BY EZEKIEL MUTUA
In all progressive nations, State-owned media give governments the platforms, outlets and channels to tell their own story, tell it first, and get it right the first time as well as set the news agenda.
Some of the best news to come from inside Government happened early last week, with the launch of the National Communications Strategy Taskforce, and proactive theme of "One Government, One Voice."
The initiative under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister will, among many other responsibilities, process information on nationally significant developments.
The 18-member task force will also recommend structures and mechanisms for information sharing and knowledge management on a government-wide basis, media handling and public relations, the branding and marketing of Kenya globally, documentation, publications and the dissemination of Government messages generally.
To put a delicate matter as mildly as any statement of the problem can be expressed, the public service sector — the Government sector – has had a communications deficit ever since the General Election of 2002 that ushered in the Kibaki administration.
The need for a comprehensive and unified government communications strategy has been felt at every level of policy-making and implementation, most acutely in the political sector.
Before the December 2002 regime change, State House macro-managed every aspect of policy and implementation in virtually every sector, including counter-propaganda.
With the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) regime, Kenyans suddenly breathed free for the first time in living memory, including inside Government. The result of this sudden transition from one extreme to another was confusion, a multiplicity of voices from within Government speaking at cross purposes – a veritable House of Babel.
Among many other negative and dangerous impacts, this lack of a unified Government voice, perspective and message contributed a great deal to the build-up to the post-election violence of 2007/8. One of the most important ingredients of a national discourse was lost in the melee – the presumption of good faith and goodwill. In its place we saw automatic assumptions of bad faith, illwill, conspiracy and mutual mistrust.
Yet our top leaders, namely President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, have lately demonstrated focus, synergy and unity of purpose on critical issues, resulting in the recent delivery of the new Constitution and the unveiling of the New Kenya.
Communicating the good news, the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of the daily dynamics of the permanent national interest is what a viable Government communications strategy is all about.
Around the world today, good communications practice is critically important in the achievement of aims and objectives. And this involves both internal and external communications, including e-government strategy. When rolled out, the public information systems will receive specific recommendations on how best to utilise the communications strategy.
It is hugely important, particularly at the beginning of a new constitutional dispensation, that Kenyans are well informed about government policies, projects, programmes and the success of their implementation.
Unfortunately for Kenya, the commercial media sector has for too long set the news agenda, reducing the State sector to a reactive mode rather than a proactive stance. One negative result of this is that the Government is often compelled to play catch up, sometimes having to buy advertising space, using taxpayers’ cash, to put the record straight.
In all progressive nations, State-owned media give the governments the platforms, outlets and channels to tell its own story, tell it first, and get it right the first time as well as set the news agenda.
A well-informed citizenry is a truly empowered populace. An uninformed or misinformed citizenry is a recipe for chaos. As someone put it, if you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance. The cost of barely a month of the descent into chaos in 2008 was Sh100 billion and a plummeting in GDP from seven per cent in the previous year to just two per cent at the end of 2008.
Kenya must never walk that path again.
(The writer is the Director of Information and Public Communications of the Republic of Kenya. email:emutua @information.go.ke).