Friday, July 27, 2012

The Pitfalls of Psychoanalyzing Peeling Back the Mask

A Literary/Political Riposte to Elderkin, Ngunjiri et al

By Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

Largely due the popularity of television based hyped up megaentertainers like Oprah and Dr. Phil, millions of people around the world delude themselves that they have the power of gazing deeply into other people’s psyches to discern arcane kernels of wisdom into what drives this or that individual.

All you have to do is to equip yourself with some clichés from the dwarf Tower of Psychobabble gleaned from a paperback best seller picked at the local supermarket; look appropriately earnest, brows furrowed with your neo-Rodin Thinker’s pose; drop a few stock terms from the Freudian canon and hey presto, you are an established “world psychiatric authority”on individual personalities-especially those in alleged internal turmoil.

To those who access this blog from far flung places like Kiribati, Sao Tome, Monaco, Bangla Desh and the US Virgin Islands, let me remind you that I am keyboarding these thoughts from the tiny East African nation of Kenya which is destined, in a few short weeks, to dominate the middle distance athletics events at the forthcoming Olympic Games in London. What has dominated our country’s news headlines for the past two and a half weeks is not our prospects at that imminent global sports festival that is unraveling on the day I am uploading this particular post, but rather, a 614 page book written by the former adviser to the Kenyan Prime Minister.

After months of raucous, mouth watering, speculative, anticipatory, expletive filled controversy, Peeling Back the Mask was officially launched at a downtown Nairobi five star hotel two or three weekends ago with its combative author, Miguna Miguna, dramatically taking to the podium to make even more explosive menacing claims that are not even in the book.

What gave Peeling Back the Mask’s launch its edgy melodramatic Nigerian/Mexican telenovela flavor was the fact that the spitfire author devoted several chapters of his tome to brutally and unsparingly skewering his former high profile and powerful political heavyweight boss for whom he was previously the staunchest and most strident public defender.

The fact that both author and subject hail from same ethnic and cultural community had supporters of the Prime Minister who number in their millions up in arms, apoplectic at the effrontery of the younger man’s  iconoclastic assault on a figure revered deeply among the highly politicized  Luo community of western Kenya where incidentally  the present writer also hails from.

But before I proceed further, let me give my fellow surfers a quick précis of Peeling Back the Mask.

This is excerpted from a review I did for Kenya’s largest circulation English daily on the eve of the book’s launch:

    Contrary to popular myth and urban legends, what Miguna has put out is NOT a “tell all” tract whose sole aim is to discredit Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister of Kenya.

    Peeling Back the Mask is a political memoir, a retracing and retelling of the author’s ongoing existence. Given  Miguna’s professional, personal and political engagement with Raila Odinga especially over the last two or three years, that period of Miguna’s life is given prominence and one finds fascinating details, not just about the backdrop of the events that led to the stormy, bitter and very public parting of ways between the former high profile confidantes and comrades, but more interestingly, the painstaking role that Miguna Miguna and other ODM insiders and strategists played in building the Orange Democratic Movement into the electoral behemoth that it grew into and the ultimate ascendancy of the man popularly known as “Agwambo” to become the co-principal of Kenya’s grand coalition government cobbled together in the aftermath of  the post-election violence which broke out in the aftermath of the fiercely contested Presidential election results of December 2007.

    The memoirs which runs to 614 pages is divided into eight parts (Books One to Eight), comprising 21 chapters.

    Book One is about the author’s formative years growing up in Nyando, part of the Nyanza region in western Kenya among members of his Luo ethnic and cultural community. Miguna describes vividly his childhood and adolescent years in Magina, Nyatoto and Apondo; his time at the Onjiko Secondary School where he made his first mark as a militant youth and at Njiiri’s High School in Murang’a where he completed his A-levels before proceeding to the University of Nairobi. He recalls the stand offs with the state during his stint at the National Youth Service training in Gilgil and ends by delving into the maelstrom of radical campus politics from where he was ultimately rounded up along with other elected student leaders and forced to flee into exile in late 1987.


    Book Two commences with that traumatic transition which sees Miguna and his comrades traveling through neighbouring Tanzania and vegetating in the tiny southern African kingdom of Swaziland for several months before being airlifted to Canada as a government assisted refugee and permanent resident in 1988. This middle section portrays the emergence of Miguna as a Pan Africanist and global citizen and his sojourn at the University of Toronto where he completed his undergraduate studies in political science and Osgoode Law School at York University where he earned his first and second law degrees come alive with memories of Miguna’s involvement in the struggles of African immigrants, Caribbean people of African descent, Native and Indigenous People of the Americas and other progressive people in anti-racist and other struggles against oppression, especially against police brutality come alive for the reader. As a young lawyer concentrating on human rights, refugee and immigration law Miguna developed a reputation as courageous, outspoken and implacable advocate for the marginalized and dispossessed at the periphery of mainstream Canadian society. One has  to read the book for the many fascinating accounts of some of these court and community battles in the broader war to contribute to a more humane and equitable Canada.


    Book Three covers Miguna’s re-entry into Kenya after all those years abroad. Book Five is subtitled “In the Trenches” and looks at the battles pitting ODM against PNU through the tumultuous  2007 campaign right up to the onset of crisis following the disputed Presidential election results. The reader has a front row seat as he or she drinks in Miguna’s first hand, passionate account. Book Five subtitled “Standing Tall in the Corridors of Power” sees Miguna taking a critical look at the internal dynamics within the ODM team-dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of the party position during retreats to negotiate a power sharing arrangement; the author dangles some of the warning signs he observed in his unraveling relationship with the Prime Minister and his coterie of aides and cites some of the skirmishes he engaged in. Book Six, captioned “Circling Wolves” is a no holds barred skewering of Raila Odinga as Miguna talks of betrayals, flip flopping and yo-yo vacillations. Book Seven (Against the Currents) devotes itself to the corruption and sleaze scandals including the controversy around the maize deals as well as an expose of some of the people around Raila who became overnight billionaires.

    The heart of Miguna’s memoirs is the last part, sub-titled “Peeling Back the Mask.”  This is Book Eight-composed of three chapters and an epilogue describes the final fall out, sees Miguna makes his overall assessment of Raila Odinga and Kenyan politics and affirms his optimistic view of a “Project Kenya.”

    This is the part that the pundits, soothsayers and naysayers have been hankering for. The author talks about his motivations of giving up a fairly comfortable middle class existence in  the suburbs of southern Ontario, exchanging that for the uncertain, topsy turvy zigs and zags in a twenty first century Kenya where most inhabitants still subsist in a manner not very different from their nineteenth century forbears. Here is where Miguna explains how and why he got acquainted, intrigued, head hunted and ultimately recruited by Raila Odinga who was then the most dominant figure in Kenya’s political opposition, a thrice detained reformer seen by many Kenyans as providing the democratic alternative to the decades long stranglehold of elite politicians on the Kenyan neo-colonial state. One can feel the anguish of Miguna as he painfully comes to terms with the realities of mainstream Kenyan electorate contestations. He tells his readers how the scales gradually fell from his shocked eyes as he discovered a Raila Odinga he had hitherto not suspected could ever have existed. From his vantage point as a key insider of the Prime Minister’s team, Miguna reveals gut wrenching details of corruption and a litany of misdeeds and moral missteps that reads like a chronicle of the seven deadly sins. Even to those familiar with Miguna’s public reaction to his controversial dismissal from his powerful high profile advisory position in the grand coalition government, there are new details of the  behind the scenes shenanigans and conspiracies which precipitated his ouster that will be nuggets of insight to those interested in  a more balanced narrative.

    Miguna’s reflections on the successes, challenges and failures of both the Orange Democratic Movement and Grand Coalition Government of which he was a key member is a must read for political analysts, activists and students of African Affairs and international relations. His skewering of some prominent political heavyweights on the current Kenyan scene-beyond his critique of his former boss- is spot on, if sometimes brutally and ruthlessly honest.  For his compatriots and contemporaries still committed to the goal of reconstructing a better Kenya, Peeling Back the Mask is an indispensable bed side compendium.

For the full review, click here.

At the same time, let me restate what I had suggested to Miguna (away from the public limelight) about how to approach his fall out with the Prime Minister in mid August last year,  a few days after he had been illegally, unjustly and arbitrarily suspended.

This is from an email exchange I had with Miguna and a handful of comrades:

    On Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 9:18 PM, Onyango Oloo wrote:


    Comrade Miguna:


    Two things:

    1. I will post your response in Jukwaa in a few minutes.

    2. As a comrade, I would like to offer some reflections. I do not think you are being tactically wise with this latest missive and broadside.

    Please comrade, do not let this degenerate into a personal feud, complete with verbal fisticuffs with the Prime Minister.


    On the plus side, people will applaud your courage, defiance, militancy, principled stance.

    On the negative side you will come across as embittered and unable to move on.

    Perhaps you may argue that an unwarranted attack needs a prompt rebuttal.

    I believe that right now, you are occupying the higher ground-morally speaking.

    Please stay there.


    Do not descend to the abyss that the likes of Jakoyo et al occupy.

    Secondly, while your issues with the PM are driven by principle, the PNU hounds and the G-7 hyenas are salivating, waiting to pounce for the kill. They are loving this.


    Please comrade, do not give them that gleeful satisfaction.

    On a broader level, I would be very uncomfortable if Jukwaa metamorphosed into an anti-Raila platform.

       In as much what happened to you is odious and reprehensible, we cannot ignore the wider politics in the country and in my opinion, Raila Odinga is still firmly in the REFORM camp, despite his inexcusable transgressions against you.

    You know that I am definitely in your corner of my own conscious, voluntary conviction so I hope you will take what I have said above in context and in the spirit in which it was said.


    Onyango Oloo

On Jukwaa itself, approximately two months after I dispatched the email above, I expounded on what I understood of the IDEOLOGICAL nature of the schism between Miguna Miguna and Raila Odinga.

 This was part of a robust discussion on an opinion piece Miguna had posted on Jukwaa through me:

    Onyango Oloo Weighs In...
    Post by admin on Oct 20, 2011, 5:45pm

    I want to chip in and say one or two things.

    Miguna is a close friend of mine and a political comrade.

    So is Adongo.

    I regard James Orengo and Raila Odinga as political comrades as well.

    The fall out between the Prime Minister and his former political advisor has been well chronicled here in Jukwaa.

    Since we are constant contact, Miguna knows my views.

    Onyango Oloo believes that Miguna was mistreated by the Prime Minister in terms of the way his suspension was handled from the very outset. He should seek and secure redress. He has a right to be angry and ventilate his rage.

    As a Kenyan, he also has a democratic right to express his views and articulate his political differences with anyone, including Raila Odinga.
    I too have a track record of being very public and candid in my views. In the past decade, I have written and published Open Letters to among others, Mwai Kibaki, Kiraitu Murungi, Adhu Awiti and yes, Raila Odinga (way back in 1999).

    Where perhaps I differ with Miguna is on how to handle contradictions.

    I am using “contradictions” here in the Marxist sense because those of us from that dialectical and historical materialist school of thought firmly believe that life itself develops organically through the resolution, over time of contradictions in the complex, holistic interplay between thesis and anti-thesis segueing into a synthesis at ever higher levels.

    Sorry if I lost anyone in the course of my philosophical ramblings.

    Marxist-Leninists recognize two forms of contradictions:


    Examples of antagonistic contradictions are those between master and slave; feudal lord and landless peasant; colonial governor and rural squatter; neo-colonial dictators and anti-imperialist cadres.

    Antagonistic contradictions cannot be resolved except through revolution and drastic social, economic and political transformations.

    Non-antagonistic contradictions are those differences and tensions that can be resolved peacefully, amicably, through dialogue and so on.

    Illustrations of non-antagonistic contradictions can be the differences between friends; the tension between parents and their teenage offspring; lovers’ tiffs; ideological debates between comrades or arguments between business and professional associates.

    While it is true that that some of the contradictions cited in the above paragraph can graduate to irreconcilable hostilities the fact of the matter is that this is the exception rather than the rule.

    Now when it comes to the vuta-nikuvute between Raila Odinga and Miguna Miguna, what is the nature of the contradictions?

    Are these antagonistic or non-antagonistic?

    In my private, one on one conversations with Miguna, I have argued that the tensions, hostilities and conflicts between the duo are NON-ANTAGONISTIC.

    I have argued that those of us who are part of the progressive camp in Kenya are on THE SAME SIDE WITH RAILA AMOLO ODINGA.
    I have argued that whatever misgivings we have about the Prime Minister, we cannot wily nilly EXPEL HIM FROM THE REFORM CAMP.

    Is EVERYBODY in the Kenyan reform camp a card carrying Communist?

    Clearly not.

    Some of us are socialists, some are social democrats. Many are liberals and dozens upon dozens are nationalists and sincere women and men of faith (Christian, Muslims, and Hindus etc), well meaning decent Kenyan citizens who do not care much about ideological distinctions and what not.

    We are UNITED by our COMMON VISION.

    What is that binding glue?

    At the moment I would posit that ANY KENYAN who genuinely believes in the Kenyan Constitution and works strenuously for its faithful implementation is in the PROGRESSIVE and REFORMIST CAMP. Note: I did NOT say “revolutionary”.

    Does my above definition of progressive Kenyans in the REFORM CAMP include or exclude Miguna Miguna?

    Does it include or exclude Raila Odinga?

    Those are rhetorical questions.

    It is apparent that Miguna Miguna no longer believes that Raila Odinga belongs in the same camp that Miguna is in.

    Are they?

    Yesterday, when I was hanging out with Miguna at the Norfolk, I told him jokingly that I and some other ODM fellows were “gossiping” about him at Sippers’ Club and Restaurant located in Hurlingham. I revealed to him the nature of the “gossip”: that a lot of people who admire him are aghast at his public fisticuffs with the Prime Minister. Mind you these were some very senior ODM and Luo Nyanza political insiders, including a former MP, a former member of Raila’s think tank and some veteran university academics. I went further to convey a message they had commissioned me to deliver Miguna as his close friend:

    That he should close ranks and become a leading member of the Raila 2012 Presidential Campaign.

    Let us just say that the person Jeff Koinange refers to as “The Man with the Same Name Twice” demurred.

    What exactly is Onyango Oloo trying to say?
    I think I have said it.

    Onyango Oloo
    Mashujaa Day 2011

With the above context and background in mind, let me now delve into what I set out to write in this digital essay, which as many of you have come to expect from Oloo by now, is characteristically long winded.

Responses to the book have been swift, furious and varied.

While most do not go beyond the garden variety knee jerk dismissals, Sarah Elderkin, a long time observer of the Kenyan political scene who has lived in the country for eons and  is a close confidant to Prime Minister Raila Odinga, took the time to delve into the book (although not completely as I will argue subsequently) and being the gifted writer that she is, put together a three part critique, dubbed by some “a blow-by-blow rebuttal” that was carried in full in the Daily Nation, the same publication that serialized Miguna’s political memoirs.

For easy reference Elderkin’s rejoinders can be accessed here for part one, there for part two and over here for part three.

Just like Miguna’s own book, Ms. Elderkin’s piece speaks for itself.

She is one of the commentators that I have long admired for wit, analytical brain, feistiness and turn of phrase.

I read Ms. Elderkin’s no holds attempt to take down Miguna Miguna.


My intention in this essay is certainly not to debunk Elderkin’s debunking.

 My name is not Miguna and I am not the author of Peeling Back the Mask.

Miguna is very articulate and will definitely respond effectively to his erstwhile comrade in arms Sarah Elderkin when and if he feels like doing so.

There are Kenyan bloggers like Dennis Ole Itumbi who have used their  social media platforms to “expose” Ms. Elderkin’s alleged duplicity by leaking private email correspondence between Miguna and Sarah.

Opponents of Prime Minister Raila Odinga on the internet wasted no time in ripping into Ms Elderkin, calling her all sorts of unsavoury names as you can see from this link.

My role is not to enroll as an active contestant into this convoluted steeplechase classic of claim and counter claim, insult and counter insult.

Rather, I have been considerably intrigued with the alacrity with which some of Mguna’s ideological adversaries have resorted to psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis in their attempt to discredit Miguna’s controversial book.

Before we look more closely at some of Sarah Elderkin’s assessments of Miguna let us rewind the DVD a little bit.

On December 15, 2011, a High Court Judge Mohammed Warsame, in dismissing a case filed by Miguna against unlawful dismissal had the following to say:

 He is a man who exhibits mental and emotional feat in his defence of issues and principles which dear to him...He is described, as a man living in a mental darkroom. When all is said and done he is a man who attracts a lot of criticism and admiration...

Many lawyers who have read this decision scratched their heads wondering what the psycho mumbo jumbo was doing in what they expected to be a sober, well reasoned legal verdict.

These choice words from Warsame were to be later recycled by Sarah Elderkin in her own livid diatribe against Miguna.

Another sample, this time coming from FORA member, Star columnist and Director of Change Associates Wambugu Ngunjiri:

    Amongst true narcissists the ‘King’ is what I will call the ‘alpha narcissist’. An alpha narcissist is loud, brash, intimidating … and scary. They stand out in any crowd not only because of this obnoxious personality but also in outlandish dress. Alpha narcissists are usually extremely smart intellectuals, but they are also experts at psychological manipulation and mental abuse. Whenever they are confronted with a situation that challenges their public persona and threatens to reveal their true nature, they will immediately project the situation to look like everyone else is wrong while they are right and are being victimised for it. Alpha narcissists grandiosity soars to such heights that when they don't receive the attention they consider their birthright they will go to any length to get their own back at those who have refused to give them this recognition.

    Alpha narcissists exhibit arrogant behaviour, lack empathy for other people and need continuous admiration.

    Psychologists say that they suffer from a condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and as I watch Miguna Miguna enjoy his 15 minutes of fame, especially when compared to what happens when aides of other powerful people leave office across the world, I cannot help but wonder whether Kenyans are witnessing an alpha narcissist in action. Time will tell.

For his complete piece, click here.

Not to be outdone, one of my favourite members of Jukwaa (the online Kenyan political discussion forum that I founded in 2005 and still administer today) weighed in thus:

    the lady pastor may have read your book too but restricted herself to the spiritual realm where she divinely spoke of you as a troubled soul who in her words had problem with his uncle, at school and college, in canada and later in kenya with the other words, the trouble you had at the office of the prime minister and with agwambo falls in a predetermine historical pattern.

    then she said that you have an identity crisis borne out of what she perceived as the childhood deprivation and contrasting social-cultural settings (not her exact phrase). the pastor said you are on a path for self destruction and rebuked what she said were the demons of pride,bitterness and arrogance and the spirit of vengeance that she could tell was driving you.

    we listened intently as she spoke in a psalmist mode(addressing you as if you were there) to remember that no-one comes between God and vengeance in other words admonishing you for seeking to usurp God's devine mandate of exacting vengeance.

    then she invoked your wife, whom she blamed for what she perceived as absconding her role as an intercessor and prayer worrior given that she is the only person closest to her words, if mrs miguna was a prayerful wife and interceded for her husband,you would have not experience the torment and turmoil that came with the lose of job and the travails that ensured.

    worshipers heard in wrapped silence when she dragged the name of your children whom she lamented are likely to inherit the demonic spirits of bitterness,pride and vengeance that she perceived to be driving you. she castigated you for exposing your children to potential ridicule and hatred over your public outburst.

    but the good news that she led the church into a powerful prayer for you and your one accord,the church led by the truly gifted prayer worrier that is rev. kariuki,held an intercessory prayer for you, your wife and your children. for some of us who believe in the mighty,wonder working of the divine spirit, we were strongly persuaded that something profound is rocking your household in the distant shores.

Read more by clicking here...

Clearly from the above, it is evident that Ms. Sarah Elderkin is in very good company with pronouncements like:

 Anyone who has watched Miguna on television will have seen the staring eyes, the jabbing finger, the overbearing ranting and raving…It is from the turmoil of this “mental darkroom” and out of his “relentless sense of fighting back” that Miguna decided to do his very best to destroy the man for whom he had previously and fervently declared his “love”, and whom he revered. Miguna is a man of wild extremes. His actions have nothing at all to do with Raila Odinga. They have everything to do with Miguna Miguna, his lack of balance, and his distorted sense of self.
Or quick moral judgments like:
Miguna Miguna has no brakes. He never knows when to stop. He is loud and large and pushy and intimidating. He is completely insensitive to other people’s reactions to him, and he appears unable to judge where situations require restraint and diplomacy. Miguna only understands one language – the language of confrontation. He has no idea what it takes to keep a vulnerable political arrangement in place. He would prefer to destroy everything around him, as he has come close to doing so many times, on the excuse of “principle”. This is not principle. Miguna thinks that shouting louder than everyone else and intimidating them shows “principle” in resolving issues. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Miguna Miguna took time, sat down and keyboarded what turned out to be 614 pages of his political memoirs which details the major highlights of his life so far.

Inevitably, some key chapters of that work in progress called his ongoing existence touched on his involvement in contemporary Kenyan politics including his encounters with Prime Minister Raila Odinga for whom he served as adviser.

In my opinion, when you are critiquing a book, you analyze and comment on its CONTENTS, giving your assessment of the veracity of its claims, the context when it was written and perhaps even the finesse (or lack of it) in putting together the book in literary terms. In a political memoir one cannot shy away from ideological judgments made in the concrete historical, socio-economic, cultural and broader political context in which the book was written.

At the end of day the critic must ask:

What did the author set out to do?

What were the central arguments and claims of the author?

Did the author succeed in making those claims in a factual, credible, consistent and verifiable way?

If the book was read two years, twelve years, twenty years or two hundred years from now, will it stand the test of time?

Has the book added to or subtracted from national discourse, dialogue or debate?

Is the country worse off or better placed as a result of the issues raised in the book?
And of course many other considerations.

Now, there is no one “template” for reviewing a book.

There is no correct way of critiquing a political memoir.

Having said that I can definitely state there are LAZY WAYS of critiquing a book.

One of the laziest ways is ATTACKING THE CHARACTER OF THE AUTHOR instead of dealing with the CONTENTS and ISSUES s/he raises in the book.

And one of the most SUSPECT and increasingly DISCREDITED METHODS of doing that is to resort to the dubious theories of psychoanalysis, employing the most hackneyed clichés from lalaland of vapid psychobabble.

Onyango Oloo is certainly NOT ORIGINAL in making this argument.

Dr. Kristi Siegel is Associate Professor, English Department and also the Director, English Graduate Program and Chair - Languages, Literature, and Communication Division of Mount Mary College in Milwaukee in the United States. Dr. Siegel defines “psychoanalytical criticism” as "the application of specific psychological principles (particularly those of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan to the study of literature. Psychoanalytic criticism may focus on the writer's psyche, the study of the creative process, the study of psychological types and principles present within works of literature, or the effects of literature upon its readers..."

In Chapter Five (“The Dangerous Liaisons of Psychoanalysis”) of his 1996 publication Torn Halves: Political Conflict in Literary and Cultural Theory Robert C. Young writes at page 190:

Psychoanalytic literary criticism has not itself been considered as a political literary theory. Indeed it seems to encapsulate…a dwelling on subjectivity (whether of author, reader or character), with no reference of social or historical determination...

And at page 194:

    …psychoanalysis is the refuge of bourgeois individualism and its philosophy of consciousness…

I am citing briefly what a lot of literary scholars have documented and demonstrated for decades: the limitations of psychoanalytical criticism of literary texts.

Apart from being subjectivist, this psychoanalytical trend in literary criticism is incredibly reductionist.

 I call it lazy because all one has to do is to come up with an opinion of the author-however jaundiced and deluded- and hey presto! You “understand” their book-without bothering to actually read the work in question!

 I saw this first hand at Jukwaa, where I am the Administrator. I watched with  SHOCK and AWE as Kenyans of above average intelligence started ripping into Miguna’s book-MONTHS BEFORE it was actually finished- because they were confident that they “knew”  Miguna and his personality and therefore could conclude IN ADVANCE and dismiss IN ADVANCE his yet unpublished book without actually bothering to read the book!

These Kenyans are among the most vociferous cheer leaders of Sarah Elderkin’s three part skewering of Miguna’s book and I am hardly surprised.

Peeling Back the Mask runs to 614 pages and is divided into eight parts (Books One to Eight), comprising 21 chapters.

How many people, including Sarah Elderkin, Ngunjiri Wambugu and others, BOTHERED to read it page by page, cover to cover before rushing to the media screeching all that psychobabble and cookie cutter mumbo jumbo?

Did the supporters of ODM only turn to those passages where Miguna was brutally honest about his views on Prime Minister Raila Odinga?

If they did so, then ipso facto, they gave Peeling Back the Mask, a partial, and therefore by definition AN INCORRECT READING compounded by the fact that psychoanalytical criticism is largely DISCREDITED in reputable and respectable literary circles all around the world.

It is for this reason that I firmly believe that Sarah Elderkin’s critique succeeds largely as ENTERTAINMENT, but mostly as partisan SPIN DOCTORING.

She needs to dig deeper with a better thinking hat on.

In my opinion and with great respect, I advise Ms. Elderkin, who I admire greatly as a writer, to go back and re-read Peeling Back the Mask, taking the precaution of first flinging her tinted and tainted Freudian spectacles out of the window of her Nairobi-based home office.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya


I am reproducing in full a blog by

Paula Odhiambo, a US-based Kenyan gospel singer, writer and activist. She tagged me on Facebook:

Masks are being peeled and new ones are being hurriedly fashioned

by Muigwithania Theblog on Friday, 20 July 2012 at 08:42 ·
Masks are being peeled, and new ones are being hurriedly fashioned.Kenyans have speculated about who is being paid and who is doing the paying for Miguna's latest book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya.

Sycophants have come out, guns blazing, in defense of their hero,Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to the chagrin of his enemies, the anti-Raila camp. It all lends credence to a statement made by a wise Kenyan a few years ago, that there are only two groups of Kenyans these days-Railaphobes and Railamaniacs.

We've got to give it to Sarah Elderkin for her recent article in the Daily Nation, Peel back the mask Miguna wears, and get a man with delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately, she might sway the few gullible Kenyans who would rather starve than think and who will Facebook their airtime away before they do some basic research on the internet for a few minutes each day.

Most of us, especially in the diaspora, knew - long ago - about the rape claims against Miguna Miguna, just like we knew about the Sally-Ida ferry allegations. Few Kenyans are unaware of Miguna's domineering stance, his ill-fitting vitenge , his colorful vocabulary, and yes, even his recent anger at what he deems unfair treatment. Miguna definitely has a way of taking things to the next level and exhibiting the kind of pride that is scary for everybody who sees the fall that must soon come.

However, what seems to have eluded us is that the solution to this drama is not to seek ways to do Miguna in. It is not to go ranting bitterly on benches like Rachel Shebesh did, proving to all and sundry that she belongs to the " kichwa ngumu princess" class of elite Kenyan women who are capable of spewing rehearsed minutiae but cannot demonstrate critical thinking or basic political street smarts when backed into a corner. This strategy does more harm than good to ODM.

The solution is not to tell us stories of what Miguna did in his past or to give him a taste of his own medicine. With all due respect, the only reason most Kenyans are interested in Miguna at this time is the fact that they feel that he has some information that they need. That, and he is somewhat entertaining. Like many other sensational names, his will soon be forgotten.

This whole debacle is not about Miguna's rants or his pride. It is not about who likes, pays attention to, or pays Miguna. It's about serious allegations that have been made against the PM, a man who has demonstrated an unmistakable desire to rule this country in this new dispensation. Vengeance or not, PNU project or not, these allegations must be investigated if Kenyans are serious about having peaceful elections in 2012-2013 and if they want peace in the five years thereafter.

We have listened to, and been entertained by, endless vitendawili from the PM. His wife, Ida, tells us that she has known him for over 40 years and can guarantee that he is the only man qualified for the presidency. Well, we have no problem with all of that; we just want to be allowed to verify it for ourselves. We have a right to know the intricacies of the lives of the people to whom we entrust this country's leadership.

If it is true that Sally Kosgei, a whole minister, had to exit a ferry unceremoniously for cars to make it across Rusinga Island, then who can predict what will happen to the ordinary mwananchi? We must move away from the days of dictatorship and hero-worship. We want accountable, servant leaders whose families are not more equal than others.
I believe I speak for all the youth, all Kenyans in the diaspora, all women, all voters , when I say that we are reading Miguna's book, and we need some answers. We are not saying we will not vote for Raila Odinga. We do not even care that much if he cried. In fact, because I am a woman, that part of the story evokes compassion in me - and any studious politician knows that compassion is a large motivator as far as a woman's vote.

Raila crying actually beats all the Facebook cover pictures of presidential aspirants carrying babies and surrounded by school children. If, indeed, he is mweupe kama pamba (as clean as cotton), then he has nothing to fear.

But he must not deny us the right to make an informed choice, because the only true choice is an informed one. Let him walk in the light for all of us to see. Like everybody else, let him do what it takes to clear his name. There is no doubt that if indeed no corruption can be pinned to him, we will have no problem voting him in as the President of Kenya.
Kenyans, and not Miguna Miguna's book, should be the Prime Minister's concern at this time. We are watching closely, and quite frankly, while Elderkin's responses will make for good reading, we are not interested in the back-and-forth. This discourse will bore us before long.

We need to focus on what matters. Let's stop peeling, fashioning, criticizing and defending all sorts of ridiculous masks and give the people some irrefutable, vote-deciding facts.

Paula Odhiambo is US-based Kenyan gospel singer, writer and activist

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Clinical Assessment of Miguna’s Book Launch

By Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

I must say upfront that since I am Miguna’s comrade; since I  was one of the first people to review to the book-after reading it from cover to cover- and since I was the actual master of ceremony at the book launch whatever  I say should taken with the above in context.

It is precisely for this reason that I will confine myself to facts and figures.

1.0. Planning Process

First of all, if Miguna had not sat down and written the book (in a few short months) there would have been nothing to launch. So the author has to take the major credit.

Secondly, if a publisher had not accepted to bring out the book, Miguna would be having a very big manuscript in his cabinet and hard drive. Giglamesh Publishing in the  UK did a superb professional job in not only polishing up the manuscript, arranging for the printing, but more importantly bottom-lining the  logistics for the actual book launch. A few months ago I attended a book launch in a parked hall at the University of Nairobi featuring a publication by one of my former lecturers and guess what? There was not A SINGLE BOOK ON SITE FOR SALE. To say that waiting throngs were disappointed is a big understatement.  This was not the case with Peeling Back the Mask, as detailed below.

Thirdly, those of us who were part of the team planning the book launch set ourselves very clear objectives which doubled as our indicators of success:

1.1. Objectives of the  Book Launch:
(a)    Have at least 300 people attend the launch;(b)   Sell at least 200 copies of the book at the launch;(c)    Organize an interesting, engaging and entertaining event;(d)   Get adequate and positive coverage in the print, electronic and social media;(e)   Have an impact in public and national political discourse;

2.0. Outcomes:

Using the above yardsticks one can gauge whether the book launch was successful or not:

(i)                  Attendance:  The room capacity of the hall provided to us at the Hotel Inter Continental is 500. We counted more than 550 people. Those who attended the event will attest to the fact that people were standing at the back because of lack of seats.

(ii)                Book Sales: One single individual bought 2000 copies in bulk on the launch date; 1,000 copies were sold at the launch site on the same day; book sellers gobbled up another 2,000 copies which were sold out by Sunday July 15, 2012; at one particular shop-Book Stop- eager readers were queuing as early as 6 am; By week ending July 22nd projected sales will hit 10,000 copies. Each book retails for at between 3,300 and 3,400 Kenya Shillings. Do the math.

(iii)               Event Programme: We kept it simple and flowing. The Canadian High Commissioner to  Kenya, H.E. David Collins, gave a short but warm address hailing the ties between the two countries and underscoring Canada’s role in supporting the democratization process in Kenya by among other things providing protection to exiles like Miguna Miguna, Adongo Ogony, Onyango Oloo and others, not forgetting supporting the constitutional review process.

A native of  Ghana,  Retired Judge, Hon.  Justice Edward Torgbor,( LLB, LLM, Dip Int Law)whose brilliant professional career includes teaching at the University of Nairobi in International Commercial Arbitration and currently Associate Professor of Mercantile Law at the  University of Stellenbosch in South Africa gave very insightful remarks on the themes of justice and writing. 
The socially conscious and political astute troupe of the People’s  Puppeteers put on a 13 minute skit using their puppets called  In Search of  Justice which received a thunderous standing ovation. 
The Principal Guest, Hon. Paul Muite, spoke with courage and encouragement about the main thrust of Miguna’s political memoir.  
Onyango  Oloo, the MC for the event, in introducing Miguna Miguna to the podium, drew the connection between the repressive days of the  KANU one party dictatorship which had  hundreds imprisoned for sedition and the achievements of Kenyans through struggle of a new constitution which guarantees rights  freedom of speech and expression and the overall enabling democratic environment which nourished the possibility of a book like  Peeling Back the Mask seeing light of day and its author speaking in public at a five star hotel without being arrested by the secret police.  
Miguna Miguna’s remarks have received massive media coverage so I need not repeat them here.

(iv)              Media Coverage: Miguna Miguna DOMINATED the Kenyan media in the week culminating in the book launch. Even today, two days after the event, he is still on the front page headlines. He has been covered by the Daily Nation, the best selling newspaper in East and Central Africa as well as its other affiliates on radio and television-not forgetting their sister Kiswahili publications Taifa Leo and Taifa Jumapili.  The Standard, the Star and the People were not  left far behind. Miguna has had interviews with KTN Television and Citizen Television.  Social media and blogosphere has been abuzz with thread after thread after thread being launched on Jukwaa, one of the leading Kenyan online political discussion forums; Facebook is still sizzling and Twitter is twitching with tweets about Miguna. The coverage, has on the whole been very positive even though there are battalions of Miguna detractors in many corners of cyberspace.

(v)                Impact on Public and National Political Discourse: There have been editorials,  op-eds, cartoons, interviews and commentaries in the media; civil society activists have waved copies of his book in press conferences; politicians of various hues have referenced him in mass rallies; there have been threats to sue him and calls for his arrest. In ODM an entire committee has been set up to rebut the claims he makes in Peeling Back the Mask.

3.0. Verdict:

Based on the above objectives and outcomes, was the launch of Miguna’s Peeling Back the Mask a massive success or dismal flop?

You be the judge.

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya
Monday, July 16, 2012

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