Public engagement not a ‘hit and run’ affair

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ANTHONY KAGIRI

The Jubilee government ascended into power with a promise of more openness and public engagement. They demonstrated this with their creative ways of engaging the citizenry across the divide with their adverts and public forums during the campaigns.

Ten months into power however, the steam has died off with only little social media engagement left.

Whereas the State has done well in publicizing its events online, it has failed in engaging the public on critical issues. The NSSF Act is a good example. This is a good law that helps us save for the future. However since its passage in Parliament and subsequent operationalisation more has been heard of the bad things at NSSF as opposed to the benefits of the new law.

The Cabinet Secretary is in the media often defending the corruption, mismanagement and lack of good governance. The good in the law and what it entails has been lost. In the law for example there is the capping of administration costs that would address the above issues but nobody is talking about this.

The problem lies in lack of a strategy on public awareness. I peeped into the social media accounts of NSSF and was shocked. Their last tweet was 149 days ago while their last Facebook post a month ago was on a boat race. One would expect these accounts wound have been busy engaging workers. In the last week the NSSF has put up daily adverts in the newspapers, but is it a case of too little too late?

The digital switch is another example. There was little activity until nearer to the deadline. Then we had an online conversation and you could tell the impact by the level of engagement. Was this done last year the public support for this project would most likely have been higher. Yes they have a wonderful website but how many rural folk access websites?

Then we had the hyped launch of the Presidency website, months later this had died off. Good things could have happened through it but no one knows about it. To the mwananchi on the streets this was just another publicity stunts. I would love to see photos of the President in meetings with ordinary Kenyans who secured an appointment through the website. I won’t even get to the recently launched Usalama website to fight crime.

Public engagement never works when we do a hit and run version, the interaction must continue and results be made bare for all to buy in. The government needs to be proactive in providing information to the public that creates awareness of both performance and the services accessible from government. Secondly it must remain consistent and expose the entirety of government services.

Thirdly we need creativity to engage the large section of Kenyans who are outside the social media bracket. We can’t assume a hash tag conversation has reached my mother and her circle in the village. The initiative by Chief Kariuki who reaches his people by incorporating Twitter is something one would have expected the government to have picked by now. I didn’t even get to the tyranny of Twitter accounts…

(Kagiri heads Public Relations and Marketing at St. Paul’s University. The views are his own).

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  • Ken

    While I agree with you that public engagement is critical in carrying everybody forward, I beg that you begin to appreciate that priority should be given to areas of direct economic facelift to the suffering Kenyan. Twitter and Facebook accounts are good but by the time you afford five minutes to see what state house has posted, you need to have had lunch. Government has a wider and effective mechanism of relaying important information to whoever needs it. Not everybody is interested in knowing how many ghosts are in the railway project. As many as everybody are interested in knowing when the train tracks hit Rongai town for instance and you don’t have to keep a twitter account to know that!
    I agree that my mother in the village may not have a Facebook account but I also know that the kind of information she may need does not require her to have one. How come she voted the way she wanted? Which hash tag did she use to know the winner of the elections?
    There will probably be a time in future when hash tags become that important in the lives of Kenyans but I think we are not there yet. We are better off addressing the pressing and immediate issues.

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