Miguna does it again with ‘Kidneys for the King’

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s aide Miguna Miguna during the launch of his new book: Kidneys for the King: De-forming the Status Quo in Kenya at the PanAfric Hotel, Nairobi February 16, 2013.Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI

Does Miguna Miguna’s second “Book of Revelations” live up to its billing as a “remarkable expose”? Has his art become more subtle and sophisticated or is he still trapped in the penchant for expletives and harsh adjectives that ram his point home with the force of a speed train?

There is no shortage of Kenyan public figures up for ruthless exposure in Miguna’s new book. In fact, if ever President Kibaki wishes to know what the Chief Justice thinks of him, he has only to pick up the first chapter of Kidneys for the King: de-FORMING the Status Quo in Kenya.

But before examining the substance of Kidneys, it is important to analyse the way Miguna tells his story.

There are essentially two authenticating devices that anchor Miguna’s memoirs. First, written evidence. Miguna is a fastidious note-taker, with an eye for detail and a mind on future uses. His memoirs are, therefore, filled with verbatim reproductions of e-mail correspondence, mobile phone text messages, newspaper articles, speeches and memos.

Secondly, he uses credible and fast-paced dialogue. Indeed, one could conclude that he tape-records even the most casual conversations with friends and colleagues.

Kidneys for the King has a carefully developed structure. The first and the last chapter focus on the (de)construction of two public figures – Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. These two embodiments of the promise of radical transformation and their abysmal failures frame Miguna’s exposition of the trouble with Kenya in chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Against the background of the reception of Peeling Back the Mask in the local and international press; on television and on the Internet, Miguna details the rot of our society. A polluted police force; rampant corruption; the vagaries of an irresponsible media; a vile political culture; wayward leaders, a gullible electorate and the truant, half-hearted attempts at implementing a progressive Constitution.

In the Introduction, “Come, Baby, Come”, we see a rare side of Miguna – pensive, contrite and worried about what would come out of his threat to “take all these leaders to the Hague”. The pondering, repentant Miguna displays a humility that would force even his most ardent detractors to continue reading Kidneys for the King. At this point, there is little to suggest that the targets of his criticism will soon be disparagingly described as “intellectual eunuchs” (p.174); “reclusive and paranoid” (p.181), “frothing idiots” (p.149).

The tempered tenor of the Introduction flows into the first chapter, “Between a Shark and a Crocodile”, where Miguna carefully delineates his history with Willy Mutunga. Miguna reproduces e-mail correspondence between him and Willy.

Some of it is from August 2010 when they celebrated the defeat of the “Red Brigade” that campaigned against the passing of a new Constitution. The rest is from January 2011 when they plotted to short-circuit Kibaki’s unilateral nomination of a chief justice.

Miguna says he is reproducing these emails so that Kenyans can see the “focused commitment of Willy….in moving the reform agenda forward” (p.44).

There are those who may be startled by Willy’s documented support for a particular candidate. And those who may even want to use this to argue that as Chief Justice, he must now recuse himself from hearing any election petitions over the presidency.

Having secured the reader’s trust with his clever use of reproduced e-mails, Miguna launches on a serious attack of the “reformed” Judiciary, convinced that “Willy hasn’t done nearly a third of what he should or could have done” (p.100).

As with Peeling Back the Mask, not everything Miguna says in Kidneys is gospel truth. What is the evidence for the statement “Almost all Kenyan lawyers don’t explain the issues surrounding their clients’ cases to them; they rarely return calls and hardly respond to e-mails or letters from clients” (p93)?

Or the allegation that “Of the more than five million Nairobi residents, more than 85 per cent of them reside in slums…”? And how does he know Raila has “a Sh13 billion war chest” (320)?

Similarly, his glib observation that he suspects Raila is “actually 70 already” (p.189) is unsupported by any facts. Miguna’s candid assessment of the presidential candidates and their “rattle snake alliances” (p.208) is silent on the character of Martha Karua.

And he treads around Uhuru Kenyatta with uncharacteristic restraint saying, “I didn’t know Uhuru well”. When did that ever stop Miguna from doing research, interviewing old school mates, friends and foes to deconstruct a character? That is certainly how he deals with “Rayila, the Nettle Sting” in the final chapter which is filled with stunning new revelations.

Even though Kidneys for the King is riddled with typographical and grammatical errors too many list here, and is bogged down by tenses that shift and swing so erratically (particularly in Chapter 4), it is nonetheless, a book that should prick those of us with a conscience.

The author draws many parallels between our inadequacies and the systems that make functioning democracies like Canada work. These contrasts underline not just the pillars of good systems but the importance of human desire to do the right thing.

Miguna may be brash and he may be swift to anger but he is a good judge of character and an astute student of political science. He sees and he says what many of us are still too reluctant to admit – those who spent decades fighting Moi are unlikely to get us to Canaan for they have become as greedy, treacherous, hypocritical, by turns cowardly and at times as dictatorial as their nemesis.

Dr Nyairo is an Independent scholar.