New government should set up a coherent communication policy

President William Ruto, announce new cabinets on September 27, 2022, at State House in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

World over, governments use communication as a governance tool to engage with citizens on important national issues and pursue a unified messaging approach in such a way that it protects the image and reputation of the entire government.

As a matter of fact, government exists to legislate, tax and communicate public policies to citizens and so manage public perceptions. The government of Kenya, for example, has operations that are spread out from Nairobi to the remotest village in every corner of the country. 

That makes government communication as complex as the entity itself. The structures involved in both communication and information sharing are heterogeneous, both within and outside the government. The process of developing a well-thought-out, coherent and integrated communication policy for one government, one voice communication to be achieved, is equally complex and multi-layered.

The process of developing a communication policy requires a survey of existing ICT systems, international agreements as well as an assessment of the methodologies used by the different government ministries, departments and agencies to reach its audiences. It also requires expertise in integrating communication into all socio-economic, political and cultural dynamics in a country that is very diverse like Kenya.

For example, development communication experts ought to help both the citizens and the government to restructure their mental framework to align with the vision of the new government. The experts can guide the country on how best Kenyans and their government can interweave their socio-economic lives with the political process that is ongoing using communication.

Communication experts can also provide guidance on how to professionalise the processes used to create awareness, influence attitudes, opinions, and behaviour, carry out dialogue on issues of national importance, and institutionalise a listening (and engaging) culture in public institutions.

This is rather urgent because the governance of a country requires everyone - the citizens, the government, the business community, development partners etc - contribution to establishing social relations with each other. It is communication that drives and facilitates those relationships using both mass media and interpersonal communication systems.

A key aspect of governance is how citizens, leaders and public institutions relate to each other in order to make things happen. A two-way communication model can allow the citizens to add their voice to policy formulation and dialogue with the government on issues that affect their daily lives.

Communication and media are powerful agents in giving a voice to the poor. Open and participatory communication contributes to inclusive governance and accelerates economic development. The citizens can use the information on their own government’s development priorities and adding their voices on how best development challenges in their regions can be addressed.

Many development experts do agree that information is a critical factor of production in the planning, execution and evaluation of development activities carried out by the government for the citizens. It is the interface between the social and technical aspects of development.

Communication has a central role in the economic growth and transformation of a country through the provision of horizontal and vertical communication linkages at all levels of society and communication channels through which people at all levels and regions can have a shared understanding of what the country’s economic development priorities are; determination of the people’s needs and providing citizens access to channels and systems which they can engage and receive feedback from their leaders and provide relevant information that is required for decision making.

With a new government in place, communication experts inside and outside government must now make a case for a communication policy that will bring about a structured one government with one voice.

Communication experts and the media ought to support the government to help move the country forward after the grueling electioneering period. Instead of igniting tensions, the communication experts and the media ought to be framing issues that will inform the next level of this country’s collective life.

For example, the media ought to point citizens, in the spirit of public education, to the drought that is ravaging huge parts of the country, the high cost of living that is affecting every citizen as well as the task force formed by President William Samoei Ruto to review the country’s education system.

There have been incidents where senior government officials have contradicted the new administration and in some cases, it is a clear case of outright insubordination.

I agree with Nandi County Senator Kiprotich Cherargei that the government agencies should stop answering their seniors though social media but instead utilise available government channels to address emerging issues and engage on issues that require a common government position.

Kenyan communication and media experts who have always complained about not being at the decision-making table now have the perfect moment to strike and show value by delivering the methodology and/or strategy that will help the government use communication as a good governance tool to address cases, such as the ones I have pointed out.