If Uhuru is to serve 10 years, he needs candid feedback mechanism


The failure by the Kenyan government to have a structured official response to the public reactions to the recent parastatal head appointments and related confusion that plagued some of these appointments indicates a government administration that is not fully cognizant of the effect its actions have on how it is perceived. It is like the 6.1 million votes the Jubilee government got in March 2013 are static and will never move away from them!

When President Obama got into office one of the smart decisions he made was to have his campaign manager David Plouffe not join the Obama White House administration. Instead, the man who was credited with getting the Obamas into the White House worked from outside the Obama administration under the rather odd title of ‘Outside Senior Adviser’ to the President.

Plouffe’s primary responsibility was to analyze the actions and policies of the Obama administration from ‘outside’ and identify those that would hurt Obama politically.

He would also compare each policy decision made by the White House with what Obama had promised during his campaign, figure how it would be projected politically where it met such promises, and how to it would be managed and expected fall-outs pre-empted where such policies went against his campaign promises. This advice would then be given to the Obama administration for action.

Plouffe scoured all forms of media to get what the public was saying about the administration, analyzed public perceptions (including using pollsters), and identified current and developing situations that affected the administration. He then pushed the Obama administration to respond to issues the public was unhappy with and ensured the Obama administration deliberately built a brag-sheet of deliverables in preparation for the 2012 re-election bid.

He understood that in the re-election Obama would be judged not on the promises he would make then, but on how he had delivered on the promises he had made in 2008. Plouffe also ensured that the Obama administration did not get so wrapped up in government operations that they forgot that they were essentially a political establishment. He officially joined the White House in 2011 to prepare for the 2012 re-elections and when Obama won the re-election he admitted that Plouffe’s work had been pivotal to that victory.

President Obama understood that a primary danger when you are the most powerful man in the world is how easy it is to start believing your own hype. This is because every political leader’s administration by its very nature is structured to protect them from the effects of their mistakes.

Unfortunately when there is no public feedback a political leader can continue supporting unpopular policies without realizing it. This can be fatal when such a politician expects to be re-elected. It is how politicians win a seat with a landslide one election, and get swept off in another landslide an election later.

President Kenyatta occupies the most powerful political office in Kenya today. As a smart politician he also is most probably getting all the unpopular policies carried out now when he still has time to deal with the fall-out before the next elections. However he needs to develop a mechanism that tells him how to adequately respond to and acknowledge concerns raised by the public, especially when this includes his own supporters.

If Uhuru had a ‘David Plouffe’ during the recent public appointments he would most probably have been better prepared for the possible reactions some of the appointees would elicit from the public, both pro and anti-government. He would then have been advised to have his office emphasize the basis on which they had made these appointments, before announcing them.

For example he would have explained the need for a familiar hand on the LAPSSET project, deliberately focused more attention on the younger appointees, and presented the regional scope of the appointments. This was not done and Kenyans ended up focusing on the age of Francis Muthaura and the ‘strange’ appointment of Abduba Dida.

A ‘David Plouffe’ would also most probably set up regular Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) made up of Jubilee and non-Jubilee supporters across various sectors, to ‘test’ out various government policies and actions. He would research on how to get maximum buy-in from the public on an issue before it was rolled out, as well as how develop ideas on how to message it effectively; what to watch out for; and how to manage expected fall-out where it cannot be avoided. He would also research on what lines of argument work best on respective issues, and who in the Kenyatta administration is best placed to push what argument, so as to attract and retain highest public support for an issue.

As a President who is on record saying he intends to be in office for 10 years he needs to regularly know how he is doing, whether he is on message, and what he needs to do about it. This requires a candid feedback mechanism, and the ability to respond to what it tells him.

(Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust)

7 Replies to “If Uhuru is to serve 10 years, he needs candid feedback mechanism”

  1. Mr. Wambugu, I happen to be one of your readers because you write very balanced articles. In your article you have given Kenyatta/Ruto good advice but you have given a very wrong model ie. Obama as a good example. Firstly, Obama has been the most polarizing president in modern times , has led the Americans with the highest unemployment and slowest economic growth compared to Jimmy carter’s years minus inflation. For the first time since the great depression, almost half the country do not pay income tax and most are on welfare. The American foreign policy is in chaos as the world fear for American military might is no more. You need no other example than in Syria. Poverty and homelessness are at all time high despite the government having spent trillions of dollars since the Lyndon johnson’s presidency declaration of fight against it.
    The main reason unknown to the world why Obama was re-elected was like Moi’s KANU, he encouraged and exploited people’ poverty by promising them free goodies from contraceptives to cell phones. Supported gay marriage and all sorts of abortion. As a true liberal he preached about the utopian world where everybody is equal and about income re-distribution . This gained him fanatical following from African-Americans who like the Maasai to Moi, voted for him to a man. He also got a lot of votes from the Latino immigrants who being uneducated fell for the free goodies.
    Obama has not fulfilled any of his promises except health care which is the most unpopular policy in the American history only second to the latter years of Iraq war. Even a large number of democrats are against it. It is total chaos as it was intended as a vehicle for income re-distribution.
    Uhuru/Ruto should know that simply by fulfilling their election promises will not be a guarantee to re-election. Unlike Obama who is supported by most of the liberal American media like the New York times, cbs, nbc and vitually most of the print and electronic except wall street journal ,fox news and most conservative talk radios, Uhuru/Ruto got all the major print and electronic media in Kenya against them. In actual fact by reading the news on Kenya, a foreigner would be tempted to think that the media is an organ of ODM and by extension CORD.
    For Uhuru/Ruto to survive politically, they have to start campaigning today for 2017. They should totally disregard the elite in Nairobi and go and explain what they are doing OR not doing to “WANJIKU”. Human beings live, eat and breath “hope”. They should go and instill hope to Kenyans in the rural areas.
    Eventually, since the media has declared war on their administration, they should reciprocate by blaming everything on Raila and his allies in the media. He should call the media by name and explain to the wanjikus that they are agents of opposition.
    They should always know that in politics, gentlemen always loose and the “end justifies the means”. Obama have publicly fought the Fox News and talk radio for being opposed to his liberal ideas.

    1. the article is about how to get reelected and his exampleseems tohave done exactlythat and uhuruneeds helpto see another term obama is not the main issue here

  2. @ Ms. Mwai,

    Interesting piece…even as you obviously repeat conservative and GOP talking points. While the contention that Obama “has been the most polarizing president in modern
    times” is one repeated by the likes of Hannity, Limbaugh and consumers of FOX
    News, that opinion is just that, an opinion, one not supported empirically. And
    left out in you claim is the reason why he has been a polarizing figure. Could
    it be because there are those in this great country who could never countenance
    a black man in the WH? I will let you ponder and answer that question.

    The statement that Obama “led the Americans with the highest unemployment…” does not even make sense even as it conveniently overlooks the job loss and unemployment rate when he came into office in 2009. When Obama came into office…the US was losing 700,000 jobs/a month and unemployment was at 7.8% peaking at 10%. I will let
    you research the trend of the 2 matrices since Obama took office.

    Can you cite from whence you get stats such as “…for the1st time since the…depression…half the country do not pay income tax….are on welfare….” and what role Obama had in said claims?

    I for one am glad that America foreign policy reflects a multi-polar world and not
    the hegemony that got us into Iraq…or almost got the US into Syria. There is
    something to be said about a powerful country/person opting to talk through a
    disagreement instead of “shocking and awing” the enemy into submission

    That you actually believe what Mitt Romney cited as one of the reason he lost to Obama
    in 2912 AND the silliness about “free Obama cell phones” tells me all I need to
    know about your political leanings. Do you even know what the so-called “free
    Obama cell phone” program is, who and when it was started? Once again, I will
    let you reflect on that claim and its veracity.

    The last claim that Obama garnered an overwhelming support from African-Americans is indeed true – 95+%. I am sure you also know the truism that Obama WOULD not
    have won the nomination and presidency in 2008; definitely not the re-election
    in 2012 if his support came solely from the African-American community….sorry
    to burst your bubble but there was no “tyranny of numbers” here in the US. Obama
    put together a coalition of Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, American Indians
    that bested the predominantly white GOP candidacy of Romney…but I am sure you
    knew that.

    Finally, it is one thing to disagree with someone on policy. I certainly do not agree
    with everything Obama does: Syria, Iran, the roll-out of the ACA was a major
    fiasco, the banks/Wall Street have gotten away with fomenting the financial
    crisis of 2007/8, NSA spying etc.

    It is an entirely different ball-game when people such as yourself Ms. Mwai allow your
    hatred for Obama to make you irrational, prone to making up stuff to support
    your dislike of the man.

    Come on now!!

  3. that’s agood pitch for aj ob and i second you get it uhuru needs help certainlyi ‘ll join you laterif wishes were…

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