State communicators are letting Uhuru Kenyatta down

August 19, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

AP photo

 

By

Joe Khamisi 

For any government to be understood by the governed and for information to flow seamlessly through a bureaucracy, effective communication is of extreme necessity.

That is why governments employ communication officers and give them responsibilities of explaining policies, of interpreting official actions, and of serving as a bridge between the Executive, the media and the public. Communication officers are the ones who must explain and translate what officials say, who must defend the government in critical situations, and who must endeavor to portray it in the best light possible.

Some call them propagandists, others spin doctors, or, as the former press secretary of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni preferred to call himself, “the President’s attack dog,” but the fact remains: spokespersons, press officers, information officers or communications specialists, are there to explain the positive side of the government and to correct any misinformation that may be floating in the public domain. If properly detailed, a spokesperson could be an effective tool in advancing the merits of a firm, the Government and/or the Executive. If handled badly, the results could be disastrous to an organization’s image.

Unfortunately, not many African institutions appreciate the usefulness of spokespeople. It is also true that some spokespeople fall short of understanding their role and responsibilities.

The internal wrangles in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) in Kenya and the fights happening within ministerial communication units there confirm something is seriously wrong with the management of official communication in Kenya.

This is Uhuru‘s last year of his five-year term in office, yet his message of achievement remains obscured and ambiguous to the majority of Kenyans. There is still a significant disconnect between what the government has done and what the people know about what has been achieved.

For example, the government’s fight against corruption is muted to the point that Kenyans are not convinced the government is doing anything to end sleaze. If there is a plan to combat it, we are not hearing about it.

It is the job of spokespeople to explain why so many corruption cases are bogged down in courts and why officials who have been accused of corruption are still walking the streets.

They should explain why infrastructure development is so important to the country and why the government goes out for huge loans, especially from China, to improve roads and railway lines. They must explain the benefits to the people and how the loans will be repaid.

They must explain in clear terms why there are so many black-outs in Kenya and what the government is doing to improve supply and distribution of electricity.

Also, there is widespread perception out there that the money from the ‘Eurobond’ scandal is being used to buy off opposition legislators to support the ruling Jubilee party. So far, I have seen nothing from the communication people that debunks that perception. So Kenyans are left to believe that corruption money is at work and that millions of shillings are being laundered under the cover of politics. For its own benefit, the opposition is taking advantage of the vacuum and bashing the government.

Things don’t look right especially as Jubilee approaches a critical election next year.

 

Adolf Hitler’s famous propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, once said: Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth. Goebbels knew what he was talking about. He himself told and repeated lies so many times that some people were convinced the ‘butcher’ had good reasons to murder tens of thousands of people in a period of eleven-year.

It is not surprising to see a large part of the Kenya population opting for rumors, innuendos, and misinformation, in the absence of facts.

In a nutshell, the communications arm of the Kenya government, in totality, has not proved productive in delivering the mandate it was given. It has been a struggling operation from the very beginning and whatever it is doing is not hitting home.

Recently, the President suspended eight directors in the communication unit – save for the head Manoah Esipisu – because of what a source told Nairobi’s Daily Nation as ‘hemorrhaging of uncertified information’ to the public. The people were later reinstated but the message was clear.

And this past week, ministerial communication officers were in defiance against structural changes they say would frustrate their work. They claim they are being intimidated by their seniors who are allegedly usurping their duties. So, there is certainly a dysfunction in this sector of the civil service.

My advice to Kenyan communication officials is: follow the professional career of Sir Bernard Ingham, perhaps the most brilliant government spokesman Britain has ever known. He was the chief press secretary to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for eleven years and a spokesman to several top British officials.

He was erudite, exuberant and sometimes brash, but his communication skills were unmatched and his trust in the Prime Minister was unquestionable. It was only after his retirement that he offered to give out some of Thatcher’s weaknesses in his book ‘Kill the Messenger’.

Read it if you want to make a career in government communication.

And that is my say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Khamisi

Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.

The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.

Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.

 

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Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.

 

In addition to the above books, read Joe Khamisi blog. For media enquiries Joe can be reached at joekhamisi@yahoo.com

(This article is courtesy of Joe Khamisi and was originally published at the above blog on 17 August 2016)

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