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Positive narratives can’t be fibs sold as success stories

Saturday April 13 2019

Eugene Wamalwa and other CSs

Cabinet Secretaries Joe Mucheru (ICT), Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) and Ukur Yatani (Social Services) at Treasury building during a briefing on the drought, April 10, 2019. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

TOM MSHINDI
By TOM MSHINDI
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A task force will soon be making its proposals presumably on how to improve government communication. The review is useful for what it is worth but I feel compelled to question why ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru had to set up the team in the first instance.

The reason is self-evident: whatever is referred to as government communication is a web of confusion, contradictions and often, misinformation. The government communication network is a dysfunctional multi-layered bureaucracy in part hobbled by under-resourcing, but repeatedly caught in twists of embarrassing mischief; the result of an administrative system too inter-woven with politics.

LEGACY ITEMS

After defining a four-point agenda on which he is staking his legacy as Kenya’s fourth President, Mr Kenyatta hardly has time nowadays to articulate progress in this humongous ambition. The Presidency's attention is split right down the middle with Mr Kenyatta ostensibly focusing on fighting corruption while his Deputy William Ruto is laser-focused on being the fifth president.

The state of play has compelled the President to create another structure led by his most effective Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to supervise the implementation of government projects generally, and specifically the four agenda legacy items. But even as Dr Matiang’i rolls up his sleeves, education is in a mess, health is ailing, hunger is killing Kenyans, the environment is on its knees, the national debt threatens to balloon out of control, unemployment continues to drive youth crazy. Betting and graft have taken over as the opt-in favourites to success!

This is the mess being communicated mainly by mainstream media because it is generally what is reflected in the mirror of government performance.

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DEBT BURDEN

But the government has its own machinery: Presidency Spokesperson, the Directorate of Strategic Communications, the Deputy President’s communications unit, the Official Government Spokesperson. There may be a communication adviser to the President. In the ministry is the moribund Kenya News Agency with information officers in each county, the anaemic Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and the Kenya Yearbook. Each ministry has information officers.

Which story are all these megaphones, platforms and experts trying to tell? That the President did not refer to a “closest political aide” as he fulminated against corruption while touring Namibia last month? Or that no Kenyan has died of hunger while graves are fresh in Turkana and Baringo? Or that Sh7bn and not Sh21bn may have been lost in some dams we can’t find in Kerio Valley?

Or that the last mile electricity project was a great success despite most homes now being unable to pay to enjoy light and Kenya Power tottering on the brink of collapse because of the debt burden? Or that promised stadiums are here and that Chinese debt is wholesome?

MALFEASANCE

These fibs can be verbalised but will not be believed because of the basic fact that however sophisticated the machinery set up to articulate a lie, it will remain a lie. Believability is in the execution, the doing, and the results.

The government must stop trying to sugar-coat a narrative riddled with oodles of incompetence and malfeasance and just deliver on its numerous promises to wananchi. Out of this will flow the positive narrative about a people busy creating wealth, a country exporting food, an education system thriving on research and registration of patents, a policing system that is a service rather than a force, etc. This narrative is not contrived by press statements and layers of busy-body bureaucrats. It writes itself!

The writer consults on various areas. [email protected], Twitter: @tmshindi

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