A conversation recently with Coast Provincial Information Officer Mohamed Hassan, after he returned from an assignment to which I had dispatched him to Kuwait, revealed some very depressing but highly instructive insights.
Mr Hassan popped into my office for debriefing and he was a visibly elated man as he narrated how well he had been received in Kuwait City and all the beauty of that oil-rich country. But his countenance fell immediately he started narrating an encounter he had had with the Kenya ambassador to Kuwait.
Kuwait is the fifth wealthiest country in the world. Its currency exchanges at 1:3 to the dollar. It has a GDP per capita of US$51,700 and Kuwaitis, on the whole, appear to be well-disposed towards Kenyans and Kenyan affairs.
So why are the PIO and the Kenyan Ambassador distressed? It is because many Kuwaitis are all too frequently dissuaded from investing in our country, particularly because of the negative press Kenya gets both locally and internationally.
Yet, even the cacophony of political bickering can be drowned by lots of positive developments taking place in Kenya. Besides, every country in the world going through an image crisis is using the communication media to repackage itself.
This is what the business magazine Fast Company had to say about Egypt in a story headlined "Egypt Turns to Social Media Again, This Time to Re-brand as Tourist Friendly".
The story describes the content of a widely viewed YouTube video entitled From Egypt with Love: "It seems to be trying to quickly re-brand the country, from a potentially dangerous destination to a place full of warm and gentle people you\’d definitely want to go to visit"
It is, of course, a bad press time for many countries and their political and business elites around the world, thanks in very large part to the worldwide leak of secret US diplomatic cables by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks. But we, of the media must not be seen to add insult to injury.
The story of the ongoing perception troubles of Brand Britain, the former colonial master of both Egypt and Kenya, and one of its top brand ambassadors, is truly instructive. It is an all-too Kenyan predicament. Britain\’s Prince Andrew, 51, the second son and third child of Queen Elizabeth II, who is designated the Duke of York, is currently under intense media scrutiny and fire.
It is said Prince Andrew is too close a friend of besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi\’s son Saif, the convicted Libyan gunrunner and smuggler Tarek Kaituni and the New York billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who has just left jail after serving time for engaging in sex with under-age girls.
The transatlantic (UK and US) media are lately reporting or analysing very little about Prince Andrew\’s performance and deliverables in all his key roles and duties, most of which are aimed at presenting Brand Britannia in the best light and making the nation some serious money in the process.
Instead, the media have an overwhelming fixation with the fact that Andrew has shady friends in some sunny places around the world and that he was photographed with his arm around the shoulder of one of Mr Epstein\’s under-age girlfriends, a 17-year-old.
Clearly, the media go rogue anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat. This is a failing which we must work overtime to correct, particularly in a development milieu such as Kenya under its Vision 2030 goals.
What Kenyans should note about Brand Britannia and Prince Andrew\’s many designations – covering Business, Innovation and Skills as well as International Trade and Investment – is not so much how the British and US media are trivialising matters, as the way these crucial initiatives are brought together under one eminent person for maximum impact.
We do not have a Royal Family in Kenya, but we have many eminent persons, some of them figures of regional and even world standing, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, world athletics champions and even media experts with household name recognition worldwide, who can help take Brand Kenya to the next several levels in a time of global cacophony.
We must seek ways of putting the Kuwaitis – among many other strategic investors – at their ease when it comes to contemplating the prospects of investing in Kenya and doing so big-time. This is where media initiatives like Kenya Today and its forthcoming affiliate Kenya Today Television (KTV) channel come in.
At Kenya Today we keep our wits about our audiences, even when the rest of the journalism sector is mesmerised by the sneaky and the tabloid news analysis and commentary anchored on little more than the most cynical speculation.
The WikiLeaks exposé of the things our senior leaders and officers tell foreign envoys in unguarded moments and the resulting media obsession with this and other trivia, the negative and the absurd all add fuel to the fire of a bad press for Kenya.
Nowhere else in East, Central and Horn of Africa was the WikiLeaks story given such saturation and ultimately pointless overkill than in Kenya\’s media, and yet every US envoy in every one of our regional capitals also spied and reported back on the political elite.
The Kenyan Ambassador to Kuwait told PIO Hassan in no uncertain terms of the great disservice to the country perpetrated when Kenya\’s own media amplify petty political squabbles and convivial gossip at the expense of the positive developments in Kenya, many of them unprecedented and truly ground-breaking.
The writer is the Director of Information and Public Communications of the Republic of Kenya email:emutua @information.go.ke