A superwhistleblower and a rebel with a cause: That’s Miguna for you

In an angry email message, Miguna Miguna once called me “unprofessional” and implied that I was incompetent. That is not the kind of thing that happens very often; I would expect it from people who attach little value to their existing dental formula.

I was furious, of course, and I still am. But after a lifetime in the trenches, you learn never to allow your anger to go to your head.

It was, therefore, with a relatively cool head that I was able to sit back, late in the evening after the Daily Nation had gone to the printers, and calmly analyse, as I have been trained to do, his conclusion that we were a bunch of bumbling fools.

I understood him with blinding clarity; I got in his mind, heart and soul and saw myself through his eyes. I was never going to have a problem dealing with him again.

He had wanted to buy pictures taken during his public life for use in his book. I agreed to identify and send the pictures to our syndication department, which would sell them to his publishers. I promised the pictures would be forwarded at a certain time.

We queried our database, and we got a few, unusable ones. We were reduced to the manual job of going through the thousands of pictures stored by each photographer, and in nearly all the cases, Mr Miguna had been cropped out on important occasions.

Having invested valuable resources in this quest, I was also in the difficult position of being unable to keep the promise. But there was always one more store to go through, one more person available to help.

As my poor colleagues were burning the midnight oil, our client lost patience and arrived at the conclusion that we were a bunch of jackasses.

Our encounters over the years have given me a good picture of Mr Miguna: a very sharp guy, very impatient, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, loads of self-confidence (and an ever-present suspicion that everyone else around him is an idiot), a highly developed sensitivity to injury, an amazing capacity to get angry at wrongdoing and corruption, a willingness to fight, a single-minded loyalty to an ideal or person, basically honest if somewhat self-righteous, articulate and determined to be heard, willingness to throw friends under the bus if they do shenzi things, and so on.

It’s the typical make-up of the super-whistleblower. I know Mr Miguna will be compared to another super-whistleblower, Mr John Githongo.

Some important traits in their personalities are different: Both are booky, lethally meticulous and detail-obsessed. But where Mr Miguna is totally undiplomatic, loud and brash in your face, Mr Githongo is quiet, soft-spoken and guarded.

On Saturday, Mr Miguna will launch his book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, and it will be received with mixed reactions, inevitably.

There are those who will see in it an attempt to bring down Mr Raila Odinga, possibly because he sacked him. But that’s the intention of every whistleblower — to remove the person or institution that they consider not to have lived up to public or own expectations.

I take a very indulgent view of whistleblowers for two reasons. First, I have seen the price they pay for doing the right thing.

It is a lonely, thankless task. You put your life and that of your family at risk, and at times you leave the comfort and security of your career because you believe your country needs you.

There is little or no personal benefit for the whistleblower. After a few days, the newspapers move on to another story, the whistleblowers are left to contemplate the loneliness of their return to anonymity.

Secondly, whistleblowing helps. The government of Kenya is the most corrupt and wasteful institution in the land. In the Moi regime, what used to happen was not corruption, it was looting, whereby the thieves carried away a good portion of the budget of a parastatal or department.

The change of government made it possible for the Goldenberg and later Anglo Leasing investigations to take place, in turn frightening the thieves into realising that looting was no longer feasible. They retreated into corruption, which is nibbling from the edges, rather than gobbling the whole thing.