Prime Minister Raila Odinga comes across from his former aide’s new book as a hardened, crafty political operative with a complex view on electoral strategy and a multi-layered team of advisers often at odds with each other.
Mr Miguna Miguna, who until last August was one of the PM’s top allies and confidantes, says Mr Odinga relies, above all, on a close team of relatives and political partners.
At the heart of that group is a small circle of relatives and senior employees in the Office of the Prime Minister, including Mr Odinga’s wife Ida, and ODM MPs Oburu Odinga, James Orengo, Jakoyo Midiwo and Anyang’ Nyong’o and his top aides, Caroli Omondi and Mohamed Isahakia.
Mr Odinga’s inner circle is advised by a “think tank” which, Mr Miguna writes in his new memoirs, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, has involved a number of informal advisers over the past few years.
Some of those Mr Miguna lists as long-term strategists of Mr Odinga include Prof Edward Oyugi, Mr Oduor Ong’wen, Mr Mugambi Imanyara, Mr Mutakha Kangu, Dr Adhu Awiti, Prof Peter Wanyande, Mr Salim Lone and Mr Nabii Nabwera.
Mr Odinga does not always take their advice. Mr Miguna depicts the PM as a man who consults widely but is sometimes slow to take decisive action.
He says Mr Odinga is almost constantly on his mobile phone discussing political events with various players, but complains that the PM is rarely worried about his phone being tapped and has consistently resisted efforts to get him to be more security conscious.
Mr Miguna’s book has triggered animated discussions about the unflattering portrait it paints of the PM. But beyond the attacks on Mr Odinga’s character, the book offers some of the most revealing insights about the ODM leader’s approach to politics, a valuable tool because apart from Presidents Kibaki and Moi, no single figure has dominated Kenyan politics in the last decade and a half than the PM.
Mr Odinga comes across as a political bruiser who takes the long view in strategising how to acquire power and understands victory comes to those who are patient and adaptable in the struggle for public office.
Mr Miguna offers this story about a meeting he held with Mr Odinga before the last elections where they discussed Mr Odinga’s contest for the ODM-Kenya ticket against Mr Kalonzo Musyoka.
“We moved onto the tricks and tactics Kalonzo had tried to use to win the ODM-K presidential nominations (before he eventually ran away with the party). Raila had told me a memorable thing, which I should share. He said, ‘Ja-Nyando (Son of Nyando), in wrestling; when two people wrestle, they do everything to win.
“One may try to grab his opponent’s crotch; the other may try to trip the opponent; but in the end, the one who wins is either the one who remains standing or on top of the other. Politics is not any different. Everyone must do whatever he can to win. So, let Kalonzo do everything he can to win…”
Like Mr Moi, Mr Odinga hates anyone keeping written records of meetings: “During the ROC (Raila Odinga Centre) so-called strategy meetings, nobody took notes,” Mr Miguna writes.
“There was only one laptop which Dick (Ogolla) carried and used. Raila distrusted note-taking. He has, on occasions, lashed out at me with fury, out of the blue, for my note-taking. Perhaps this was partly a throwback to his ‘underground’ past, when everything was committed to memory for fear that Moi’s Special Branch boys would use any written record to obtain quick and easy convictions from trumped-up sedition and treason charges.
“But this was a new era. (Much later, I came to wonder if Raila might have been consciously trying to discourage record-keeping as a way of concealing his various business deals. He didn’t want someone recording what might turn up later as ‘evidence’ against him.)”
Mr Miguna describes Mr Odinga’s media strategy as one which revolves around the view that whether one is covered positively or negatively, media exposure is good for a politician because it boosts their name recognition and makes them seem all-powerful.
He says this strategy was applied in the battle for the ODM-K nomination, the umbrella opposition party before the formation of ODM.
“Kalonzo might have still been artificially projected as being ahead in the polls, but the chattering classes and the ordinary people considered Raila the de facto leader of ODM-K.
He had received extensive media coverage. Hardly a day went by without a newspaper, television outlet or radio station featuring Raila, positively or negatively.
The conventional wisdom is that “any coverage is good coverage for a politician”. We understood that most people wouldn’t remember the story lines; they would only remember the name of the person at the centre of the story. The mere fact Raila’s name was on everyone’s lips, from the market place to the private members’ clubs, was good for his candidacy.
“We intensified the positive buzz about Raila by feeding the media all kinds of information on Raila; his childhood, his detention without trial, his brief Kenya Bureau of Standards stint, his exile, and his escapades in opposition politics.”
Mr Miguna casts Mr Odinga’s inner circle of advisers as being frequently divided. Mr Miguna was an integral part of the team and his low opinion of his colleagues shines through in every page.
He accuses Mr Orengo of being a “lyrical sycophant in the king’s court”, Prof Nyong’o and Mr Orengo are jointly described as “timid, cowardly and hypocritical” while Dr Isahakia and Mr Omondi are similarly dismissed by Mr Miguna.
In the end, the picture Mr Miguna paints of Mr Odinga the politician is one that Kenyans will be familiar with from some earlier sources, including the US cables revealed by Wikileaks: A complex, driven politician who is nevertheless surrounded by a quarrelling group of advisers who give the impression of dysfunction in the PM’s office.