President William Samoei Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza government are about to come to terms with the reality that campaigning as the underdog and running State affairs are worlds apart.
Dr Ruto is settling after upsetting a formidable opponent backed by the entire power structure in Kenya and the region. And as he has stated several times before, it was indeed a miracle that he emerged victorious. ”I have been prayed into victory,” he said.
Now, the hard part begins. Actually, from casual observation in the first 50 days, Dr Ruto has a tall mountain to climb. The part of meeting the expectations of the millions at the bottom of the economic pyramid, aka ‘the hustler nation’, who chose to believe in him, and voted against the establishment candidate.
The ones that shouted ‘hurobaro’ in the markets and even confronted former President Uhuru Kenyatta with chants of the same message. The ones that woke up at 4am to queue and only left when they voted for Ruto/Gachagua.
These segment of the population is adversely affected by negative effects of the poor state of the economy, the drought and failed rains, all which have created an emergency that needs to be addressed. Millions of young Kenyans are impatiently waiting for the fulfillment of the promise by the Kenya Kwanza to end their years of joblessness and lack of livelihoods.
Like the election that revealed that the country is politically divided into two equal parts, there is deep optimism on one side and deep scepticism on the other. In such a tight situation, the side that wins the war in public perception, carries the day in the political contest.
In my view, it is for this reason that Dr Ruto and his government ought to up the game in terms of public perception, messaging and its overall communication to all its stakeholders and more urgently, the hustler nation.
It is noteworthy that Kenya Kwanza defeated its opponent Azimio which ran a well-oiled, organised and structured communication team. And that team will not slither and disappear into the thin air. It will not be a walk in the park.
As a matter of fact, Azimio bloggers have recently been handed free fodder by the government owing to several blunders in communication. From the Education CS talking about withdrawing State funding for public universities, to the Health CS talking about interns earning more than doctors in hospitals, to the Trade CS touching on the tricky mitumba question, to the Transport CS wearing a t-shirt of a rival camp during the strike by the pilots and to the Public Service CS promising civil servants a salary increase.
The Kenya Kwanza opponents have been having a field day. Things could not be better for those looking for reasons to attack the new government and sadly there seems to be little effort to mitigate the same. Communication, and messaging are the lifeline of any political outfit and if Ruto and Kenya Kwanza get it wrong, they may pay dearly in the 2027 elections. Unlike the campaign season, the communication strategy needs to be different.
Apart from dealing with the well-oiled machinery in the opposition, the government side must have a well-coordinated communication system to update citizens on its successes, explain the failures and give the mitigation on the failures. The system has to have elements that engage the public and allows venting, ranting and complaints. Only through that will they win over the other half that is disillusioned.
There are great lessons to learn from the Trump Presidency whose failure to set up an effective system gave the opposition fodder; they ganged up and regrouped and formed a formidable team of foes, which then became politically, lethal.
I hear Kenyans ask: who speaks for this government? Do the CSs understand governance structures? Can this government tell the citizens what exactly it is doing to mitigate the challenges currently faced by the citizens? There is a lot of observing that is going on. Over to you, President Ruto.
-Mr Opiyo is a communication consultant. [email protected]