BOOK REVIEW: Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice

A controversial book on Prime Minister Raila Odinga authored by his former adviser Miguna Miguna is expected to released July 14, 2012. FILE

What you need to know:

Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice

Author: Miguna Miguna

Reviewed by Onyango Oloo, July 2012

One of the most anticipated books in Kenya is finally out.

Miguna Miguna’s unflinching book, Peeling Back the Mask, is off the printing presses and available in book stores in Kenya, the UK and North America.

In the run up to the publication, some individuals took to blogs and social media with “leaked excerpts” from the book as early as six months ago.

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 two, but more interestingly, the painstaking role that he and other ODM insiders and strategists played in building the Orange Democratic Movement into the electoral behemoth that it grew into.

Cobbled together

It also sheds light into 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 run 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, Nyanza province 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 numerous run-ins with the State during his stint at the National Youth Service and ends by delving into the radical campus politics from where he was ultimately rounded up along with other elected student leaders and forced to flee into exile in 1987.

Book Two commences with the traumatic transition which sees Miguna and his comrades travelling through neighbouring Tanzania and 'squatting' in Swaziland for several months before being airlifted to Canada as a government refugee and permanent resident in 1988.

This section portrays the emergence of Miguna 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 his 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.

Advocate for the marginalised

As a young lawyer concentrating on human rights, refugee and immigration law Miguna developed a reputation as a courageous, outspoken and implacable advocate for the marginalised 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 partakes in Miguna’s first hand, passionate account.

Book Five subtitled “Standing Tall in the Corridors of Power” sees Miguna take 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 unravelling 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 'roasting' of Raila Odinga as Miguna talks of betrayal and flip flopping. Book Seven (Against the Currents) devotes itself to the corruption and sleaze scandals including the controversy around the maize scandal 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.”

Dominant figure

This is the part that pundits have been hankering for. The author talks about his motivation of giving up a fairly comfortable middle class existence in the suburbs of southern Ontario, exchanging that for the uncertain, topsy turvy life in a twenty first century Kenya where most inhabitants still subsist in a manner not very different from their nineteenth century forbearers.

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 three-time detainee 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 narrates how he discovered another side of Raila Odinga he had hitherto not suspected 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 position, 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 ODM 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 scrutiny 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 companion.

There are many Kenyans - friends and foe alike - who are mystified with what makes Miguna tick. An answer to this head scratching query can be gleaned from the passage captioned “Declaration” which can be found at the beginning of the book. There Miguna tells the reader about his ethos and world outlook, his ideology and political aspirations as well as ideals.

All in all, Peeling Back the Mask is a gust as well as a gush of fresh air in the stifling Kenyan political atmosphere; it is a paean to those patriotic Kenyans who insist on speaking uncomfortable truths to power. Miguna is a soldier against impunity. Peeling Back the Mask belongs to your eyeballs.


*Onyango Oloo is a political activist, former political prisoner and founder and moderator of Jukwaa.[email protected]. Tel: +254-715-757-947