What Miguna Failed To Grasp On Media
This past week, seen purely from a media standpoint, belonged to the former Prime Minister’s adviser, Miguna Miguna. Having one individual outside the presidency (or the premiership) dominate the news cycle in this way, day after day, is something that happens rather less than once every five years.
And it is no use saying, if you are a supporter of the PM Raila Odinga, that the series of scandalous revelations made by Miguna in his book, 'Peeling Back The Mask', count for little. In politics, such a comprehensive mud-smearing always counts for something. And there is no way to disguise the plain fact that Miguna’s book and all that goes with it, constitutes a major setback for the PM.
But at the same time, it is much too early for the PM’s detractors to celebrate: the staging of miraculous comebacks is the stock in trade for most successful politicians. Quite apart from the PM himself who is considered by many to be a master of political strategy, consider the example of President Mwai Kibaki:
Back in 2005, after the “government side” had lost the referendum on the new constitution (this being the first attempt at such a referendum - the second one was successful in 2010) the president was considered to be so diminished that many influential regional leaders of that time (e.g. Musikari Kombo and Charity Ngilu) were able to impose on him, terms for their remaining in his cabinet.
But not only is he still in State House now, but even those who argue that the 2007 General Election was rigged in his favour, have to admit that the election was so close as to be a statistical tie. Whichever way you look at it, Kibaki staged a major comeback between 2005 and 2007. And the PM has every opportunity to do the same between now and the 2013 election.
But back to Miguna, there is one thing he mentioned in his famous book, which reveals just how naïve and shallow was his understanding of a rather important factor: the true relationship between the media establishment and politicians.
Apparently, Miguna considered his opinion columns in this very newspaper to be incredibly influential. He speculated that the supposedly immense popularity that he gained by these columns, raised his profile to an extent that it attracted the envy of even those in the PM’s innermost circle. And Miguna drew a direct causal link between his role as a columnist, and his becoming the next great Luo community leader, should Raila Odinga – for any reason – leave the scene.
It is impossible to overemphasize just how misguided this is; that Miguna should have imagined that there is some way to translate media celebrity into political support at the grassroots. And as he is not the only Kenyan to have yielded to this delusion, it might be useful to explain this a little more:
While successful politicians may be able to write effectively, the reverse never quite works out: not even the greatest of political columnists can hope to be an effective politician. The talents required to mobilise many thousands of grassroots voters to line up behind you, is completely different from that which enables you to come up with controversial commentaries, week after week.
Perhaps what gives rise to this misconception is that most politicians have very thin skins, and are easily wounded when they are the target of some acute criticism. And writing opinion columns often involves criticising those in power. As such, there is barely a prominent columnist in the country who has not earned the undying enmity of one powerful person or another.
But to be fiercely resented by a powerful man or woman is one thing; to wield the same power as he or she does, is quite another. Having powerful enemies, does not make you powerful. Miguna clearly failed to grasp this. In his role as the PM’s chief media propagandist, he was bitterly detested by the many powerful men who oppose the PM’s presidential ambitions. But this does not mean that he was at any point, a powerful man in his own right.
The media's power over the political class, is the power of one institution over the other, and this is to be found in any functioning democracy; there is nothing personal about it. Any one writer or commentator who imagines that he can sway the destinies of nations, merely because his writings routinely inflict anguish and humiliation on the powerful, is either a fool or a lunatic.