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What it takes to be a good government spokesperson

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]mmediate former Government Spokesperson Eric Kiraithe was axed on Tuesday and replaced by Colonel (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna as the government seeks to plug the gaps in a somewhat disjointed communications strategy.

Reacting to the announcement made by ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, Kiraithe hailed his successor as one who is ‘equal to the task’, an assessment that the public is unlikely to disagree with based on Oguna’s popular stint as Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) spokesperson at the height of the Kenyan army’s incursion into Somalia.

The two men however are not cut from the same cloth, during his stint as government communications boss, Kiraithe cut the image of an assertive individual who nailed his colours to the mast and got the job done at whatever cost, traits that did little to endear him to the public.

New Government Spokesperson Col (Rtd) Cyrus Odhiambo Oguna


On the other hand, Oguna’s portfolio features several high profile jobs in the civil service but earned his stripes by ralling the country behind Operation Linda Nchi with his eloquence and transparency during his time at the helm of the army’s communication’s office.

Shortly after he was appointed, Colonel (Rtd) Oguna picked a telling word to describe his vision for his new task, ‘desire’ but that’s nothing new to him, he has exuded confidence and enthusiasm in all the positions he’s held most recently as joint national and resource mapping project spokesman.

“It’s a pleasure to be appointed to communicate on behalf of the government. This is a job I look forward to executing with desire,” he told The Nation on Tuesday shortly after his appointment.

The job description of a communications manager is to share information effectively, manage expectations and get the public behind your project but Kiraithe failed in all those aspects since his appointment in March 2016.

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So what makes a good communications manager, a cunning person, a politician or a pure communications expert?

Kiraithe drew the public’s ire when he seemed to suggest that Kenyans are lazy after Behind  SGR Walls, an investigative report by then The Standard reporter Paul Wafula exposed racial discrimination and mistreatment of Kenyans working on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line.

“Even as we talk about the Madaraka Express and racism and all that (sic) it might be necessary for us as a country to change our work ethic. It would be very unfortunate after the period is over we then go out to look for expatriates because we are running multiple delayments, the trains cannot come on time,”

“What we are expecting those Kenyans to do, those with an opportunity is to shift the focus to the challenge at hand,” said Kiraithe, and as expected the comments drew the public’s fury, that was not how Kiraithe’s bosses would have liked the situation handled.

He had in the past also described Jimi Wanjigi ‘a nefarious criminal’ during the siege at the businessman’s palatial home in Muthaiga in October 2017.

Kiraithe equally infuriated the public when he described Paruwanja La Mihadarati, an investigative piece by renown journalists Mohammed Ali (currently Nyali MP) and Dennis Onsarigo (current communications manager Taita Taveta County) that exposed the drug trade in the country and how politicians were complicit in the dirty business as ‘sensational reporting’.

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Alfred Mutua, the current Machakos County Governor is the closest that Kenya has come to having a decent communications manager.

His handling of crisis was excellent’ the only blot in his communications CV came when he decided to describe former US President Barrack Obama as a ‘junior senator’ when the latter called on the Kenyan government to tackle the runaway corruption during his visit to the country as Illinois Senator back in 2006.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has arguably the toughest communications job on the planet which involves defending President Donald Trump’s radical policies.

Time and time again she’s been forced to come again to defend her boss from negative media coverage most memorably when The New York Times published an anonymous Op-ed in which the writer, purportedly a senior official in the Trump administration claimed that he and his colleagues were working to undermine the American President.

What’s similar about Mutua and Sanders is that they are both politicians and largely navigated communication crisis like politicians.

Their method basically involves calming down the situation by introducing political angles.

Col (Rtd) Oguna and Kiraithe are not politicians, they served in the military and The National Police Service (NPS) respectively before rising to become communication honchos, the former has been successful in communication roles thus far while the latter has had his fair share of up and downs.

The government spokesperson job is not a walk in the park, current government spokesperson Kanze Dena is a former journalist but she is yet to encounter a communication crisis thus far but she has neither impressed critics since her appointment.

A communications background will not necessarily make one a good government spokesperson on the other hand diplomacy and clever navigation of a situation most of the time.

Perhaps a combination of all these traits are just what one needs to be a good government spokesperson, Sanders is living proof of that.


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