When Mwai Kibaki, as was expected, replaced an Alfred Mutua with a Muthui Kariuki, many Kenyans knew the appointment was not based on merit because Kibaki had this unfortunate tendency to fill and refill key government positions mostly with names that rang a bell in his head. That was how Kenyans came to know Njuguna Ndung’us, Julias Karangis, Ndegwa Muhoros, Githu Muigais, John Njiriainis, Lucy Ndung’us, Kinuthia Mwangis, Francis Kimemias and Michael Gichangis among others. But that was Kibaki who–thank God–has until retired and paved way for the ‘digital’ Jubilee Coalition. However, despite promising Kenyans that their government would comprise of youthful people with fresh ideas in this digital age, Jubilee has effectively recycled many ‘analogue’ government officials on the same basis that their names still ring a bell in Uhuru Kenyatta’s mind. Muthui Kariuki falls in this category.
Muthui Kariuki has not mastered his job role since he assumed office. He has consistently embarrassed himself in all the previous Press Statements, but most conspicuous was the one he did this week. For a man with experience in teaching and Public Relations spanning years, it beats reason that Muthui still fails understand that his position entails boosting the image of the government, not tainting it as he does. This reminds me of a question Professor Ouma Muga used to ask of Kibaki’s misrule: “How much experience is enough experience?”
Despite his ‘wealth of experience’, Muthui’s behaviour reveal him as a man who believes Jubilee is a Mount Kenya rather than Kenyan government. Public Relations does not require such a mindset. PR is a delicate field that handles propaganda, syndicated information and sensitive leaks hence calls for sobriety and caution. It requires one to be careful, tactful and well thoughtful before releasing statements to the public. It is a field where truth can be effectively denied and toppled head over heels. PR is a strategic communication exercise aimed at building and nurturing beneficial mutual relationships between organizations and their publics. Here, propaganda can be repackaged and served as official, true and honest position of an entity on pertinent issues. It requires finest communication skills, attractive and engrossing oratory and good looks to boot.
Muthui Kariuki does not belong here any more. He is too old for the job, his face lacks visual appeal and his English heavily laden with Kikuyu dialect. The last time he learnt communication was 30 years ago. A lot of changes have taken place in this field which his communication skills are completely devoid of. His brain therefore, direly needs refurbishing. Muthui is also a local man, narrowly travelled hence not exposed to international standards of spokesmanship. The 57 year-old Literature teacher has only gravitated around Nairobi and Central Kenya. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Kenyatta University then a PGD and a masters from University of Nairobi in the 80s. He proceeded to teach at Starehe Boys Centre before holding PR positions in a handful of Nairobi-based companies. Such a man’s brain is operating in a ‘Nairobi closet’. The next place he knows is his region of origin, period!
These traits were on display last Thursday when he desperately attempted to give official government position on the rejection of Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech by wananchi in Kisii last weekend. The spokesman ridiculously displayed deep emotions and pitiable grimaces. Even though he was reading a speech, he still gesticulated like a frightened adolescent. He ranted like an obsessed preacher. I wondered loudly why the man who was supposed to be a spin doctor instead decided to spill the beans on his employer.
Muthui had obviously decided that Raila was an enemy of THEIR government who should be dealt with ‘decisively and mercilessly’ as Mutahi Ngunyi recently advised. He therefore did not care whether Raila commands a massive loyal following whose feelings should be taken into consideration before issuing such a careless talk. He was not interested in any kind of mutual relationship with Raila and his supporters. He was only keen to defend the government at all costs, but he ended up further denting its image. It beats logic that the man is paid handsomely by out taxes to stage such unfortunate antics.
Muthui should borrow a leaf from some of his colleagues. In the run up to the last general election, spokespersons Munyori Buku, Denis Onyango, Kaplich Barsito and Kibisu Kabatesi of Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi respectively, displayed exemplary contemporary skills required in this trade. They did it in the way of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s efficient spin doctor, who manned sensitive communication and Blair’s image both in Labour Party and in government; and also worldwide during the controversial Iraq Invasion in 2003. Campbell concealed sensitive information that only got revealed in 2012. He upheld public confidence in the Prime Minister even when Blair and George Bush were dethroning Saddam Hussein on false grounds that the latter had weapons of mass destruction.
To reciprocate Munyori Buku’s performance in the last campaign, Kenyatta has appointed him to head the new Presidential Strategic Communication Unit. May be he could do better in Muthui’s position. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto desperately need a better spokesman especially at this time when they are fumbling with a divided country and the impending deadly trials at the Hague.