Miguna Miguna’s exact location and movement remain the preserve of state security and the subject of much speculation.
From his last social media post, the self-styled NRM general was last located in a hospital at Dubai Airport, where he had been repatriated by Kenya’s Immigration and security agents after being drugged and forced onto an Emirates Airlines flight.
Miguna says he has neither the passport of his acquired Canadian nationality nor his native Kenyan one.
His saga bears the hallmarks of the tribulations of another controversial Kenyan Sheikh Khalid Balala who 20 years ago was rusticated in a foreign land after his passport was revoked by the Kenya government.
Like Miguna, Sheikh Balala was a thorn in the state’s flesh. He led the proscribed Islamic Party of Kenya, which had become a nightmare for Kanu soon after the return to multiparty politics.
Shortly after this Easter, Mombasa High Court judge Eric Ogola will rule in a long-running compensation suit launched by the former radical preacher and political activist 21
Now living a less-eventful life in a Mombasa flat, Balala turned 60 years on March 22.
In an interview with the Star, he said he has prosecuted a strong case and believes he will prevail against what he calls the “colonial state that still rules Kenya”, after half a century of independence.
Although the two cases bear some similarities, Miguna’s woes pale in comparison to what Balala faced in the 1990s.
Both are victims of ulterior political machinations; both are citizens whose conduct the state frowned upon; both tried to return to the country and were forced back out four times in Balala’s case.
Frustrated by his persistent activism through the now-defunct Islamic Party of Kenya, IPK, which he co-founded, the Moi state suddenly snatched Balala’s passport, cancelled it and declared he was not Kenyan.
Angered by his confrontational politics, the Uhuru administration confiscated Miguna’s passport, defaced it, declared him an alien and deported him.
Twenty years after he was allowed back into the country, Balala is still waiting for justice. He believes the conclusion of his suit which has been heard by five different judges
has been delayed by political pressure on the Judiciary after he allegedly rejected two bids during the Moi and
Kibaki administrations to settle out of court, or part with a 10 per cent of the anticipated compensation.
Balala had left Kenya to visit Germany, but his situation changed dramatically while abroad.
Balala had launched the IPK, a feisty youthful political outfit that was denied registration.
He became the go-to person for anyone organising political activity in Mombasa. He angered the Moi regime when he entered into cooperation with the opposition Ford Kenya.
Between November 1991 and February 25, 1993, he was tried for treason and acquitted for lack of evidence.
He resumed public politics unbowed following what he described as a sham trial.
“The clear plan was to detain me until after the 1992 general elections. There was no evidence of treason and it was a malicious prosecution,” he tells the Star.
After the acquittal, he was warned not to attend a by-election in South Nyanza occasioned by the defection of an opposition MP to the ruling Kanu party. But he attended several
opposition rallies in Western Kenya where he stepped up attacks on the Moi regime.
Kanu’s chance to exact revenge came in early 1994 when Balala travelled to Germany to attend a conference and raise money for his human rights causes Before his departure, he was alarmed when he went to renew his passport.
His new passport was marked for expiry after only three months.
“When I asked why my new passport would expire after three months I was told that it was the policy for politicians of my nature,” he says.
During his tour in Germany, he travelled to London where, out of the blue, he encountered a man who identified himself as Mudavadi from the Kenyan High Commission in Bonn.
“After three weeks in London someone accosted me at Heathrow Airport, claiming to be from the Kenyan Embassy in Bonn.
He identified himself only as Mudavadi and he told me straight away my passport was to expire in two weeks.” Balala immediately suspected the
stranger was a Kenyan spy trailing him.
Mudavadi invited Balala to Bonn to renew his passport. He acceded and travelled to the embassy but soon realised he had walked into a trap.
Balala believes British intelligence alerted Kenyan authorities about his presence in London out of mutual interest.
“When I gave him (Mudavadi) the passport he was extremely happy. He actually kissed it and vanished into the embassy. I waited for three days and he reappeared to tell me
he had information from Nairobi that my passport would not be renewed.”
Balala was now stateless, without any documents to travel or seek asylum in Germany. For five days he was stranded in the transit zone at Frankfurt International Airport
because “no airline was willing to take me and the British government did not want me back in London,” Balala recalls.
He was taken in by friends and a church. He also received monetary assistance from sympathetic Kenyan opposition leaders, especially Raila Odinga, who paid for his upkeep and
legal fees in Germany.
On December 12, 1994, Moi publicly declared that Sheikh Balala was not Kenyan and should return to Yemen, where he allegedly belonged.
“At least Miguna has admitted he acquired Canadian citizenship but for my case, I do not understand where the claim I was Yemeni was plucked from,” he says.
That marked the beginning of a titanic legal battle by Kenyan and German activists to restore Balala’s citizenship.
With assistance from the German Social Democrat Party, Balala petitioned Germany, the US and the United Kingdom to pile pressure on the Moi regime to restore his citizenship. He also filed suits in a German court and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, seeking a declaration that the revocation of his citizenship was a gross violation of international law.
Kenyan High Commissioner to Germany Ogutu Obare, Raila Odinga, human rights activist Maina Kiai and officials from the Kenyan High Commission testified. The Yemeni
government presented information to courts and tribunals denying Balala was its national.
In a letter to German authorities on September 17, 1996, Obare restated the official line from Nairobi that Balala was not and had never been a Kenyan citizen.
“Suffice it to say that the Kenya government has not deprived Mr Balala of his travel documents as he is not a bona fide citizen of Kenya.
Mr Balala is in fact Yemenis (sic) by descent and failed to renounce this stature on his 23rd birthday in conformity with our constitution which does not recognise dual citizenship.”
And to demolish Balala’s case, the commissioner claimed, “Balala plays no significant role in the Kenyan political sphere…,” for he was “…neither a member of Parliament nor known leader of any institution of political significance in Kenya…”
This is notwithstanding the fact that Balala who matriculated at Allidina Visram in 1975 and later took Islamic law studies in Saudi Arabia was IPK’s spiritual guide and an articulate leader whose oratory had made him a the darling of many at the Coast and a prime target for all political factions.
IPK had entered into a union with Ford Kenya, Kenya’s strongest opposition party at the time, to erase Kanu’s dominance in Mombasa, besides awakening the Muslim masses across Kenya.
Kenyan envoy Obare would later visit the activist at his house in Frankfurt to warn him not to return to Kenya. Balala quotes him saying, “You will not return to Kenya until
we tell you because you are a threat to national security.”
In mid-1997, a Bonn court issued a judgement urging Kenyan authorities to restore Balala’s citizenship and pay him the equivalent of US$2 million in compensation.
Balala was not paid the money but Kenya succumbed to international pressure and agreed to allow the activist back home. The Kenya government neither bought him an
air ticket nor gave him money for support. He was promised citizenship papers upon return but this was not fulfilled.
An international campaign, including a petition to the Queen of England, US President Bill Clinton and other world leaders forced the Moi regime to allow Balala back on May 13, 1997.
Besides the British refusing to allow him to transit through London, Balala tried unsuccessfully to enter Kenya four times, on temporary Kenyan papers issued by the mission
in Bonn, and was forced out.
“I was returned four times, once in Mombasa, twice at JKIA and once in Dar es Salaam. On all occasions I was forced back onto the plane that had flown me in and I returned to Frankfurt,” he says.
The German government finally paid for his air ticket on his fifth attempt to enter Kenya and he travelled on temporary papers issued by Germany this time.
The Kenya government had promised to reissue him Kenyan documents upon return to the motherland but that was never to be. His house in Mombasa had been vandalised and
all his identification documents stolen by state agents.
After two months, Balala was called by Immigration officials to Nyayo House in Nairobi to pick his new passport. But it was confiscated again before he left the precincts.
“I was issued a new passport on July 22, 1997, at Nyayo House. I felt relieved and descended in the lift from the tenth floor feeling good.
On the ground I was accosted by state agents who asked me to surrender the passport and up to now it has never been returned,” he says.
Balala launched a new legal battle to reclaim his passport.
“I sued and the state acknowledged in court that it had taken my passport,” he says, adding that his suit was sabotaged when Kenyan authorities threw him in jail in late 1997 until 2001.
Although detention without trial had been abolished in the statutes, Balala was held without charge during these years to ensure he did not participate in the 1997 elections,
from which the opposition emerged stronger than in the 1992 polls.
Balala identifies with Miguna and others like Raila aide Salim Lone, former MP Koigi Wamwere and the late Professor Katama Mkangi, who suffered similar withdrawal of citizenship.
But he feels betrayed by the Kibaki regime, which he believes did nothing to reverse these policies, substantially, or at all.
He also believes the British and American governments silently supported his tribulations and could be cheering on Miguna’s humiliation, actuated by the belief that opponents
of the successive regimes in Nairobi, ideologically, threaten their imperial interests in East Africa.
“I have been restless since 1990 to date. Had I been someone who is not spiritual and reads a lot, I would have gone crazy by now,” says the grandfather of 12, who says he is about to complete his memoirs.
“I am a responsible man and I rejected all attempts to compromise me or destroy my people and country through violence. Many times we were provoked but we remained wise and committed to our people.”
He adds, “I have been through everything that Miguna is going through now but this is the price we have to pay to change our country which is controlled by a tyrannical colonial state that began with the British and has not changed.”
“The British and Americans have always supported regimes in Nairobi for imperial and ideological reasons. Kibaki betrayed the cause by shifting power back to Kanu’s tactics and
paved way for the Jubilee regime which is a vestige of Kanu.”
Balala claims that under the Kibaki and Uhuru administrations, his case did not move because he refused to kowtow to the new powers.
“I have been told to compromise or make an undertaking that I will part with 10 per cent of my compensation but I refused because we are in this thing not for financial gain because we wish to strike a blow for freedom and posterity.”
~The Star Kenya