Opinion and Analysis
Books and vibrancy of the mind
Posted Monday, August 6 2012 at 20:34
Universities, particularly research universities, are places where one should encounter commitment to what one sociology professor termed as running away from ignorance, and where brilliance manifests itself in assorted ways. Professors, lecturers, and students stimulate their minds by holding “seminars” on topical issues or the latest political fad.
They supposedly derive great pleasure in disagreeing on the message or value of specific writings.
That happened last week when University of Nairobi “dons”, led by Anthropologist Humphrey Ojwang decided to “discuss” three books that expose rot in Kenyan institutions. These were Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat, Joe Khamisi’s The Politics of Betrayal, and Miguna Miguna’s Peeling Back the Mask.
The authors had their own political agendas and in the process created stars. Wrong, the Briton, made John Githongo her star through whom to advance very entertaining arguments about the Office of the President.
Khamisi and Miguna became their own stars by hitting out at Parliament and the Office of Prime Minister.
Khamisi, elected by the people of Bahari, exposed the Parliament where cutting deals before accepting or rejecting Bills was normal. In contrast, Githongo and Miguna were simply appointed to specially created offices that disappeared with their departure.
The value of each book was the political excitement it aroused. Those who had beef with President Kibaki loved Wrong and those uncomfortable with Raila Odinga enjoy Miguna.
When academics sit in Kenya’s premier university, at a politically sensitive time, to discuss the value of books exposing political “nudity”, curiosity is aroused as to what the agenda is.
The room, called Confucius, was packed with prominent intellectual activists in and out of University of Nairobi who went to hear what Ojwang had for them.
The lead was Okoth Okombo, the linguist, who could juxtapose names and events so systematically that he could almost convince a sceptic.
He put aside Khamisi as a recorder with no serious message and then concentrated on the other two.
The difference between Githongo and Miguna, he argued, was that Githongo was a “whistle blower” but Miguna was simply a jilted lover out on a vengeance.
A word of caution was thrown in by Paul Mbatia, the sociologist, whose interest was on the scientific nature of the books. If the assertions cannot be verified, he argued, one needs to be careful accepting claims.
There were other performers of note like Adams Oloo and Onyango Oloo who feature in the book and held different positions on Miguna.
Adams tore into Miguna devastatingly, pointing to patent inaccuracies in the book.