Monday, May 18, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
May 15, 2009

So… the Kenya government is at it again, shopping for another PR firm in the US to whitewash its tainted image abroad!

It is the kind of decision that can only come from a desperate government that has lost direction altogether. It can never have come from a government with a functional Foreign Service department.

Mind you, we tried this trick in the early 1990s with another PR firm in Europe; Orr Associates, when Daniel arap Moi’s regime was under siege. We paid millions of shillings without anything to show for it.

It is the price we pay when we refuse to do the right things at home and expect foreigners to clean up our mess.

Foreign PR firms will obviously be attracted by easy money but will not deliver because Kenya’s problems do not hurt them as much as they hurt us. What I’m saying is that you cannot buy passion or patriotism with cash. Such feelings are homegrown.
Looked at another way; that will be the day when the British, French or American government would hire foreign firms to mend their public image with nations that hate and despise them most. With all the bombings that Allied Forces have reined on Iraq and Afghanistan, the West has never seen the need to hire foreign PR firms to do damage control on their behalf. They do it themselves through their Foreign Service departments who understand their issues best.

The reason we have a Foreign Service department is because we want to continually build, mend and improve our image among nations abroad. That is why in the USA alone, we have three functional offices in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. These stations have no other reason to exist except to take care of our vested interests there. These interests include political, trade, investment and cultural relations.

The Washington Embassy has the primary duty of representing Kenya at the heart of the most powerful nation on earth. Among its primary goals is to engage the American State Department on a daily basis on matters of particular interest to Kenya. And this task should be easier now that Barack Obama who has relations with Kenya is now President.

For those of us who travel to the US quite often; the truth is, many Americans do not care a hoot about Kenya, let alone knowing where it is on the world map. It is only now that they are beginning to pay a little attention since Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign put Kenya in focus.

Therefore if I were the Kenya Government, I would do it differently. I would not go for a foreign firm that may not in the first place understand the root cause of our bad image abroad. I would hire the one American who understands us intimately. I would hire President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle not only to clean Kenya’s image in America but also to the rest of the First World. And the beauty of it is that it will come for a song.

Consider this: The day the Kenya Government revealed that it was shopping for a PR firm to clean up its image in the United States, one man called Johnnie Carson was in town. He was on a mission on behalf of one President Barack Obama. With him was a personal message to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. In that message President Obama expressed his displeasure at the way the two principals were running the coalition government especially in the department of urgent political reforms.

And it was not just a polite feel-good message. It was a subtle warning that unless they changed their ways and stopped wrangling over power; he would intervene in the best way only he knows.

Now, this is not the kind of president Kenya needs to hire a PR firm to impress. He already knows what ails Kenya and no amount of cheap publicity and paid press ads on CNN and Fox News will change his attitude.

The only price the Kenya Government will pay in order for President Obama to agree to work for Kenya is for the coalition government to get its act together, tackle graft and implement the Kofi Annan recommended reforms. Yes, all that Kibaki and Raila need to do is to prosecute Golden Berg, Anglo Leasing, Triton, Grand Regency, KTD, Maize and Treasury scoundrels and everything will be on course.

Yes, all the two principals need to do for Barack Obama and family to accept the job is to set up a local Tribunal and prosecute perpetrators of the 2007/2008 election violence that killed over a thousand innocent Kenyans.

If they do these little things, America’s First Family will accept the job at no cost to Kenyans. It is that simple.