Friday, April 9, 2010



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
April 8, 2010

“We need to ask ourselves………What have we done wrong, or not done at all, with regard to encouraging our national pride? Kenyans from all walks of life, need to take a critical look at our nation in the face of global competition for tourism, investment, visitor numbers, regional leadership, conferencing, direct foreign investment and global decision making and make some decisive steps towards rebuilding the reputation of our country.”

These were the opening remarks of the Minister for Information and Communication, Samuel Poghisio at the launch of Brand Kenya Perception Survey late last week in Nairobi. This statement reminded me of the many things I have written about in the local press, the things I consider wrong with our country that need to be corrected. And in delivering that speech, Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo posed the one important challenge to we Kenyans that it is time we stopped waiting for government or politicians to effect the changes we want for our country. Instead, Kenyans should ask themselves what they can do for their country.

The reason Brand Kenya exists today is because we had a social disaster in 2007-2008 following our general elections. When over a thousand people died with thousands more internally displaced due to ethnic violence, the damage done to the tourism sector, investor confidence, the economy and food production was incomprehensible.

The effects of that unrest are still felt to this day. The international community got frightened. Suddenly we were unable to manage our own affairs. The international community had to be called in to restore order, and to this day, we are not out of the woods yet as The Hague Tribunal is just about to start investigating crimes against humanity that were committed in Kenya around the same period.

For this reason, we have to take the courage to go back to Samuel Poghisio’s opening statement that urged us to ask ourselves what it is we have done wrong or not done at all such that we have lost our national pride.

If after the 2007 civil unrest, we lost tourists, foreign investors, regional leadership, international conferences and global decision making to our neighbors and other global competitors; then we have reason to search our souls and mend our ways if we have to survive in this competitive world. A nation that searches its soul and critiques itself is a much better nation than the one that buries its head in the sand.

This latest survey gave some very positive results about Kenya; in fact it was so positive that I’m sure it took many skeptic Kenyans by surprise. It registered 67% of Kenyans that are proud to be Kenyans and just 11 % of those that had something to complain about.

Commendable as this number is, one must not lose sight of the millions of Kenyans in the 11% bracket that didn’t feel very Kenyan. Our 40 million population figures would put this minority at just over 4 million that are dissatisfied with the way we do things. Therefore the challenge for all of us, Brand Kenya included, is to convert these non believers into believers in our nation.

As one speaker put it at the launch; it does not require a multitude to change a country; it requires just a handful of patriotic Kenyans to drive that change. And the drivers of this change must be people that are credible, easily believable and have the knowhow to get on with the job.

Changing people’s perception is never easy. It is never just another job for a living. It calls for painful sacrifices and long hours and years of effort to do it. More importantly it needs collective approach by like-minded individuals to drive the process.

The things that ail us as a nation are our conduct and actions right here at home. They never happen in London, Paris or Washington. They are right here in Nairobi, Kisumu Mombasa and Mavoko. They happen here in our judiciary, parliament, in our government offices and in our financial institutions.

The things that ail this nation most are bad politics, corruption scandals, ethnicity, violence, poverty and fights over natural resources like land. And because negativity sells the media more than positive stories, these so called barriers to branding Kenya have overshadowed those good things that take place in our country on a daily basis.

We hardly give our heroic athletes acres of our front pages as we give two quarreling politicians. We would rather scream a financial scandal in a CDF office in Malava than put a poverty reduction volunteer in Kibera on the front pages of our newspapers and prime time television news.

In rebranding Kenya, there is also an important need for paradigm shift in our national policy regarding our country’s public relations. Much as it is tempting to spend thousands if not millions of dollars on foreign firms to spruce up our image in Western capitals, we will not achieve much if we don’t address our problems right here at home. International PR firms that are not based in Nairobi will have zero impact on Kenya’s perception abroad for two reasons: One, they are not Kenyans and have no nationalistic urge to succeed. Two, they don’t live here to appreciate our social and political dynamics.

The Americans have their CNN and VOA to deal with their image across the globe. The British have their BBC to deal with their image abroad as so are the French, Russians, Chinese and even South Africans. It is time we strengthened our local institutions and manpower to deal with our image abroad right here from home. It can be done because Kenya has some of the best communications experts on this continent.