NEWS GANG: One Government, Many Voices
The Government Spokesperson is now here and
held his first presser yesterday. And he started in a fashion we could only
describe as typical of Government Spokesman. He went straight to trying to fit
square pegs into round holes. And this, quite literally, on his first big
topic, the national tree planting exercise.
The Government Spokesman began by laying out
the numbers of trees planted. He said Kenyans planted 150 million trees on the
National Tree Growing Day. Now, assuming that the ‘Green Holiday’ lasted 8
hours, that would mean that at least 18 million trees were planted every hour
and all of the 50 million Kenyans participated in the exercise, each one must
have planted at least three. Now, this is everyone, including newborns,
toddlers and the very elderly, the sick in hospital, you name it. Further, in a
household of 5, then it would mean that they planted at least 15 trees.
He didn’t stop there. The Government
Spokesperson further revealed that this elaborate exercise was funded by well-wishers,
whom he did not name. Yet, the Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah told the
country to not be alarmed as every penny spent on that day came from the budget.
In fact, the communication around the whole
tree planting exercise was rather inadequate. Kenyans were asked to go to their
nearest Chief’s office to obtain the seedlings. Many found none there. There
was not even enough advice about which trees were to be planted for which
And now another illustration of government
speaking at cross purposes. We have heard from some high-ranking government
officials about how stable the economy is, that the international markets are
opening up to us. Yet, just this past week, the Governor of the Central Bank painted
a rather grim picture of the economy. With the shilling in free fall, that our
export to import ratios are not fairing well compared to our neighbours. He
further highlighted our tourism numbers not being favourable, yet his boss the
Deputy President said all hotels are fully booked.
And this would seem to be the general trend
around official talk on the economy. The President’s Chair of the Economic
Council of Advisors is busy online battling anyone and everyone on Twitter, or
should I say X. The foremost Economic Adviser minces no words especially on how
close the country is to doomsday; the economy, he says, is on its deathbed, and
he compares to a patient about to breathe his last. Then, he shifts to
challenging the Ugandan government’s decision to move away from Kenya as its
primary source of fuel.
In communication terms, the buzz inside our
national ears is dizzying. So much is being said and by so many at the same
time. It would seem that there is competition for everyone to be seen and
heard, and competing for attention. Even when it is on the same issue. For
instance, following the outcry of the taxes being charged on returning
passengers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, two Cabinet Secretaries
turned and addressed two separate press conferences.
Then there is the weather. Yes, the rains.
And was it or is it the El Nino phenomenon? First, it was on and then it was
not and then it was on again. Some mystery person tells the President that
there will be no El Nino, despite the Met. department’s consistency in
detailed, expert predictions on the matter. And then El Nino was reinstated at
a press conference, complete with the parading of a senior Met. department
official to press the undo button.
This confusion of communication also extends
to social media. So, the President of the Republic traveled to Saudi Arabia for
the second time in less than a month. This time, it was for a Saudi-Africa
summit. Official Twitter accounts had updates of him in attendance of a summit,
complete with photos. A summit that had apparently been cancelled days before
due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the same week, it would seem the team
handling the Prime Cabinet Secretary do not know who the US Secretary of State
Anthony Blinken is. In a tweet detailing the talks between the two, they put up
the photo of another gentleman. They quickly took this down to replace it with
the right photo.
Then came a gazette notice hiking the cost of
accessing government services; the notice was to get revised just days later.
Reason for the revision? We were told government had heard the cry of Kenyans
and responded by lowering the cost. What’s more the government now says it is
going to seek the views of the public on those costs. If this is the spirit of
public participation then let’s talk of a really neat forward matching queue of
a cart and a horse in that order.
These are just but a few examples of how
government communicates its message, its plan, its approach to serious matters
of national concern. It would seem there is some sort of rush to get messaging
out before it is fully ready. Speak before things materialise, put out a tweet
before proof reading it. Gazette and then revise later. Tweet and then delete.
And then tweet again. Not to mention the high-profile government officials who
tweet in the middle of the night and then delete later. With everyone in
government speaking at the same time, all at once and on several occasions, sounding
like the Tower of Babel.
Folks, it is not just the confusion of the
message, but the tone with which it is delivered. It varies from derogatory, to
boastful, to sometimes plain comical, falling far short of the standards
required for basic communication from one person to another, let alone from a
government to its people. This task of running the country was not foisted on
Now, when the people are delivering their bit
of the bargain, paying taxes and living within the confines of the laws, the
least they should expect is clear, coherent and comprehensible communication
from government. Kenyans deserve better from those who speak for or on behalf
of government. Official communication to the public is a solemn activity; even
Solemnity speaks to gravity and authenticity.
Solemnity distinguishes communication from spin. Solemnity keeps communication
within the four walls of its tenets. Whether it is a speech or a statement, a
scream or a tweet, official communication should aim to be clear, concise,
truthful, respectful and believable. Which means, it should be devoid of
By Linus Kaikai, Yvonne Okwara, and Sam Gituku.
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