Why ‘closest political ally’ edit a real fail, and silence is golden

Tuesday March 26 2019

uhuru Twitter

President Kenyatta's Twitter account cannot be found. For now. PHOTO | TWITTER 

MACHARIA GAITHO
By MACHARIA GAITHO
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Had President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Facebook and Twitter accounts not been pulled down and a video crudely edited to delete the now-controversial ‘you can be my closest political ally’ reference, the matter would have passed without much interest.

Instead, a major brouhaha illustrated not just the widening rift between the President and his deputy William Ruto, but also an increasingly dysfunctional Presidency and utter confusion in the communications out of State House and the DP’s office.

TOO LATE

When the President, in his spirited address to Kenyans in Namibia, lumped together his siblings and ‘closest political ally’ amongst those who would not be spared in the war against corruption, listeners would have been free to put names to the blanks.

But it would have been completely wrong to interpret it that President Kenyatta meant that those close to him — such as influential younger ‘First Brother’ and power-behind-the-scenes Muhoho Kenyatta, sisters Kristina Pratt and Nyokabi Muthama, or Deputy President Ruto — were headed for arrest.

It was a very general statement not radically different from the President’s now-common anti-graft rhetoric, not to be taken too seriously unless it really signalled that some ‘untouchables’ were about to go down. This, then, begs the big question why the ‘political ally’ reference had to be deleted. That was an unnecessary edit — and too late anyway as the original version was in circulation.

The subsequent shutdown of President Kenyatta’s official social media accounts served absolutely no purpose other than to add to the frenzied sharing of the original video clip.

According to State House Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, the accounts were suspended because of “unauthorised access”. He did not say who had hacked into the accounts, if at all, and what they had done. It thus remained unclear if the problem was posting of the original video or editing to remove the presumed reference to Dr Ruto.

VICIOUS ATTACKS

It is instructive, however, that Mr Waita was instrumental, over the past year, in finally ejecting from State House a group of Presidential Strategic Communications Unit staffers, of whom the most prominent was Digital and Diaspora Communications Director Dennis Itumbi, the erstwhile ‘official blogger’, who used to direct a wide network of social media warriors programmed to carry out vicious attacks on foes, real or imagined.

This was followed by the closure of the multiple social media accounts run by the Itumbi network as the blogging desk came under the direct control of PSCU boss Kanze Dena, whose predecessor Manoah Esipisu had been unable to rein in what Mr Waita saw as a rogue and indisciplined unit.

After being shut out of the Kenyatta inner circle, the ejected PSCU team found a home in DP Ruto’s communications team and 2022 presidential campaign machinery.

Was Mr Waita suggesting that this was where the alleged hacking came from? Were the social media accounts shut down because of infiltration or toxic reader comments dismissing the President’s umpteenth vow to root out graft?

All this drama came as the two Jubilee principals increasingly fell out over the President’s war on corruption, his growing links with Opposition chief Raila Odinga and clear distaste for Dr Ruto’s premature presidential campaign, which he sees as a distraction from the Jubilee development agenda.

Whatever the case, what would have passed as a minor issue speedily escalated.

GARBLED MESSAGE

But then, it is not only State House becoming notorious for confused, garbled communications.

The messaging from Dr Ruto during the increasingly loud, if indirect, verbal fisticuffs with President Kenyatta has been nothing short of disaster. The President insists he is fighting a war against corruption; his deputy comes across as one fighting a war against the war on corruption.

Multiple investigations are launched where the DP is never mentioned as a person of interest, but he voluntarily inserts his name as the intended target and goes on to employ archaic defences that won’t fly in this day and age.

One is the old ‘Our people are being finished’ ruse aimed at ethnic incitement. The other is the ‘Why only me?’ question that tries to tar everyone else with the corruption brush, but actually amounts to admission of guilt.

It is also outright improper for the DP to get into public exchanges with investigators, who are way below his rank, or to propose the team he favours to carry out the probes. He would do well to learn that sometimes silence is golden and that rabid attack dogs out only to catch his eye often do more harm than good.

[email protected], @MachariaGaitho

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