Kenyan film worker of South Asian descent who works very closely with Zahid Rajan and  Kamoji was giving his input on the role of South Asian comrades in the Mau Mau War for Kenyan Independence-especially those who were involved in this nationalist struggle BEFORE Pio da Gama Pinto and other more high profile Kenyan freedom fighters of Asian descent like Makhan Singh.

I have always seen Kamoji-along with his contemporaries like Willy Mutunga, Alamin Mazrui, Edward Oyugi, Micere , Zarina Patel and Abdilatif Abdalla-as older ideological cousins, political mentors who bequeathed to the early 1980s youth and student activist generation valuable tools of theoretical and ideological clarity and practical guidelines charting a way forward of how to organize for a new Kenya.

Way back in 2003 when we were both living in Ontario, Canada Kamoji exhorted me to travel to Nairobi mini recorder in hand to capture the reminiscences, reflections and insights of George Anyona. Kamoji told me that the former MP and evergreen firebrand had a photographic memory and encyclopaedic mind when it came to the democratic struggles of the 1970s and 1980s. Anyona would, Kamoji, promised, give me valuable nuggets about the link between overt and covert, parliamentary and extra parliamentary struggles of that pivotal epoch in Kenyan history. Unfortunately for both of us, Anyona’s remarkable life was cut short when the car he was driving had a head on collision with another one in a Nairobi suburb. Gone with his life were all those memories that Kamoji was alluding to.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I had a déjà vu moment when the late  razor sharp minded Patrick Onyango Sumba succumbed to illness. Sumba had always been talking about the book he was writing on his experiences.

Both Kamoji and Willy Mutunga like reminding younger comrades like us to chronicle our experiences- the good, the bad and the ugly. Both have been particularly keen that one of us takes the plunge to talk about things like the Mwakenya crackdown and what led to it as well as later political developments in the late 1980s to the mid 1990s.

This is, to a certain extent, being done. I know I have worked on the history of the Kenyan anti-imperialist underground that is appearing as a chapter in a forthcoming book. Wafula Buke’s autobiography is in the works; Adongo Ogony is working on his own; Mwandawiro’s Kiswahili memoirs are being put together.

Every time I hear that someone who was part of that generation of struggle is launching a book, I get excited;  I get an electric buzz suffusing me; I make sure I attend the book launch. That is why I have been present at the respective book launches by Maina wa Kinyatti, Micere Mugo and Zarina Patel, to cite just a few.

As everyone knows by now, Miguna Miguna’s political memoirs, Peeling Back the Mask is scheduled to be officially unleashed on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at the Inter Continental hotel here in Nairobi. Many people-activists, the literati, the diplomatic corps, politicians, media houses have all been invited.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga was slated to be chief guest before his recent shocking withdrawal through a perfunctory and terse press statement saying he had declined the chief guest invitation because he had neither seen nor read Miguna's book.

As I wrote elsewhere:
“On a very separate note, Dr. Willy Mutunga and Miguna Miguna are friends. When the current Chief Justice was polishing up his doctorate at the Osgoode Law School at York University in northern Toronto in the early nineties, Miguna Miguna was also slaving away at his Law degree in the same institution. In fact both were residents of separate apartments in the Assiniboine quarters of York for those Kenyans who are familiar with that campus. Along with James Karanja, Omondi Obanda, Onyango Oloo, Adong'o Ogony, Kathure Kebaara and other progressive Kenyans both helped formed the Committee for Democracy in Kenya in 1992 which contributed to the struggle against Moi's one party dictatorship in those days. Willy was our convener and mentor.”-from a post on Jukwaa, the online Kenyan political discussion forum.
I found Willy’s refusal to attend the book launch sad, to say the very least. I have seen Willy at the Zarina, Kinyatti and other book launches for Kenyans who were part of the movement and I thought that Miguna’s launch was particularly relevant to Mutunga for at least two reasons:

  1. Miguna knows Willy  personally;
  2. There are literally a mere HANDFUL of real activists who have managed to penetrate those edifices of real political power- Willy and Raila being only amongst most high profile. At a slightly lower rung are people like Miguna Miguna who occupied sensitive positions in the corridors of state power.
If I were Willy Mutunga I would be curious, at the very least as to what Miguna had to say about being so close to the levers of state power. What lessons did Miguna draw during his stint as Adviser to Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Raila Odinga? CouldMiguna's narrative encourage others to churn out similar stories? Would it be an accurate account? What could we learn, perhaps of the dynamics and interplay between an activist of yesteryears who morphed into the bureaucrat/technocrat of today?

I hope the Chief Justice will still come to book launch, albeit just as a private person.

Memory is very important, especially to a political or social movement.

There is a document that I came across somewhere in cyberspace that describes the various types of leaders that a movement can engender:
Visionaries raise our view of the possible.  Strategists chart the vision and achieve what’s attainable.  Statespersons elevate the cause in the minds of both the public and decision-makers.  Experts wield knowledge to back up the movement's positions.  Outside Sparkplugs goad and energize, fiercely holding those in power to account.  Inside Advocates understand how to turn power structures and established rules and procedures to advantage.  Strategic Communicators deploy the rhetoric to intensify and direct public passion toward the movement’s objectives.  Movement Builders generate optimism and good will, infecting others with dedication to the common good.  Generalists anchor a movement, grounded in years of experience.  Historians uphold a movement’s memory, collecting and conveying its stories.  Cultural Activists pair movements with powerful cultural forces.  The happy confluence of each of these leadership roles is the hallmark of a successful movement-

"Leadership Roles Within an Activist Movement", Institute for Sustainable Communities(Advocacy and Leadership Center)
As you can see, many people can combine different skill sets.

Looking at the above excerpt, where can you for instance, place Willy Mutunga?

Where do you think Miguna belongs?

Do they have skills that overlap?

For instance I think that Miguna can claim “strategist” “expert” “inside advocate” “spark plug”  “communicator” and “historian” among his core political competencies.

And for obvious reasons, I want to laser in on Miguna’s role as “historian”. 

His hot off the press Peeling Back the Mask will add to the canon not only of  our national patriotic political memoirs, but more poignantly for people like myself, it will contribute to the growing catalogue of the Kenyan literature of exile (and return).

The book must be a must read for Kenyans in the Diaspora, especially since this is a story of how one of us “made it” in a manner of speaking, to become a key member of the Kenyan political establishment.

And for people like Onyango Oloo, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Micere Mugo, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Zarina Patel, Oduor Ong’wen, Adongo Ogony, Wafula and as I argue, Willy Mutunga, this is part of our collective library, tracking the trials and tribulations, the triumphs and foibles of someone who was part of that anti Moi, anti dictatorship activist community keeping our memory intact by putting together a work which will survive our own upcoming demise.

Miguna has contributed to our collective and institutional memory simply by writing this book. On that account alone, Miguna deserves to be heard laying out his case and cause.

He should not and cannot be condemned unheard.

And that is where I believe the Chief Justice has failed a litmus test designed by the judicial arm of government that Willy heads.

After Mutunga refused to be the chief guest,  I called Miguna to ask him what was going on. Being such a grave matter, we agreed to meet somewhere in Nairobi. 

What Miguna told me was eye popping and eye opening.

First of all, Willy and Miguna actually met face to face-almost a month ago and had a three hour meeting to discuss the book launch. Miguna outlined to Willy a synopsis of what the book was about, underscoring that it was anchored on a quest for justice. He said that after listening to all this, Willy was enthusiastic about being the chief guest. He said that his name should be on the invitation card. Further he proposed that Miguna should announce in advance that Willy would be the chief guest. That way, the Chief Justice averred, it would be possible to glean both the positive as well as negative reactions so that Willy could weave them into his speech. Miguna said Willy did email him indicating that he would be the chief guest. The author of Peeling Back the Mask insisted that there was no way he could have trumpeted the Chief Justice’s name if Willy had declined.

Both Willy and Miguna are friends of mine and I believe they are both persons of integrity. 

As far as I can remember, I do not remember either of them lying to me about anything.

So I will leave it there and let my readers make their own conclusions.

On the question of memory, my comrade Zein Abubakar, the former CKRC Commissioner and Uraia Executive Director, told me that a good friend of mine, an academic who teaches literature at one of Kenya’s leading universities, recently launched a scathing attack on me, Onyango Oloo at a public forum held at the Stanley Hotel in downtown Nairobi. According to Zein this good friend of mine fumed:

“Where is my friend Onyango Oloo who was sitting just behind me a few minutes ago? I wanted him to hear me say this. I am tired of people like Onyango Oloo who is always harping on what they did for the struggle twenty, thirty years ago? Why this obsession with the past? What are you doing TODAY??!!”
No comment from yours truly.

Talking of memory there is a passage from one of Willy Mutunga’s favourite authors, Amilcar Cabral that I have MEMORIZED:
Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories. .
Is that what Miguna has attempted to do in Peeling Back the Mask?

I do not know. 

Like everyone else, I am dying to read the book.

And I will be at the book launch on Saturday, July 14, 2012.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya


Anonymous said...

whatever mesmirizes me is that the book to be launched has been leaked to other people and therefore the answer as to whether it was financed by RAO's rivals is barely open.No problem. bring it forward. We will read it. Kenyans are waiting for the piece of work meant to bring one person down.

Anonymous said...

If you have written here is true, assuming that you are as honest as your tone suggests, then the CJ is a very dishonest and sly guy. Or could it be that he was intimidated by some forces that working hard to discredit Miguna and his latest works? If so, what does that say about the person of the CJ?

Anonymous said...

Onyango Oloo, you have written a good piece. You have given us what Miguna told you about his three hour meeting with Mutunga. You haven't told whether you talked to Mutunga on the same and, if so, what Mutunga had to say. Is this an oversight or is it that Miguna side of story is gospel truth.

Kenya Democracy Project said...

Here is an email response sent to me by Willy Mutunga on the 9th of July 2012:

Willy Mutunga

5:08 PM (11 hours ago)

to me
I guess my word counts for nothing!
How would you get a balanced view unless you let me tell my story?

Dr. Willy Mutunga, D.Jur,SC,EGH
Chief Justice/President, Supreme Court of Kenya

Kenya Democracy Project said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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