Public relations gurus spin narratives to benefit Uhuru

President Uhuru Kenyatta with the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, H.E. Maithripala Sirisena at State House, Nairobi. [Photo:PSCU]

If there is one thing that Uhuru Kenyatta is good at, it is hiring public relations gurus who are brilliant at spinning narratives that benefit him. That would be fine if this was a business or brand, but sadly it is the public interest and/or the weak and marginalised that are negatively affected.

Take three spin efforts within the last decade. The first was around the International Criminal Court, where his PR gurus convinced many of us that he was a victim. They obscenely turned the narrative away from the brutal killings in Naivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nairobi and Kisumu; the rapes and sexual violence; and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands from Eldoret, Naivasha, Nakuru, Limuru, and Ruiru.

Undoubtedly, the helping hand from the heart of the Kibaki regime and the then Attorney General contributed to the success of the spin, even as they (falsely) touted their commitment to accountability. And they got a vital assist from the ICC itself, with its bungling incompetence and high-handedness, led by a prosecutor who believed in bluster rather than hard work.

Attendant atrocities

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The PR spin was about turning Mr Kenyatta into a martyr and a victim, targeted by the powerful and wicked west. Within the bars, radios and churches of the Gikuyu community, there was no debate about whether Kenyatta had masterminded the attacks on the Luo and Luhya communities in Naivasha and Nakuru. Rather the issue was that these attacks--and the attendant atrocities that were easily the most brutal during this episode--were “revenge” to “defend” the Gikuyu community.

The narrative presented these experiences as similar to those of his father Jomo Kenyatta who was jailed for being a mastermind of the Mau Mau, something which we now know was a lie by the British, but a lie that Jomo exploited to burnish his nationalist credentials.

This narrative was founded on an alleged western conspiracy to “finish” Kenyatta who was supposedly anti-western and a nationalist. The facts that Kenyatta is more western than most, that the spin was conducted by a western PR firm, and that the Kenyatta-owned schools provide an expensive western education, were conveniently forgotten, and the lie was taken as fact, much like Jomo being Mau Mau.

But it was incredibly successful especially after he took power. In its wake, we have forgotten all about the victims of the 2008 violence, there is no plan to get accountability for that violence, and a culture of fear almost succeeded in permeating our society. The Truth Commission and Waki Commission reports have been binned and the Constitution gutted to return executive power and its concomitant evils back to the centre stage.

Ironically, the same west that was vilified is now deep in bed with Kenyatta, who can seem to do no wrong by them, even when he has allowed corruption to reign, allowed killer squads to terrorise people under the guise of war on terror, and tried to silence civil society. As long as he says the right things—even without actions--the west praises and funds him.

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The second spin is about this new war on corruption. Again, it has been brilliantly done so that there is little focus on Kenyatta’s role in the mess that makes this regime easily the most corrupt ever. Do we so easily forget the abuse on the Auditor General who wanted to talk to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to trace what happened with Eurobond? Do we forget the ballooning of the debt for the SGR as soon as he took power? And do we forget his defending suspects in NYS 1 scandal?

Casually thrown out

The spinning so far seems to be about getting one person to be the fall guy for all the corruption in this regime. This “Singh” may well be actively involved—and should serve time if found guilty--but it would be surprising if he alone was responsible. It is in his interests—and the country’s--to start singing. But that won’t happen as he probably thinks he can out-stare and outlast this war on corruption. He may well live to regret that sense of confidence!

And the third spin is on the need for constitutional reform. It appears this will happen, no matter the fact that we have not seriously tried to implement many of the provisions that would have averted the crisis we are in.

Will constitutional reform allow us to have credible elections that do not lead to civilian coups? Will it help us implement Chapter Six which was casually thrown out the window to allow impunity to thrive? Will it end corruption when those at the top do not heed the Auditor General’s reports, and put us into debt that does not benefit us without consultations? Will it allow us to ensure that leadership at all levels represents the diversity of Kenyans in a substantive rather than a fig-leaf way? Will it make us take the gender rules more seriously?

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Or is the objective actually to legitimise some people’s need to maintain power and control over Kenya and its economy?

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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Uhuru KenyattaInternational Criminal CourtGikuyu communityWaki Commission