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PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE KENYAN GOVERNMENT

BY Ruth Nyambura, Alice Kimani, Minnie Kangethe, Janet Koech Public Relations Public relations is a management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and its publics. This implies that organizational policies and actions should be win- win situation for both the organization and the public. (Lattimore, Baskin, Heiman, et al (2004))

Functions of Governmental Pubic Relations Governmental public Relations, like any other Public relation Practitioners, seek to achieve mutual understanding between their agencies and publics by following a strategic public relations process. They must gauge public opinion, plan and organize for public relations effectiveness, construct messages for internal and external audiences and measure the effectiveness of the entire process. The most basic functions of governmental public relations are to help define and achieve government program goals, enhance the governments responsiveness and service and provide the public with sufficient information to permit self government. The goal of pubic relations officers is to promote cooperation and confidence between citizens and their government. This in turn requires governmental accessibility, accountability, consistency and integrity.(Lattimore, Baskin, Heiman, et al (2004)) Examples of public Relations Firms in Kenya: a) b) c) d) Tell-Em Public Relations (EA) Ltd. Gina Din Corporate Communications Ltd Ogilvy Public Relations. Scanad Public Relations

The government of Kenya did not go for any of these and many more firms to act as their spokesperson but rather chose an individual to head the office which is known as the office of public communications but better known as the office of the government spokesperson. His name is Dr. Alfred Mutua and he is Kenyas first Official Government Spokesperson and Public Communications Secretary (PCS). He was appointed on June 22, 2004 and was tasked with setting up a new office and communication system for the country. Mutuas career has been varied. He has been a Journalist and Filmmaker with 14 years

experience in both Print and Broadcasting in Kenya, the United States (US), Australia and the United Arab Emirates. (UAE). A government spokesperson works in the communications department of a government office. Well, to put it the right way, the government spokesperson is the head of the communication department. It is also known as the Government Spokespersons Office by law. This office is composed of an administrative unit. This administrative unit supports the spokesperson and they have to report to him/her. The employees in the communication department assist the spokesperson with their daily work. The Office of Public Communications seeks to effectively facilitate communication between the Government of Kenya, its citizens and global audiences, which is according to the official website of the office of the government spokesperson. It further adds that the main thrust is the building of an efficient and proactive Government communication system through research, training and information dissemination for good governance and positive image of Kenya. The office co-ordinates, plans and executes Government communication while improving the existing network in the Ministries. It is also involved in marketing of Kenya. The Office enlightens citizens on their rights and responsibilities, at the same time encouraging them to be proud of their country. The Office exploits communication as a tool for development. Through use of various channels, it highlights Kenyas positions and achievements in a continuous, open basis. This is achieved by employing a close working relationship between the Office, Government departments and other stakeholders. The Office works closely with the media houses to maintain the sacred respect accorded to the press by Kenyans as a vital fourth Estate. The Government believes that freedom of expression, accountability and an open system are vital for our democratic state. This celebration of free expression and press freedom will continue to be encouraged with clear and well-defined ethical and legal standards. (http://www.communication.go.ke)

Ethical Theory and Ethical Issues Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill) Teaches the greatest good for the greatest number it is a system used in a democracy (rule of the majority with respect for the minority) minority has to sacrifice something of value if it is good for a country as a whole and is divided into two: a) b) Greatest good in a specific case. Greatest good for the general welfare.

With this premise in mind, we believe that the government in Kenya through the spokesman, Dr. Alfred Mutua, assumes when it does PR for itself it is for the greatest good. As a government, it goes without question that there needs to be good PR over the country and the workings of every institutions for the purpose of educating and informing the masses but also to sell the country abroad. Nevertheless there emerges serious ethical concerns when it comes to the PR campaigns and more so the office of the government spokesperson in Kenya. Just to give a few facts; Kenya is first and foremost governed by a coalition with the major shareholders being PNU and ODM, led by the president and the prime minister respectively. It is no secret that the ODM side has no love for the government spokesman and Mr. Odinga is on record asking which government exactly does Dr. Mutua speak for. PNU on the other side sees no problem with the man. The ethical issue here then becomes, is it ethical to have a government spokesman who apparently to the masses and according to half of the government section does not speak for the entire government? If so, is it also ethical for Dr. Mutua to remain in office without the very obvious lack of support and confidence from the ODM side which he also purports to speak on behalf of? Finally on that part, is it ethical for the coalition government to use taxpayers money to pay a civil servant whose real duty in our opinion is not known and if known is not performed well? These are real concerns that up to date have not been addressed and the office that is supposed to perform PR functions for the government is still muddled with a lot of controversies and a public that sees is no more than a stooge for the government. From the controversial 2007 elections, to the handling of corruption scandals and most recently the Geneva conference with regards to Prof. Alstons report, it is clear that there is a disconnect and also discontentment with the particular office. As the general public, we are caught up in what seems to be a political fight for supremacy which leaves questioning what to believe and what not to. Dr. Mutua keeps issuing one controversial statement after the other. Take for instance, last week. The head of the civil service, Ambassador Francis Muthaura was taken ill and admitted at a local hospital. The spokesman issued a statement saying that he was alright and that he would not need any specialized treatment abroad. Lo and behold just a day later, Mr.Muthaura was flown to South Africa for specialized treatment. We do not believe that went particularly well for his office. Further a field in the USA, it has been reported that Kenya is walking the global market looking for an image maker who will push its interests among foreign governments and international agencies. It has launched a search for a PR and lobby firm to be based in the US, where much of its work will be in Washington and New York. The ethical questions here include; is it our priority as a country at the moment to hire a firm to improve our image whilst 10 million Kenyans face starvation, the economy is down, a budget

deficit of 102 billion and employees facing job cuts every single day. Is it a PR and lobby firm really our priority at the moment or are our priorities misplaced? The thing that just does not sit well with most Kenyans is that this is seen as an attempt to paint a pig with lipstick (the government). Corruption, tribalism, nepotism, incompetence and a police force acting as a death squad are Kenyan realities; instead of trying to paint an image of heavenly and majestic Kenya which is not there by hiring firms, why not simply make it that way. If the government was committed to reforms, it would have done so but has rather opted to take the easy way out instead of cleaning up its mess and putting its house in order, which is simply not ethical. In the year 2006, the Current U.S president, Barack Obama came to Kenya but as a junior senator and without adequate knowledge of Kenyan affairs, that is according to Dr. Alfred Mutua and MR. Rateng Ogego, the Kenyan ambassador to the states. 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. It is amazing that the current government, which was still in power back then, and a now changed Dr. Mutua state that the Obama presidency is a lifetime opportunity that Kenya intended to cash in on. The fact of the matter remains that President Obama knows all too well about the Kenyan affair, this government seems to forget that his father suffered corruption and tribalism, realities that still exist in this country. To make matters even worse, in his recent first ever trip to Africa, he did not visit the birthplace of his ancestors but rather sent scathing attacks and calls for urgent reforms in government. As stated earlier, it does not seem ethical to waste taxpayers money on a PR firm in America while those we are trying to convince already have our portfolio in hand. Surely, common sense states that only reforms in the country will bring investors and certainly the U.S president to Kenya. The money should instead be used to build schools and roads. That is certainly the ethical thing to do. The people of Kenya know that any government needs PR, but at what cost and to which lengths. When we are told that the economy is booming yet thousands of us are getting laid off, it just does not make sense. When Dr. Mutua tells us bout how well the government is working yet we have people calling each other (ngiris and fisis) in this harmonious government, it is quite disheartening. Kenyans are not fools. The late Bob Marley said in one of his songs that you can fool some people some time but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The office of the public communications will only begin to make sense when true change is reflected on the ground, words are words. People will believe you for some time but actions and not words speak the

loudest. The office of the spokesman serves an integral role in the development of the nation and should be used for such activities but not to white wash or sugar coat the obvious. Image is everything but only the right image matters to any government. In the application of utilitarianism, the government assumes that by at times white washing the issues at hand, they bring about the greater good by giving the masses and illusion of peace and stability. This theory in application in this part is hazardous in that the bubble eventually bursts and the people begin to see the light. The government should instead apply an ethical theory like that of Deontology in which the rules determine the result and that everything is based on duty. The duty to tell the people the truth and the moral duty to push the country forward positively.

Application of the Potter Box Definition of the Problem The countrys image has been tainted because of the 2007 post-election violence and the country is viewed by many as a hub of tribalists, murderers and The Values They include respect for integrity, truthfulness and accountability.

The Principles Our principles include professionalism, patriotism and morality.

The Loyalties We are loyal to ourselves, our country, our government and the people of Kenya.

Using the Potter Box, we also use the Golden Mean theory which states we must avoid all extremes and that moral virtue is a middle state determined by practical wisdom. The middle ground for us would be the government issuing statements of truth to the Kenyan public and to the world but being very careful with the wording so as not to cause alarm and panic. It should also work fast and smart at cleaning up the mess by involving mediators and also embarking on genuine reconciliatory measures.

One extreme would be to issue false statements over the state of affairs in the country and to gag every outlet of truth in order to protect its image on the ground and abroad. On the other hand, the other extreme would be to issue very alarming statements on that the country is in a total mess, all systems are not working and that Kenya is practically a failed state. That is our assessment.

Conclusion The Government should work with the media to protect our community values and cultural beliefs that make us who we are. We do not want Kenyans and especially, the professional media practitioners to suffer as a result of low standards by a few who have succumbed to neocolonialism, cultural imperialism and a foreign image of who we are and how we view ourselves. In public relations ethics, there is no right or wrong answer, there are only courageous decisions. In public relations, you need to take every risk you can. We believe that it is unethical for a public relations professional to fear failure. In public relations as in life we need to make courageous decisions, day-in and day-out. Eventually, the government must make the right choice or the right choice will forcefully be made for it.

References Lattimore, D, O. Baskin, S.T. Heiman, E.L. Toth and J.K Van Leuven. (2004).Public Relations: The profession and the practice. Boston: Mc Graw Hill.

(http://www.communication.go.ke) www.africannewsonline.blogspot.com

www.marvintumbo.wordpress.com

Christians G. Clifford, Rotzoll B. Kim et al (2005) Media ethics: Cases and moral reasoning. New York: Pearson education, Inc.