BY BENSON AMOLLO
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s adviser, Miguna Miguna recently penned an opinion article which, according to media reports, has ruffled feathers from more unlikely quarters – the PM’s own turf. Those taking issue with the said article as reported in the press, are angered with Mr Miguna’s “spitting vitriol” at retired president Daniel arap Moi.
But if the media reports are anything to go by, I get a sense that Mr Miguna sought to relate the country’s incessant dilemmas to its political history taking issue with the bloat in the Moi administration – which history in all honesty will blame for much of the country’s woes. And that sweet history is not news to many a Kenyan and some constant reminders of it should only speak for the good of our tomorrow. It is the spirit of a jealous vanguard to democratic gains, lest we slip.
So, Mr Odinga’s adviser, writes an opinion article which “attacks” former president Moi and which is quickly followed by “rebuttals” or counter-attacks from the Prime Minister’s lieutenants balked under the banner of a Luo notion. Right? And the nine legislators led by Cabinet Ministers Dalmas Otieno and Otieno Kajwang are all out to protect what they consider a legacy worth protecting. They argue that the former President does not merit such an “unwarranted” attack coming from a government official of their junior, who does not “speak for” their party “ODM.”
Without going into the contents of Mr Miguna’s said assassination of the Moi’s character, let us consider why the leaders would come out to defend the former president against an opinion article.
First of all, the free and democratic Kenya that we can all claim today was hard earned. It came tough, snaking through the smoky 80s and 90s of anger and euphoria of civic oppression that it is so intriguing to think that people who bear the most blame are walking with impunity. But, perhaps we are such a forgiving lot that the guilt of the perpetrators would least occupy our thoughts, although we cannot stop talking about it.
Leaving Moi out of this debate, one of the most important things that come to mind when anyone reportedly attacks one’s opinion, is whether people expressing opinion have a right to do so. In his capacity as the PM’s adviser, does Mr Miguna have any freedoms of expression? If so, are any of his opinions attributed to him or all contents of his speech written or otherwise, conform to his advisory role? Was he speaking for Mr Odinga when he wrote the article that attacked Mr Moi’s character?
The nature of the 21st Century democracy is such that human liberties – more so the freedom of expression is a precursor to the gains that a society makes collectively. A society that cannot question itself fails short of repairing any damages that may have been incurred. Such is a society that will not confront the daily problems of its citizens because it has learned to remind itself that challenging authority by way of expression is a slur to a personal heritage such as Mr Moi’s.
Yet, representative leadership is elected and should act in the best interest of the people. If elected leaders speaking in the capacity of their representative positions do not examine individuals’ rights to speech, then we are off to a dead-end as a society. The legislators from Nyanza, if they asked themselves the above and many other questions before courting television cameras to downsize a mere government official on the context of an opinion, should have known better.
And if Mr Miguna – as a Kenyan – was expressing personal views, which I’m driven to settle for, then the Luo MPs made a loud laugh at themselves shaming their electorate by this move. Look, this is a bunch of elected officials that know too well the irredeemable height of expectation from the people they represent. Yet, they spend time on matters that fail to add value to national debate. One would say with utmost certainty that neither Mr Moi nor the PM, whom the leaders undoubtedly sought to curry-favour with, may have zero appreciation for the effort. What a waste!
Also, the leaders’ claim to speak on behalf of the Luo-Nyanza region is a bluff. For, how does an individual’s opinion represent that of over a million people? And, say if Mr Miguna attacked Mr Moi, was he doing it for the Luos to warrant such exoneration by the leaders? And even if Mr Moi had felt offended by an individual who happens to be a Luo, how would that carry the perspectives or aspirations of the Luo nation?
Whereas, elected leaders carry our vote and confidence through the democratic mandate, their excitement at such positions should never run too deep, as to suggest that they can literally own us, including our feelings and thoughts about the things around us. Individuals must be free to express themselves and society will be best doping itself a favor by respecting those opinions and treating them within their deserving context. And literacy, perhaps, should not be considered within just the academic sense, in the same pattern that they suggested, for this kind of action is literally stupefying and idiotic to any academic tagging in their flock. It is equally belittling to any right thinking person from the region these leaders claim to speak for, to imagine that the rest of society should see them within the lenses of this gang.
Freedom of expression cannot be left in the hands of a partisan interest group who do not see any good out of society, unless it’s coming from them. Like, opinions of any other Kenyan, the sentiments of Mr Odinga’s adviser can be disabused by anyone as long as they don’t draw anyone else into their emotions – not even their spouses. Opinion is private! Period!
(Benson Amollo is a 2007 United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Journalism Fellow and a Political Science scholar at Wartburg College, Iowa, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)