NAIROBI: Sometime in March last year Kenya’s diplomatic corps, attending the 17th Biennial Ambassadors and High Commissioners’ conference in Mombasa, bemoaned negative press reports and said this was frustrating their diplomatic initiatives in missions. The envoys noted that the local media’s fascination with “negative” narratives of insecurity, crime and corruption painted a bad image of the country abroad.
Kenya’s Ambassador to the US Njeru Githae said: “We should not wash our dirty linen in public. Let us emulate other nations which, despite shortcomings, try to portray a beautiful image of their country. We are our own enemies. Telling the world of our security lapses does us no good.”
But what Githae and company were basically appreciating is that first, narratives have power, second that due to technology, the McLuhan Global Village phenomenon has caught up with us. But there is more. It must be acknowledged that the effectiveness of state-to-state diplomacy has diminished as non-state actors become more influential.
And this tectonic shift of diplomatic custom seem troubling to our envoys. Still, there is a lot that Kenya can do in its diplomatic charm offensive to remain relevant. A point of departure should be an interrogation of how we construct and distribute our cultural products globally and regionally. What is the nation’s reach in its broadcast, film, and music? Who is in charge of sprucing Kenya’s soft power, especially through narratives? And, do we have systematic frameworks and structures of designing such narratives that would, for a start, win the hearts and minds of the international community?
Regionally, Kenya is a hegemon. Indeed, being a regional power comes with great benefits, but of course responsibilities too. When we capture the admiration of the people of the region it means that our commerce will thrive; it also means there will be ample security for anyone with a Kenyan passport and car registration plate. Such prestige is what has hauled great powers to their current enviable perches at the tops.
And so how do we advance our soft power using narratives? Folks, our interrogation should be at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). This state juggernaut is our best bet to wheel out our regional public diplomacy.
The world has these instruments. Think of BBC, VOA and even CCTV. Even Russia’s Russia Today had to rebrand as RT, and is now enjoying heavy funding from the Kremlin. In jurisdictions like the US, even private media like CNN aid to press for the American ideal.
So why not use our KBC to reach out to the region?