Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Rescue the Government Spokesman

Dr. Alfred Mutua clearly needs to be re-directed. The problem is that he does not speak for the president, the government or his minister – he has to hunt for news to give at his press conference, and he ducks controversial topics because he knows as little as the public that he’s informing.

The President, diplomats, Minister’s and for the most part the public at large do not take him seriously. Plus in Kenya, if you stick a camera before anyone’s face, for the most part anyone can give a press conference – a chief who has confiscated bhang or arrested a witchdoctor does not feel that he needs someone else to explain his heroics – he can explain it to KTN himself. But like other officials e.g. allegations of corruption, it is not in his nature to resign – he feels he has done nothing wrong – so he’ll continue to have the government cut a large check for him each month. And there’s no one to rescue him from a job that is harming his credibility and future. How will appear in history books?

Anyway I have some advice for him so he does not slide into irrelevance and have to be nudged out like Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s first (female) press secretary, who was clearly overwhelmed by the job
(1) Somehow get close to someone, powerful who’ll get your access to the president (last year it was Amb. Muthaura, this year it appears to be the First Lady)
(2) The president is the one person Kenyans want to hear from, and he’s mostly silent i.e. he needs an articulate spokesman (you) to communicate on his behalf- convince him that you are that person
(3) Insist on attending cabinet meetings, or that you are briefed immediately after and/or receive minutes of each cabinet meeting – and read the Kenya gazette, foreign press and street tabloids
(4) Now that you’re a State House insider, throw your weight around; ask minister’s to desist from making statements at rural rallies, ask them to check with you before making policy statements (which you are supposed to coordinate) - tell them investor’s don’t like confusion created y minister’s who contradict each other. And above all don’t be afraid to contradict a Minister.
(5) Give a press conference every day. Answer all question’s posed by the media – there’s nothing wrong with saying “I can’t comment on that” “I’ll get back to you,” or “I have no information” or even “I was not in the RAV4” – but above all don’t avoid the press. If you have no news that day, reporters will provide the questions and, you might make the news. E.g. PS Kinyua did not mean to criticize extravagant ministers last week - he was at an NSE function, and was responding to a journalist’s question, – still it became the business news story of the day. So answer question’s that the public wants to know about e.g. Ndwiga, NARC elections, corruption, the Constitution,

In short, become the White House spokesman for Kenya. George Bush rarely give press conferences, but the White House spokesman/communications director appears each day, and answers questions on Congo, Kazakhstan, Tax cuts, abortion etc. – Taking flak for his inarticulate boss. The job is distasteful, and you might get fed up with the lies, bile, backstabbing – which is why most press secretaries tend to burn up and resign before their boss’s term ends.

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