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Kenyan political exile Miguna Miguna denied the right to return

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Wednesday, 8 January 2020 13:23

Air France removed Miguna Miguna from a plane that was due to take off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Kenyan political exile Miguna Miguna was barred from flights by two European airlines on Tuesday after the Kenyan government issued a “Red Notice”. Shortly before, it had said he would be allowed back into the country.

Both Lufthansa and Air France denied Miguna Miguna the right to travel to Kenya on their flights, with the latter removing him from Flight AFO814 scheduled to fly from Roissy-Charles De Gaulle Airport in France to Nairobi.

Earlier in the day, Lufthansa had denied him boarding in Berlin.

“In the case of this passenger, they [Kenyan authorities] requested that Lufthansa deny boarding,” Lufthansa said in response to a question by a Kenyan on Twitter DM.

While the Kenyan government said through its spokesperson, Cyrus Oguna, that the exiled politician was allowed back into the country, a different message was sent to the airlines.

“…to comply with international regulations governing air transport we were obliged to deny boarding as soon as we received the request of Kenyan authorities, as Lufthansa had to do it this morning,” Air France said in a statement.

A second exile

Miguna Miguna, a 58-year-old Kenyan-Canadian lawyer, was deported by Nairobi on 26 March, 2018, just two months after he and other lawyers swore in opposition leader Raila Odinga as the “People’s President” following the two 2017 presidential elections.

This is Miguna’s second exile. He fled the country in 1987 after being detained for his activities as a student leader.

  • He was granted political asylum by Canada the next year, and returned to Kenya to participate in the 2007 elections, before being appointed as an adviser to opposition leader Raila Odinga after the latter became prime minister.

Miguna and Odinga have have had a fraught relationship. They fell out midway into the 2008-2012 term, and Miguna went on to write memoirs about his time working for Odinga.

Citizenship

The subject of Miguna’s citizenship first came up in 2010; Kenyan law at the time did not recognise dual citizenship, and President Kibaki’s supporters insisted he needed a work permit to work in the country.

“While Mr Miguna Miguna was born in Kenya, he has since become a citizen of Canada. Like all other expatriates working in the country, our laws require that Mr Miguna apply for and obtain the relevant permits to live and work in Kenya,” members of the then ruling party wrote in a letter at the time.

After a fallout during the 2013 elections, where Miguna supported Kenyatta’s candidacy, he and Odinga closed ranks again in 2017. Miguna was a candidate for governor of Nairobi, and was renowned for being abrasive, and brutally honest, during debates and media interviews.

While running as an independent (Odinga’s candidate was the incumbent, Evans Kidero, who lost the election), Miguna and Odinga worked together in the aftermath of the first presidential elections in August 2017.

Arbitrary detention

Miguna, who has been calling for the overthrow of the Kenyatta regime, tried to enter Kenya shortly after his deportation but was denied entry because he did not have a Kenyan passport (it had been seized by authorities).

“Kenyan authorities should urgently obey the numerous court orders to either release or produce Miguna in court. Holding him at the airport without any form of judicial review, in violation of court orders, is a blatant example of arbitrary detention,” Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said at the time.

Kenya’s 2010 laws allow dual citizenship, but some pundits argue that because he did not disclose his Canadian citizenship when he applied for Kenyan documents in 2009 he should be denied it.

While in exile, Miguna Miguna has used his Twitter profile to broadcast not just his predicament, but calls to overthrow the ruling party, to his more than 700,000 followers.

Why this matters:

In addition to the political angle, Miguna’s exile is emblematic of the tension between Kenya’s executive and judicial arms. While the lawyer has filed multiple cases and has court orders stopping his arrest and deportation, which the Chief Justice insisted must be obeyed, the executive has held on to its decision to keep him out of the country.

Despite Kenyatta and Odinga’s March 2018 detente, the East African country’s ruling party seems keen on keeping Miguna out of the country. While it serves both President Kenyatta and Odinga for Miguna to stay in Canada, his exile might alienate them from supporters who view it as a violation of his right to live in his homeland.

  • For President Kenyatta and the ruling party, Miguna’s exile may serve as a rallying point for young Kenyans who are struggling with unemployment and a depressed economy.
  • For Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), his silence on his former ally’s exile may alienate part of his political base, which sees it as a betrayal.
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