Miguna was right, Ongalo shows bad side to journalism

By John Onyando

Kenya's journalism is in the throes of its most severe crisis in decades.

A combination of censorship, unbridled partisanship and ineptitude are steadily eroding the gains that the local media realised over the past decade. Unlike in the years gone by, the prime threats to media freedom today are within the institution itself rather than from an overzealous government.

While we admire the contributions that some heroic journalists – the types who were jailed or exiled – made to combating dictatorship during that dark era of our history, we have to contend with those who insipidly toil to slow the completion of our emancipation. For the media, even today, is not a homogeneous entity wholesomely devoted to upholding national efforts towards reforms.

In the context of Kenya's liberation struggles, pseudo reformers instinctively overrate their role in changing society while maligning the true heroes of the struggle. This is precisely the kind of analysis that Otuma Ongalo, who signs off his articles as the “Standard's senior editor for production and quality,” has been pandering recently. Perhaps due to his big title, Ongalo writes with a finality that betrays his deeply intolerant mien – which itself is such a bane for someone in his trade.

Ongalo's partisanship was explicit in his last two columns – on Prime Minister Raila Odinga on May 1st and on the PM's advisor Miguna Miguna today. “Raila is a bridge that links us more to the dreaded past than the bright future,” screamed the title to his first column. But rather than astutely clarify why the PM is such a depressing leader, Ongalo's column as always recycled his own cynical attitudes against the PM and his aides. Statements like “a fine blend between Jomo Kenyatta and the Nyayo schools of thought,” may sound intelligent to the ears of one's consorts, but their true worth in a newspaper analysis is an open question.

Against all evidence, the venerated journalist censured Odinga for allegedly limiting dissent in ODM. The truth is that William Ruto's rebellion (he has called the PM his enemy number one) cannot pass the test of legitimate disagreement in an organised group.

The one area where Ongalo's article broke new ground was in his confession that he has set aside further empirical inquiry into politics, and now proudly consults his “Oracle” for direction. But even then what he was hiding from readers is his deep bewilderment by the PM's not obeying a political obituary he wrote not long ago.

In his very columns, Ongalo prophesised about Odinga's capitulation (as a result of the grand coalition's failures) to a new political consciousness that in his mind was sweeping through Kenya. It is because the PM's trajectory so repudiates that prediction that Ongalo has resorted to mystic oracles. But he cannot simultaneously take a new cause of advising the PM, a rabid dictator, on any wining formula.

One does not need to be Mr. Odinga's supporter to recognise the PM's painstaking fight for reforms in our country. It is due to Mr Odinga's unforgettable struggle for democracy and his unyielding contribution to the cause of change that he is perennially ranked as the politician most trusted by Kenyans.

Ongalo's attack on Odinga, James Orengo and Miguna comes against the backdrop of renewed obsession with Odinga by a select group of columnists whose opinions are so diametrically removed from public pulse that their real motivation is suspect. At a time of intense national debate on the constitution, land and other pressing issues, some columnists are singularly preoccupied with Mr. Odinga - and the crux of their scrutiny is nothing but outdated biases and undefined fears.

It was perfectly in order for Miguna, either personally or in his official role, to exercise his right of reply and correct the substance of Ongalo's scurrilous tirade against him, the PM and ODM. The Standard's suppression of Miguna's rejoinder was an inexcusable act of censorship. That the paper went ahead to publish a further mendacious comment by the same writer points to a deliberate campaign to malign Miguna. For even today's article by Ongalo failed to lay any convincing basis for his hyped fears of Raila, Miguna or ODM.

Ongalo's fantasies about Kamiti Prison are of course completely unfounded. While all of us naturally think highly of our writing, Ongalo's boisterous marvel at his quite lacklustre style is self-serving and myopic. Rather than engaging in an irrelevant contest against Miguna, Ongalo should let others determine the potency of his writing.

The writer, who works for an international agency in Nairobi, served in ODM and the PM's press section for a year.