(Statehouse Spokesperson Kanze Dena addressing Media at statehouse)
For several months now, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been visibly a very angry man. It reached the peak few days ago when the head of state was launching the Standard Gauge Railway(SGR) Freight operations to Naivasha’s inland port. At the end of his speech, the President chose to thank a few individuals who have done exemplary well in service delivery and dismissed the naysayers who have been complaining that his presidency is having too little to show.
This leads to a question of whether or not the statehouse spokesperson is the derailer of President’s performance.
People normally assume that a spokesperson is only a mere mouthpiece or rather a messenger who is employed to relay the message and ideas of the boss, forgetting that a spokesperson is more than a conduit for passing messages. A spokesperson for the President must be someone who is thoroughly intellectual, well read, has known ideological standing and possesses basic foundational grounding on matters economy, politics and policy and should be spotlessly articulate more so in writing. A spokesperson provides the solid foundation through which the presidency is anchored. Spokespersons all over the world are those who must have studied communication and public relations at one time and not broadcast – radio or TV anchors. This is not the case with what we have in Kenya.
We all know that Beatrice Kanze Dena was given a job she was neither trained for nor qualified for. Kanze is a trained broadcaster and not communicator – public relations expert. While it was a plus for the presidency to settle for a lady, there aught to have been more to this appointment than just being a female. Her predecessor Manoah Esipisu and members of the digital team such as Munyori Buku and James Kinyua did not execute their work well either. They all underperformed.
“When Kanze Dena was appointed statehouse spokesperson – a post she wasn’t qualified to hold because of her limited education – she held frequent press briefings, changed her wardrobe to look like former Whitehouse press sec Sarah Sanders. Isitoshe [not enough], murdered English and made Kiswahili the lingual franca during statehouse briefings. It was media blitz all over. I’m the only one in the entire country who mustered the courage and called her bluff as nincompoops praised her. I said, in no uncertain terms, that she’s an incompetent fool whose energy will soon fizzle out like a deflated balloon. I knew she will fall like boobs from bra. Now where is she? Amenyamaza ka dem amekula fare[she has gone quiet like a lady who has ‘eaten’ fare]” Jim Bonnie
When President Kenyatta visited the white House at the invite of President Donald Trump, Kanze was quick to have a photo with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. The photo depicted a sharp contrast when it gets to brains and content since one is highly refined while the other one can only anchor news.
One Wainaina would clarify in a comment what Sarah does, something Kanze would have learnt from, “In online conservative global circles, they call what Sarah does the Daily Press Beating. I like her. She does not take bullshit. And her father the former Governor Mike Huckabee is wonderful online troll who when necessary will reinforce the press beating. I can see where the lady got her attitude from!”
During the 2019’s Jamhuri day celebrations at Nyayo Stadium, a number of Kenyans questioned why the President’s speech was considerably long. If you read or listened to the President’s speech, you would realize that some of the contents of the speech were things a competent spokesperson would have delivered through other platforms. This prompted this comment from a commentator;
“When a king is surrounded by fools, even his nudity is never questioned”
Many Kenyans would remember days to the end of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term when the government opted to send Kenyans to a portal to go check what they have been able to do in terms of service delivery between 2013 and 2017. This triggered sharp criticism and hot debate.
These mistakes aside, there are major blunders that Kanze Dena has tolerated in her department. Her major blunders include:
Disorganisation of the President’s communication team
What is triggering President Kenyatta’s anger is poor communication of government development records. If we had a qualified Spokesperson, nobody would be questioning what the government is doing, the things it has done and what is in the offing.
President Uhuru’s predecessors banked on the most qualified people in the docket of statehouse communication though back then they had different titles as Press Secretary, government spokesperson. The likes of Lee Kinyanjui and Alfred Nganga Mutua were thoroughly trained and well read. They made their bosses appear like they did a lot of stuff that the current government of the day is not doing.
If you care to go past Nairobi, you will see the so many things the current government is doing but nobody is talking about them simply because the person who should be ensuring that the government communication is streamlined is doing too little over the same. No structured communication about these many projects.
Look at the beautiful section of the 500KM Isiolo – Turbi-Moyale Road in Marsabit county(attached in the photos below). This is one of the most scenic roads constructed in Kenya. The road is opening up the North but nobody from the President’s communication team has bothered to remind Kenyans about it.
It’s only in this government where Photographers, videographers, entire media team can dress the way they want, walk the way they want and find themselves all over. Who would allow one to put on t-shirts to official functions of the president? Only in Uhuru’s government.
In the two terms of President Barack Obama, I doubt if anyone spotted any member of his media team wearing a t-shirt or anything non-official. His main photographer or rather the then chief official White House photographer Peter Joseph Souza who happened to be the one who also covered President Ronald Reagan was ever in official wear.
Look at what President Paul Kagame’s media team are able to put together in the official social media pages of President Kagame. Amazing stuff.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s media team have the latest equipments but their work is wanting. They get the best and exclusive chances but the outcome is substandard.
The research team, the speechwriters, the social media handlers, the entire communication department of the Presidency requires complete overhaul.
Shutdown of President’s social media accounts or pages
The world is moving towards emergence of new media, what is commonly known as digital media. And while it is healthy to have statehouse pages and social media handles, the most authoritative ones are the communications coming from the President’s official social media handles.
All presidents from all over the world have active social media pages bearing their names. It’s only in Kenya where somebody can comfortably decide to shut down the official social media of the President. Have the “…remedial measures” that the pages of President Uhuru Kenyatta were temporarily suspended on the account of been undertaken? Shutting down the President’s pages was the worst decision the statehouse ever made. The pages needs to be revived.
If there is one thing President Kenyatta has done well on is demystifying statehouse. These days we can see photos of statehouse, videos of a cabinet sitting and we recently saw a photo of aerial view of statehouse. I don’t know what was done to the person who took that particular photo but it was all over social media anyway. It’s through those videos that you will realize that statehouse spokesperson does not even sit in such meetings. Ideally, a statehouse spokesperson should be part and parcel of those meetings.
Statehouse spokesperson is the image of presidency. As an image, the office bearer should consult widely, delegate roles, have a team of experts around him or her, do press briefings and conferences in statehouse, and just communicate presidency.
It’s only in this reign of Kanze Dena where speeches are long and not inspiring, researches are not well done, media team just put on everything and appears all over, nobody cares to communicate what the president is doing in his development agenda. I mean we shouldn’t wait for national functions to know what the government is doing, these things needs to be communicated daily, and also when they happen. Communication is not a one time thing, it’s continuous.
Kanze needs to stand up, delegate roles, consult widely, revive the President official social media pages, research well for speeches, respond to journalist’s concerns on time, issue statements, do press briefings and conferences, and communicate presidency.
Since the exit of head of delivery unit Nzioka Waita from statehouse to Harambee house, there is a big gap, void in statehouse. Kanze has not realized this thus not bothered to up her game. Hers is to hop from one radio station to another, something which is too low of her office.
To minimize the President’s anger and unnecessary pressure, there is need for President Kenyatta to consider appointing someone who is more educated, grounded, and well informed like Colonel (rtd) Cyrus Oguna to be the statehouse spokesperson and find Dena a lighter role in statehouse or wherever.