The just-concluded elections at the African Union and African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, where Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Ms Amina Mohammed, lost her bid for the chairman’s post, have reignited debate on the country’s position on the continent.
Many times, serious questions have been raised about how we understand and handle global politics, which often is sometimes very casual, exposing the country to ridicule. In addition to the CS Amina debacle, to the standard gauge railway or oil pipeline or the European Union pact, where our partner East African states have always backstabbed us, we seem to underestimate or completely fail to read the writing on the wall.
Whenever this happens, many people start blaming the media for allegedly exposing the country to embarrassment, which is not the case. It is interesting because the thinking here is that the media hate our country and see nothing positive to say about Kenya. This is wrong.
It is the lack of involvement of the media in our way of dealing with things, especially foreign relations and diplomacy that is to blame for this.
Those in charge of our international relations have failed to appreciate the role of the media in positioning Kenya in global politics – they occasionally lecture the media when things have gone wrong. In Ms Mohammed’s case, while a lot was done, including reaching out to the international media, there was poor preparation and reading of the environment in her campaign.
In addition, her participation in the local media did not seem to arouse national support, either because of her suitability for the job or the current political extremism in the country. It was not clear, for instance, why CS Mohammed and not Mr Erastus Mwencha, an AU veteran, was Kenya’s candidate. Mr Mwencha has served as a deputy chair of the commission for almost eight years. Also, how much was invested in understanding the geopolitics at play, including possible discontent from the Francophone bloc?
On the other matters, when those working on the standard gauge railway or the oil pipeline failed to have a comprehensive communication strategy, including lack of response to the concerns raise on preparations, costs, technology, among others, the media choose to focus on the information they could get, which mostly was on the cost, provided by those who might have lost during the tendering. The projects lost external support and our neighbours started looking for alternatives.
Major global powers use foreign relations and diplomacy as principle strategies to position themselves at vantage points in the economic, political and cultural order.
The West, led by the US, and China, appreciate that to push their agenda into the global arena and lobby to place their citizens into powerful strategic regional and global institutions, the must speak to them through the media.
This then lays bare the centrality of media and propaganda in the game of diplomacy and foreign relations. It is time the media in Kenya and the officials running our foreign policy borrowed a leaf from such a strategy and began to sensitise our media on the importance of playing the game of diplomacy for our good as a nation.
Victor Bwire is deputy chief executive officer and programmes manager, Media Council of Kenya.