The year 2019, now in its dying days, has been a quiet one on the literary scene. Until Musalia Mudavadi’s autobiography was dropped, hogging the media for a week. Rarely does a book in Kenya capture the attention of the nation as did Soaring Above the Storms of Passion.
INTRIGUES & DILEMMAS
Perhaps only Miguna Miguna’s Peeling Back the Mask and Kidneys for the King — in which the Canada-based lawyer pours opprobrium on his ally-turned foe-turned ally-turned foe again Raila Odinga — were more noisily received.
Soaring Above the Storms of Passion, authored with Amani National Congress Secretary-General Barrack Muluka, and published by The Mudavadi Memorial Foundation Trust Fund in association with Midas Touch Media Limited, reads like a crash history of Kenya in the past 30 years through the eyes of the former vice-president.
German philosopher Friedrich Hegel wrote that history is not the soil in which happiness grows and that the periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history.
In devoting pages to the chaotic handover to Mwai Kibaki by President Daniel arap Moi in 2002, and the tumultuous 2007 and 2017 elections — in which he played a pivotal role — Mr Mudavadi is true to this dictum. The book details the intrigues and dilemmas of the central figures of these epochs.
It also lifts the lid on the goings-on within the opposition coalition, Nasa, in the heady days ahead of Raila Odinga’s controversial “swearing-in” on January 30, 2018.
But while the author ought to be commended for writing a book that actually reveals some of the goings-on in the inner sanctum of power, unlike the many that gloss over controversial subjects, the unmistakable conclusion one goes away with after reading the memoir is that it was written in a hurry.
Apart from the mouthful of a title, Soaring Above the Storm of Passion has innumerable factual and grammatical errors that threaten to undermine the former VP’s good decision to record his life for posterity. On a light note, one is tempted to agree with the assertion by Mr Odinga that his former deputy may have suffered memory lapses while writing the book. How else can Mudavadi explain his failure to get right the very date that he made that catastrophic political blunder that still haunts him to date? Or the fact that he gets it wrong on Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s death in 1994 and when President Mwai Kibaki was controversially sworn in for his second term in office in 2007?
When, in July 2002, Daniel arap Moi picked Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, there was an earthquake in Kanu, with some accusing the retiring Head of State of using the then political neophyte to succeed himself.
Those unhappy with the decision, led by Mr Odinga, who had earlier that year merged his National Development Party with Kanu, formed the Rainbow Alliance, whose aim was to bear pressure on the president to abandon “Project Uhuru”.
Mr Mudavadi was among those who formed the Rainbow Alliance and went ahead to declare his bid for the presidency, while denouncing President Moi for imposing Mr Kenyatta on Kanu. But it came as a shock when, on the morning of September 4, 2002, he beat a hasty retreat, withdrew his bid and threw his weight behind Mr Kenyatta.
It was a costly mistake from which Mr Mudavadi has never quite recovered 17 years on. Yet in his book he doesn’t appear to recall this well. While he presents the date as September 5, the truth is that he pulled out of the alliance and endorsed Uhuru a day earlier.
Another factual error is in regard to the death of Jaramogi in 1994. While everyone knows that he died on January 20, a fact that is cemented by the commemoration of his death every year, in his book, Mr Mudavadi places the death in February 1994.
Mr Kibaki’s controversial swearing-in for the second term in office on December 30, 2007 is remembered to have triggered the post-election violence due to the hasty manner in which it was conducted, and the questions that lingered about the legitimacy of the win. But in Mr Mudavadi’s memoir, the date is given as December 29.
On page 14, there is an individual Mr Mudavadi identifies as Stanley ole Tipis as among the four who applied to join the Legco in 1955. It was for this seat that Mr Moi would abandon the classroom at the instigation of Moses Mudavadi, Musalia’s father.
But a scrutiny of the records shows that the individual he is referring to is Mr Justus ole Tipis, who later became the Narok North MP and minister in the Office of the President until 1988, when he was replaced by William ole Ntimama.
There are other things that Mr Mudavadi gets wrong, like when explaining his family’s ties with Moi. He writes: “Not long afterwards, my father tipped (sic) Moi that Mzee Kenyatta would soon be released from Kapenguria, where he had been jailed and later detained.” In fact, Kenyatta was kept in custody and tried at Kapenguria, but was jailed at Lokitaung and Lodwar.
Mr Mudavadi claims that the late Otieno Kajwang was appointed to the Cabinet after the famous Kanu/NDP merger of 2002. The truth is that NDP was given four slots in the Cabinet in 2001 during the “co-operation” period, ahead of the merger proper, and Mr Kajwang was nowhere in the picture. Mr Odinga was appointed Energy minister while Dr Adhu Awiti was given the Planning docket. Peter Odoyo and Orwa Ojode were appointed assistant ministers.
Mr Kajwang only came in in 2003 when he was appointed assistant minister for Justice and later in the Grand Coalition Government when he was promoted to minister for Immigration.
In his account of the events surrounding President Moi’s chaotic handover to Mr Kibaki in December 2002, Mr Mudavadi suffers another bout of amnesia. He writes: “The Head of Public Service, Sally Kosgei, wept. She was one of the few people to accompany (Moi) in one chopper. As she boarded, one of her shoes came off and was left at State House as the chopper’s door was closed, ready for take-off.”
While Ms Kosgei was indeed visibly distraught at Mr Moi’s mistreatment, she didn’t fly to Kabarak with him. It was at Uhuru Park that her shoe got lost.
Regarding Mr Kenyatta’s “betrayal” after promising to support him in the 2013 election, Mudavadi says that he was shocked to see, “after two days, footage in the media, showing Uhuru on TV recanting” his pledge. And that it was a “fairly intemperate Uhuru who announced at a rally in his backyard that some demons had misled him to try to step down.” Media reports of the events at that time show that it was after nearly a week and at The National Alliance grassroots leaders’ meeting at Multimedia University, and not in his constituency of Gatundu South, that Mr Kenyatta made the about-turn.
As cultural analyst Joyce Nyairo has written, (auto)biographies are tracts of history; sources of national value systems and full-fledged evidence of the politics of memory, the ways in which societies “remember and dismember.”
“Diaries, photographs, stamps, letters, oral narratives, popular music and (auto)biographies are critical forms of popular memory. Museums, national archives, the national anthem and school textbooks approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development constitute state-inscribed history,” she notes.
At its best, Dr Nyairo contends, popular memory subverts state history. It creates inclusion for forgotten narratives and gives us a chance to rewrite our aspirations.
It is for this reason that chroniclers of history need to be diligent enough to do it accurately.
Still, while the autobiography may not be in the league of the tomes put out by journalists or public figures in the West, and that the factual, and even grammatical errors, are a blot on the brilliant effort, it is still a step forward in the development of the emergent genre and a worthy building block in our collective memory.
A finer, enriched edition, written with more detail and elegance, will do justice to a man who had the courage to put his life to the world for scrutiny.
Mr Oruko is a political and parliamentary reporter. [email protected]