November 21, 2014 Mad Hatter

WHAT IS UHURU KENYATTA’S: “PR” or PRESIDENCY?

Uhuru-Kenyatta-selfie“Either way you look it, the person Uhuru has definitely shaped what the Kenya’s presidency looks like today. Not just by the fact of his being the occupant of the office, but his very personal nature.

A powerful narrative equally arises against this conclusion. I mean, all the communication around the presidency could be strategic; to borrow a word from what now is the “PSCU” Presidential strategic communication unit. Each photo, each post perhaps calculated to manipulate your thinking.”

The Singing Senator, Gerald, Otieno “Nyakwar Nyakwamba” Kajwang’ breathed his last; may the good Lord rest his soul. There are numerous occasions when he humorously communicated sad realities. While reporting, to Baba on the state of security, Kajwang’ captured what Kenya was then as a nation, of “mbomu, hapa, mbomu kule.” And at a rally recently again, he was at it, just failing short to call Kenya a failed state. He shot at the President, telling him police cannot die fo-fo-fo, a scathing political attack by all measure.

When he passed on, President Kenyatta eulogized him. He saying he found Kajwang a pleasant person to deal with. Yes, a truth that those who have never walked the trails of politics fail to understand, it is never personal. But even in death, many whose political egos were bruised by the senator lashed out at his breathless self. Such a vanity I must say.

It is uncharacteristic of a President to comment on the feedback he gets on his post, but Uhuru Kenyatta did the unexpected, he came to the defense of the dead; urging respect for the grief the Senators’ family was facing, a good thing. And Uhuru is increasingly becoming known for good things.

He visits Kibra with very little security detail and talks to common folks. He greets little children who do poems, and hosts Otonglo when he gives a good narrative. The man just is not stopping. He congratulates Gor Mahia and yes, gives Jaro Soldier immediate work.

To his critics, these are PR stunts that do not reflect the actual score card of his governance. To his followers, that is the president they elected; a man of the people, humble and down to earth. Whichever way you look at it, the charm offensive continues, and seems to be achieving its intended results, and so is the narrative that the stunts are just that, stunts, with no reflection of actual work.

Where does the truth lie? Is the Jubilee government working or are they just out to manipulate perception?

The answer is certainly not as clear as one would aspire. There is a remarkable difference between the Kibaki and Uhuru Presidencies. One looks like it did a lot, but communicated little; Uhuru’s is keen on communicating everything. Well, to play a devil’s advocate, “uwazi” transparency lies at the heart of jubilee promises, a key pillar. So perhaps, the good president is just but living his promise of ensuring you know what happens each day.

My interest was however to try and determine how the person Uhuru, has influenced what the Presidency now looks like. We all agree, the traditional aura of near-holy nature of the presidency has remarkably disintegrated. While Kibaki left the office without an official Facebook page, Uhuru’s page offers the platform where he interacts with people. Communicates messages and of course, shares those photos that make us see the cool president.

Generally, social media is never a true reflection of a person’s real nature. There are virulent bloggers online who when you meet, are impressively meek that you would be surprised at the contrast. But the man Uhuru, how different is the all smiling president from the “jamaa” UK.

His friends agree largely that the man has carried his nature to the presidency; a firm handshake, a good word for everyone and yes, those ten seconds that make you feel like he has known you for a lifetime.

Earlier this week, I met a gentleman who definitely has a soft Spot for Uhuru. And this started way back at the heart of post election violence. After the displacements, Uhuru so often visited the victims. On this particular day, he visited Mawingu Camp in Nakuru, a cold rainy day. He was the minister of Finance.

As it Rained, Uhuru stood with the IDP’s in the rain, and took porridge with them. Now this cemented a cord that you just cannot untie. Let me dwell slightly more on this IDP issue. Uhuru is among the accused at the ICC on account of 2007 Kenya’s post election violence. The case has had an impressive circus characterizing it, but the greatest paradox, is that the victims of those violence are the ones most vehemently opposed against the continuation of the case. To a majority of them, Uhuru was the sole intervener who rescued the situation.

This sort of draws a parallel to India’s Narendra Modi. All the men share an international loathing at some point, especially by the west, but a sharply contrasting fanatical support from their core home lovers.  And just for the sake of it, they all share a love for selfies. We will do a comparison later on.

Uhuru was born in royalty, no doubt. Born to a father who would become Kenya’s first President, he knew and lived power all through. In part, as I noted way earlier, he has a way with power. And the presidency and its trappings would rarely surprise him, may be the reason for the ease with the Presidency.

But even so, though born to the first President, that image of Uhuru with a truck ferrying cabbage from Nairobi to Kiambu, and later on working as a bank teller, perhaps point to a person who is not a typical “Africa’s big man’s son.”

Either way you look it, the person Uhuru has definitely shaped what the Kenya’s presidency looks like today. Not just by the fact of his being the occupant of the office, but his very personal nature.

A powerful narrative equally arises against this conclusion. I mean, all the communication around the presidency could be strategic; to borrow a word from what now is the “PSCU” Presidential strategic communication unit. Each photo, each post perhaps calculated to manipulate your thinking.

Is there an actual difference from Uhuru’s use of mainstream and Social Media and what other world leaders do?

Among global leaders who frequently use Social media is USA’s Barrack Obama. Obama has over 44.6 Million Followers on his official Page. A quick scan through the page points to it as largely impersonal. While it has glimpses that portray Obama as a cool guy, or perhaps who has a great working relationship with his Deputy, the bulk of posts point to a usage of social media as a mobilizing platform.

Obama therefore routinely posts petitions or messages aiming to seek support for a policy initiative he is undertaken. For a while now, the page has been dominated by messages relating to Obamacare, his pet healthcare reforms policy.

On the other hand, Narendra Modi of India has a strong 25.1 Million likes on Facebook. He, like Uhuru Kenyatta communicates activities on his platform, like which world leader he met and brief snippets of what the meeting was about. And yes, he too shares selfies.

The two leaders share a lot in common that could go into understanding the similarity in their messaging. We noted the disapproval they all shared at some point especially from foreign nations because of their association with violence, yet an inexplicable deep love from their core supporters. I do think that such messaging that seeks to point out the good personal attributes of the leader can be safely construed as a pursuit for acceptance.

In the Kenyan context, Kenyatta’s Presidency was founded on a fear that its mandate was not absolute. The thought of a persistently nagging opposition in my opinion is at the heart of this messaging. So the stunts and the carving of the stories seek to endear the president to people, especially those who did not support him.

There is definitely nothing wrong on this.

What would be wrong is if real work suffered at the altar of this impressionism. And indeed, there have been instances when government communication just failed to make sense and in part bordered over communicating or unnecessary PR.

Uwezo Fund for example, was launched on Sunday, September 7th 2013 in an impressively engineered event. At the time of the launch, largely Uwezo Fund was just but an idea. After the launch, it became apparent that even the regulatory framework of the fund was non-existent. Parliament had to consider the framework, pass it before Uwezo Fund, became a real policy.

More than a year on, after the launch, as late as last week, there was no single person who had received funding from the Uwezo Kitty. I am told the funds started being disbursed sometimes last week.

Now, I am unable to understand why at a very basic level, a government would launch a project that has no regulatory framework. The haste points to an urgent need of being seen to be working. And definitely, the first ad on “Usalama unaanza na mimi na wewe” was quite something.

The problem with “PR” is that it can reduce public criticism and drive a government to a comfort zone where they actually end up believing their own spinning. And this obsession with self approval can be seen starting to crop up in Jubilee. Considerably, agents of government are keen on passing the message that we are working, than listening to what the public say should be done. The natural consequence of this will be a disconnect between the masses and the leadership. A disconnect that will negate the very reason for PR.

As such, quoting numbers and vehement justification of a tenure will definitely do no long term good to the government; but that communication will certainly do magic if it resonates with the public’s reality. Unfortunately, individual reality cannot be manipulated.

Either way you see it, I walked through Kibra, and its way clean, thank God for the NYS seconded there, and am told the geothermal power is now working right? On a Radio show, one of the state spinners, Dennis Itumbi offered to pay electricity bills of anyone if the cost of electricity fails to come down next month. Still, police men were butchered in Kapedo; many Kenyan’s can barely afford a decent life and public health facilities are dens of death.

Whether PR or not, a lot more needs to be done.

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