On March 17, the government launched a new state corporation, the Brand Kenya Board, whose ostensible goal was to give this country a make-over that would improve its image and, presumably, attract well-heeled tourists and foreign investors in greater numbers.
About the same time, plans were announced to recruit a public relations firm that would lobby for the country in the seats of government and commerce in the United States.
Clearly, these initiatives indicate that the government does not regard our diplomats as aggressive enough in selling the country in Western capitals, and other areas of strategic importance to Kenya.
One of the problems facing the country is that it has succeeded in sullying whatever image it had by failing to fight high-level corruption, insecurity, political chicanery, and to punish those responsible for instigating, financing and perpetrating the post-election violence that approached genocidal proportions.
Needless to say, although it has all the trappings of a working democracy, Kenya is still regarded as a failed state, albeit on scanty evidence indeed. Could it be that there is something our diplomats are not doing right, or could it be that we are judged on a higher standard than our neighbours?
During his address to the country’s diplomats at the beginning of their pep-talk retreat yesterday, President Kibaki gave a hint of the thinking in his government when he urged them to ‘‘evolve strategies that will market Kenya as an attractive and competitive destination with excellent opportunities and facilities for foreign investors, businessmen and tourists’’.
Clearly, the President was saying his ambassadors were not doing enough to project the country in a positive light. Nor, as he went on to intimate, are they aggressive enough in devising strategies for attracting investors to partner with the government.
If this is the case, do we need to keep ambassadors and high commissioners in foreign capitals, at a high cost to the taxpayer, for the sole purpose of issuing visas, meeting Kenyan dignitaries on visits abroad, and keeping up appearances in the cocktail circuit?
Something is clearly not working in our diplomatic efforts to project the country’s national interests, and it is time the whole issue was looked at afresh and the competence of our diplomats reviewed.