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February 21, 2019

Both sides spin Miguna narratives


Gathara, my friend, stop running with the hare and hunting with the hounds! That was how former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga chastised me on Twitter earlier last week. My crime? I had had the temerity to suggest that it was important that Kenyans be clear about the issues the government had raised regarding the citizenship of one Dr Miguna Miguna before attempting to respond to them.

Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth had posted pictures on the site of Miguna from decades ago as he attended the then mandatory NYS pre-university training and service, suggesting they proved he was a Kenyan citizen.

My tweet in response, which irked Dr Mutunga and Miguna’s supporters, was: “Even as we defend truth, we must not mischaracterise the allegation, which is that @MigunaMiguna voluntarily gave up his KE citizenship when he took on Canadian nationality and never applied to get it back. That is not rebutted by pictures of him at @NYS-Ke training decades ago.”

On the face of it, it would seem reasonable to insist that people familiarise themselves with the arguments they are trying to refute. Mutunga, for whom I have the greatest respect, appeared to be suggesting that one could not, or should not, attempt to do both. Normally, I would have dismissed it as an example of the #Dumbassery that is so prevalent online. But given the illustrious personage behind it, I thought it warranted a bit of reflection.

It is a truism nowadays that political debates in Kenya tend to resemble a dialogue of the deaf. Both online and offline, they quickly degenerate into shouting matches, with both sides talking at, rather than to, each other. Many times, those involved seem less interested in convincing the other of the merits of their argument than in simply brandishing their party credentials.

There is little agreement on what the facts are, let alone what they mean. The situation is largely a creation of the mendacity of our government and our political elites as well as the Kenya media’s penchant for privileging drama over substance in its reportage.

The Miguna saga demonstrates this in spades. Both sides are eager to spin the narratives that are advantageous to them — the government’s abhorrent conduct, Miguna’s refusal to cooperate — while glossing over the unsavoury aspects of their own behaviour. Thus the government and its fans pooh-pooh reminders of the February arrest, illegal confinement and deportation of Miguna as well as its continuing defiance of court orders.

The latter and his supporters are quick to rubbish anyone who dares to raise the issue of the validity of his citizenship or who asks too many uncomfortable questions about how his Canadian passport, which his lawyers claimed had been confiscated by government agents, materialised in Dubai.

The media, enraptured by the soap opera at the airport, appears unable to tell the wood for the trees. There is little discussion about the substance of the government’s complaint against Miguna and the implication this may have on thousands of other Kenyans who had sought citizenship overseas under the former constitution.

As David Ndii acknowledged on Twitter, “Miguna, like many Kenyan political exiles, travelled with ‘passports of convenience’. They regained their Kenyan [passports] the same way.” On the other hand, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i’s appearance before the National Assembly’s Committee on Security is being reported as a coup, despite the fact that he was spinning unlikely tales and outright falsehoods.

Still, the fact is, there is absolutely no contradiction in condemning the government’s behaviour and, at the same time, examining the citizenship issues raised by Article 97 of the former Constitution — which is what the government is using to justify the claim that Miguna is not a citizen and on which our courts appear to have given contradictory interpretations — as well as Article 14( 5 ) of our current Constitution, which requires those who had lost citizenship under its predecessor to reapply in order to regain it.

In the end, as Kenyans, we must ask ourselves what dog we have in this fight. In my view, if it is about the law, we cannot very well demand adherence from one party and not from the other. Rather than “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds”, it is walking and chewing gum.

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