NEWS GANG: One Government, Many Voices

YVONNE:

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.

LINUS:

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 specific regions.

SAM:

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.

YVONNE:

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.

LINUS:

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.

SAM:

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.

YVONNE:

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.

LINUS:

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.

SAM:

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.

YVONNE:

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 anyone.

LINUS:

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 sacred.

SAM:

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 deliberate inaccuracies.

That is our Sense, Take and Kicker tonight.

By Linus Kaikai, Yvonne Okwara, and Sam Gituku.

Tags:

Communication Tree planting Government Spokesman

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