Thursday, May 14, 2009



May 13 2009

With its image battered by political rows, Kenya is walking the global market looking for an image maker who will also push its interest among foreign governments and international agencies. It has launched a search for a public relations and lobby firm to be based in the United States, where much of its work will be in Washington and New York.

Washington is the seat of the United States Government, now headed by Mr Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan and New York is the home of the United Nations, where key decisions in international diplomacy are determined.

The gravity of this image building assignment is underlined in an advertisement appearing in last week’s issue of The Economist, which stresses that applying firms must have more than five years’ experience “working for foreign governments in managing relations with key government and public institutions.”

Clearly, the Grand Coalition is convinced that its diplomatic representatives in the world’s most powerful nation need help in the delicate task of pushing for support, influencing decisions and defending the unsavoury aspect of its decisions and deeds back home.

Image is important for governments. It can make all the difference between economic growth and shrinkage and will easily determine the clout a head of State wields in the corridors of foreign ministries overseas, in this case the State Department, Congress, the Senate, the White House and the United Nations.

Kenya has two missions in the United States – one in Washington headed by the country’s ambassador to the United States and another in New York representing Nairobi at the United Nations. Have the two been found wanting or has the government simply decided to be more aggressive in the pursuit of its interests under an Obama government?

The man in charge of Washington, Mr Rateng’ Ogego, also oversees a consular office in Los Angeles, on the west coast. Mr Obama’s historic electoral victory left Mr Ogego, once a left-leaning political activist opposed to the dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi, in a rather awkward position.

As envoy, he had crossed swords with the fast-rising Illinois senator when Mr Obama visited Kenya and criticised the Kibaki government’s handling of corruption in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and its governance record.

Mr Obama had complained in a speech at the University of Nairobi that corruption and tribalism had reached a crisis point, but Mr Ogego in a letter to the senator retorted that the attack was uninformed and in bad taste. There was obviously nothing personal.

Mr Ogego’s defenders will argue that he was simply pushing the line laid out by Nairobi, where Foreign minister Raphael Tuju had similarly issued a stinging attack on Mr Obama, questioning the senator’s understanding of Kenyan affairs.

In turning to an image maker, the Kenyan Government is taking a well-trodden path. A similar initiative by the Museveni government next door has stoked a furious controversy and attracted a parliamentary investigation.

Nigeria, whose nationals feature prominently but not exclusively, in drug arrests at foreign airports and in the infamous cash transfer swindles, last month launched a “brand Nigeria” campaign and set up a department within the Information Ministry to refurbish its foreign reputation. One of its tasks is to clean up the perception of Nigerians as con artists.

Under President Obama, lobby work is set to become harder. His government has pledged to reduce lobby influence in Washington and has barred White House aides who leave government from lobbying or working on issues they previously were involved in.

“We need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service to promote their own interests when they leave,” President Obama said.

Deeply concerned

The tender for consultancy was advertised just days before US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson flew to Nairobi to express Washington’s discomfort with turf wars in the Grand Coalition Government.

“We have seen and have felt, as far away as Washington, concerns about the stability of the coalition ... we are deeply concerned and worried whether the events of the last several weeks were again a prelude to a round of instability,” Mr Carson, himself a former US ambassador to Kenya, told reporters on the day he separately met President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

“The political tensions must not be allowed to turn into a political crisis, and a political crisis must not be allowed to turn into political violence,” he said. Kenya has been fighting hard to restore a badly battered image that started with the violence tied to the disputed December 2007 elections that left more than 1,000 dead and thousands of others displaced.
Matters have not been helped by the appearance of political instability arising from wrangling in the coalition government that was formed to return the country to peace. The advertisement, carried in the May 9 edition of the magazine invites consultants with a minimum of five years’ experience in public policy advocacy and communication strategy in Washington D.C. and New York to submit their applications to the Cabinet Office in Nairobi. The tender closes on May 28.

Battered image

Only in the last decades of the twentieth century have foreign governments found it necessary to go beyond traditional diplomacy to compete effectively in the frenzied quest for influence in Washington. By the early 1990s Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and Mexico were the biggest spenders on such activities in the US.

The new initiative, which officials at Nairobi's Harambee House say was spawned by the Obama presidency, is designed to alter the battered image Kenya has suffered in the US since the election-related violence that rocked the country and shocked the world.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua on Wednesday said the government wanted to cash in on the Obama presidency to promote trade with the US and attract more tourists. “The Obama presidency is a lifetime opportunity and we need consultants to advise us from the US side about the thinking of the media and the governance structures in the US,” he said.

It is the same Dr Mutua who once said Mr Obama was being used as a stooge of the Opposition, then led by Mr Odinga.


Submitted by njengah
Posted May 14, 2009 07:57 AM
Instead of wasting money trying to "paint a pig with lipstick" to make it look better, wouldn't it be cheaper to embrace reforms, good governance, and, end corruption. By pig I mean the Kibaki government. Obama asked African countries to improve governance as a qualifications for continued aid. Kenya will not be treated differently regardless of how much cash is spent in useless PR.

Submitted by maugo1234
Posted May 14, 2009 05:58 AM
The best PR is to have the Grand Coalition identify with and address the challenges the country faces. Kenya was one of the optimistic countries after NARC victory in 2002. Had we built on that foundation and avoided tribalism, corruption, and infighting we would need such gimmicks of PR. Obama who was roundly condemned by Tuju, Ogego and Mutua was stating the obvious. He was a junior senator who didn't understand Kenya, but now we want to capitalize on his presidency. Give me a break! Let's put our house in order.

Submitted by Momaxm
Posted May 14, 2009 05:09 AM
The crux of the matter is that unless Nairobi puts is house in order, no amount of spin doctoring will help improve the situation; not with international media like the CNN and BBC carrying the real pictures of the mess in Kenya's politics to the world. Whoever came up with this idea, needs to know there are 2 sides to having a good image. Personally I see this as another one of those opportunities to rape our country of money through fictitious means. Period!

Submitted by Daily
Posted May 14, 2009 04:42 AM
Hiring a consultant to re-make Kenya's image in the US is, in my opinion, not helpful. Here is why. First, President Obama knows Kenya's politics, tribalism (his father was a victim of tribalism), and corruption so well that mere cosmetics will not do. Second, Mr. Ogego's previous criticism of President cannot be helpful. Dr. Mutua is a court poet for PNU. I often wonder he gets paid from public coffers.

Submitted by Osirogo
Posted May 14, 2009 04:29 AM
Image re-branding without proper reforms at home are lies. Instead of focusing on how people look at us, our leaders should attempt to lead. Bring reforms. Pay tax. Help IDPs. Stop tribalism and corruption. You would find that our image, then, would improve. It is not rocket science. There is no point if when the 2012 elections come, we are replaying what happened at the last elections. Waste of money and time.

Submitted by cash D
Posted May 14, 2009 02:10 AM
Kenya would not have to worry about sprucing up its image in the US if it had competent leaders. As long as I am in the US and do not see real progress taking place I will continue to urge my Congressman and two Senators not to back aid to Kenya or false reports put out by some firm hired by the government. This will be more believable. TELL THE TRUTH AND WORK TOWARDS IMPROVING THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE. This will be a more powerful image than any lies told by expensively hired PR specialists.

Submitted by Nyanguru
Posted May 14, 2009 01:00 AM
Kenya does not need a lobby firm to shape her image abroad ,That in my opinion is wasteful spending when Kenyans are dying of hunger. My idea of improving the image is as follows. `1)Get rid of Wetangula as the minister for foreign affairs and replace him with a ''diplomat'' 2)Do a real clean up and embarrassing clogs like Alfred Mutua should be shown the door. 3)Kenya's foreign mission in Washington,should be manned by an intelligent,and experienced representative. Mr. Ogego has outlived his usefulness just like Kibaki.