Tweet to Brand Kenya: Look beyond the Mara

Monday April 25 2011

Some 1.5 million wildebeests crossing the Mara river in the Masai Mara game reserve during their annual migration, one of the main tourist attractions in Kenya. Photo/FILE

Some 1.5 million wildebeests crossing the Mara river in the Masai Mara game reserve during their annual migration, one of the main tourist attractions in Kenya. Photo/FILE 

By CLAY MUGANDA

Oh! How I love Twitter, that micro-blogging website that has not only changed the way we communicate, but also turned some Kenyans into experts — total jerks of all trades, and masters and mistresses of none at all.

Thanks to Twitter, Kenya is now brimming with experts. Long gone are the days when only political analysts could tell us how Barack Obama’s trip to Africa in 2030 will affect Kenya’s 2012 elections.

Nowadays, when we want to know how the Canadians are winning the war in Ivory Coast, or how Russia seceded from Uzbekistan in 2010 and how those affect Kenya’s political landscape, we just turn to Twitter, and there, in 140 characters or even less, there will be a Kenyan, mainly a media personality — totally different from journalists and writers — with an answer that will not only raise more questions about his level of ignorance, but also expose his megalomaniacal tendencies.

Unlike modern journalism, which has been praised for keeping us in touch with the ignorance of the society by giving us the views of the uneducated, Twitter is helping many hitherto little-known Kenyan media personalities — whatever those are — to be famous for being famous.

Initially, their views did not matter even to themselves, but now they have a platform on which they can broadcast their opinions to both friend and (mostly) foe.

Twitter is their saviour. It has rescued them from the pit of obscurity, and while they are still groping to find their way out of the hole in the ground and the one in their heads, they have turned it in to an ultimate weapon of mass misinformation, disinformation and, many a time, defamation.

But if it is helping them have an identity, it is also taking away their individuality as they seek refuge in numbers, more like the politician who complains that his community is being targeted when only he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Praise one, and he takes the accolades personally. Prove to him that he is a congenital idiot and he starts posting we-are-being-targeted tweets.

Whenever I think how Twitter is helping non-entities become brands, I always wonder why those charged with creating a national brand are missing the boat, and leaving such an arduous task to a few politicians who think that wearing peaked caps bearing the national colours and singing incoherently in Europe will increase the country’s GDP.

But just a sec! Could it be that Brand Kenya Board, whose mandate is to “ensure an integrated national brand is created, harnessed and sustained for the long term” just does not know where to start?

The last time I checked, BKB wanted to “restore confidence in Kenya among foreigners, be they visitors, investors or development partners”, but it seems that it looks at the wrong places and fails to see the bigger picture and the numerous opportunities which can make its work easier.

For starters, it can easily tell investors that Kenya is the greatest land of opportunity, considering that, in our land, no one ever gets convicted for corruption because it is corruption-free.

That means it costs nothing to be corrupt and that is why corruption is rampant at all levels of our society, especially at the top echelons of Government.

Tourists can be told about our numerous tourist attractions, the main one being Parliament, which happens to be one of the few places in the world where they will get to see grown men and women wallowing in confusion as they try to understand how the high fuel prices can push up the cost of living beyond the means of ordinary Kenyans who, unlike them, pay taxes.

Then we have our roads. Not roads per se, but traffic gridlocks, especially when the VP, the Prime Minister or even the President is running a State errand, like going to address a political rally.

When the President is running an errand, traffic is stopped hours before he leaves State House, and again, many hours before he leaves the place he had visited.

Since motorists waste fuel in the gridlocks, they will have to refuel, which means more money for oil companies, which is more taxes to the Government and, due to the trickle-down effect, to the people — in form of handouts from politicians who have access to public coffers. That is how Kenyans benefit from public rallies or traffic gridlocks.

Another aspect of our society which, even though derided, is one of the best in the world is our gallant police force, which tourists can find interesting because it is a marvel of modern-day law enforcement operations.

We have hospitals, or, generally, the health care system, which can be of great interest to tourists and investors alike. While the former can watch real medical dramas at the emergency and casualty wards of our public hospitals, the investors can see how they can invest in more private hospitals whose charges can give one a heart attack and lead to his being admitted, then charged an arm, a leg and many other body organs — and that might not even cover the cost of a few hours’ stay in a general ward of a private hospital in Kenya.

One of the most unique tourist attractions can be students of public universities. In which other country do students stone motorists, loot and bring business in the capital city to a standstill because one of them lost a pen, or because one of them was dumped by his girlfriend?

With such tourist attractions, visitors can avoid the tiring journeys to national parks that offer nothing else but wild animals that they can watch from the comfort of their living rooms, thanks to documentaries aired on satellite television channels.

Ideally, BKB can find many unique things that will make its work easier. It just needs to look in the right places, like our foreign embassies where the political appointees who are our envoys make very good tourist attractions.