The suspension of Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) directors on Wednesday has been long in coming and did not surprise keen State House watchers.
In fact, BT has established that the fate of the directors – Munyori Buku (Public Communications), Eric Ng’eno (Presidential Speech Writer) and Dennis Itumbi (Digital Communication and Diaspora Affairs) – was sealed several months ago and all that remained was official communication.
Even though Deputy Head of Public Service Nzioka Waita stated that their fate will be decided today as President Uhuru Kenyatta has been in Botswana for a state visit, it is understood that they have been redeployed to the Department of Public Communications. The department falls under the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and is headed by Dennis Chebitwey as director.
Only PSCU Head Manoah Esipisu was retained in office. The fate of Events and Branding Director James Kinya also remains unclear.
Though the affected PSCU directors got into office with pomp and glamour when they were unveiled at State House at a breakfast meeting attended by senior editors, they immediately started cooking their own goose by fighting Esipisu, whom they deemed an outsider who did not play any role in the 2013 presidential campaigns having been fished from the Commonwealth.
They started issuing statements that had not been cleared by Esipisu and gave themselves titles of senior directors, sometimes embarrassing the presidency especially when they ventured into the dirty game of politics.
Itumbi also sought to, almost single-highhandedly, manage the government’s online communications but his bid to get a .go.ke domain was frustrated as the ICT ministry had already established the mygov.go.ke portal. He was denied the domain, something he later blamed on traditional government bureaucracy that was averse to new ways of doing things.
Never one to give up easily, Itumbi, with the backing of his colleagues, set up nexus.co.ke where he posted government information updates and went on to rival both mygov.go.ke and president.go.ke.
Many commentators have complained that instead of refined, targeted communication from State House, what was coming out were largely political statements, some of which bordered on propaganda.
Others have been characterised by really bad prose, verbiage, misplaced words and sentences, as one critic put it, as was in the case of the recent rebuttal of a story in the New York Times on the President’s now aborted case at the ICC, which critics said used language that failed to communicate.
To make matters worse, while the statement claimed no attempt was made to contact the President or State House, the US newspaper has revealed there was a series of correspondence and calls that were ignored.
The turf wars also saw attack dogs take on Manoah on social media for allegedly failing to give adequate publicity to what the presidency was doing.
In a more recent case, a former journalist close to some of the directors accused Esipisu of taking only journalists from his Western Kenya backyard, an opposition stronghold, on presidential trips to Angola and Belgium – called for his ouster.
In the wake of the latest developments, Esipisu is being described as a “stumbling block” to fresh and innovative ideas for better and effective communication.
There were even leaks that some attribute to the State House turf wars (though we are not sure they were from PSCU) that in the end soiled the President’s name.
In one instance, President Kenyatta was forced to call off a planned trip to Nigeria for the swearing in of President Mohammed Buhari after a list of the government delegation was leaked to the media. Embarrassed that Kenya was sending a total of 84 officials to the ceremony, the President chose to stay at home and instead dispatched Deputy President William Ruto to represent him.
It is said some officials within the presidency were unhappy they had been left out even after the list was amended to include more people, including from the Presidential Delivery Unit.
At one time, Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua sought to right the PSCU situation by ordering the directors to operate out of Harambee House but somehow they managed to go back to the House on the Hill.
But this time round, their fate appears to have been sealed after the presidential guard was formally instructed never to give them access unless authorised.
On Wednesday, it fell on the Deputy Presidential Press Service to cover the President’s arrival from Botswana as all PSCU staff had been ordered not to report to work.
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