When President Uhuru Kenyatta assumed office in 2013, there was an undoubted sense that his would be a savvy government, especially with regard to communication.
The President’s political organisation had ran a one of a kind glitzy and on message campaign, with the word digital being thrown around a lot.
However, on assuming office, things started unfolding in the opposite direction. Corruption became the new buzz word, with the President literally throwing his hands in the air at one point.
By this time, the citizenry had grown weary of the President’s hitherto effective public relations machine.
It was proof of the adage that people campaign in poetry — neat, succinct, rhythmic lines — but govern in prose — long, winding verbose.
By 2017, most, if not all, government communication seemed like spin. There was Manoah Esipisu, now Kenya’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, an old hand serving as State House Spokesman. Then there was the Dennis Itumbi-led brigade of digital warriors.
By 2019, there appears to be a complete lack of coherence, with the mishandling of questions around the standard gauge railway (SGR), the housing levy and Huduma Namba being but examples of a fumbling lot, either unable to articulate government positions or confirming that there exists no internal clarity.
During a previous live interview, President Kenyatta promised NTV’s Mark Maasai a copy of the SGR contract, to clear doubts about at-risk national assets were Kenya to default on its debt obligations to China.
Consequently, Esipisu’s replacement, Kanze Dena, upon inquiry, promised a second journalist, the Daily Nation’s Edwin Okoth, that the SGR contract would be circulated to journalists in due course.
As questions about the contract persisted, the President’s Chief of Staff, Nzioka Waita, had to recently step in to categorically state that no journalist would receive the contract since the President had been counselled against such action by the Attorney General.
Surprisingly, Waita further suggested that the President had in fact been ambushed by Mark Maasai.
It wasn’t the first nor last time Waita was being forced to publicly intervene. In the Huduma Namba marketing-cum-coercion spree, Francis Wangusi, Director General of the Communications Authority, declared that there was a possibility of insisting on one having a Huduma Namba as a prerequisite for owning a SIM card.
Waita quickly clarified in a tweet that Huduma Namba would not be shoved down the public’s throat.
Then came the hullabaloo about Kenya being denied a Sh368 billion loan by the Chinese for the extension of the SGR during the recent Belt and Road Initiative gathering.
Before departing for Beijing, Raila Odinga had publicly confirmed that on the agenda of his trip with the President was the pursuit of this particular loan, to extend the SGR to Kisumu.
But after things fell apart, it had to take Waita to once again clarify that Raila does not speak for State House, and that the man must have been speaking in his own capacity as the African Union High Representative on Infrastructure Development.
However, one wonders, if Raila has no pseudo-governmental role, then why does he from time to time appear to be at the centre of government projects, including being one of the main on-the-ground champions of Huduma Namba?
Not too long ago, there was brouhaha over a tweet sent from the President’s official Twitter handle, a not so subtle anti-corruption message construed to be targeted at the Deputy President.
Within no time, the tweet was deleted and the President’s Twitter account suspended.
This was quickly followed by an explainer tweet from Waita, attributing the action to "unauthorised access to the official social media handles" of the Head of State, and promising "necessary remedial action". The President’s Twitter account remains suspended.
Away from State House, government communications continues to flounder. Daily Nation columnist Jaindi Kisero recently pointed out that with all his brilliance and supposed good intentions, Housing Principal Secretary Charles Hinga, largely seen as the face of the housing levy programme, has been ceaselessly using venture capitalist-like jargon in an attempt to explain the project to Wanjiku, ending up falling short, appearing to want to hide behind semantics in the absence of a straight forward explanation.
These instances, and more, point to a degree of chaos and unpreparedness which shouldn’t emanate either from government or State House.
One wonders, why should the President’s Chief of Staff assume the role of spokesperson time and again. Is Nzioka Waita being overbearing?
Are those working under him perpetually dropping the ball, or is State House and government at large in eternal firefighting mode?