Government not doing enough to sell agenda

Friday, August 4th, 2023 06:00 | By
Coat of arms. PHOTO/Print

It is hard to figure out the key programmes of Kenya Kwanza administration. That is not for the lack of key programmes but for the lack of clear communication on the key programmes.

The government agenda is anchored around six pillars: Agriculture, micro-small and medium enterprise economy, housing and settlement, healthcare, digital superhighway and creative economy, and environmental and climate change.

This week, the President spoke at length on the first of those six pillars – agriculture. For a team that was good at selling their agenda during the campaign, that discipline has not been carried over to selling their programmes.

This may not be difficult to understand since government members continue to communicate effectively. The problem is the substance of their communication. Whenever a key member of the inner cycle in power speaks, the message is usually about the opposition leadership, a non-existent handshake, or the former President. They waste opportunities at the microphone.

The need for message discipline could not be greater. But first, government officials must master the message before they can deliver it with discipline. Fortunately, each ministry has a communication officer to help them if only they would take advice. This week has been particularly bad for the government from a communication perspective.

First was the case of an official in one docket giving directives on a different docket headed by a different person under the cover of one government approach.

Then there was an MP, even if holding a leadership position in Parliament, addressing a foreign Head of State. This was not the first time this had happened. A different MP had just weeks ago addressed international relations without the slightest care of the implications. It did not help that a significant dignitary walked into town and declined to meet with a government official.

Then came the tongue-lashing of the Cabinet by the Head of State. The officials fell afoul of the President after arriving late at a meeting the President presided over. But that was not all the worry the President had. He let it be known that most members of his team are clueless about what their tasks were nearly a year after being sworn in.

The challenge is not that the government is not communicating; in fact, the government is communicating very well. If one had to ask the average person on the street what the government’s message is, the person would, in all likelihood, articulate that message. But it is not what the government is keen on communicating; the problem is the message the government is passing along.

If government officials would focus on the six pillars of this administration and let those pillars form their message every time they speak, they would very quickly set the agenda and enable the public to understand what the government is about.

But that would require the discipline to remain focussed on the message even if the attack on the opposition or the former president is more scintillating. First, the speakers must understand every part of the six pillars and collectively appreciate the government’s emphasis on each.

Then comes the second part, probably the more difficult one for a politician, that, however, attractive veering off the message would be, whether at a funeral or on the roadside, the officials would articulate those planks and hand over the microphone to the next speaker.

Consider this. At every function, you are likely to have several government officials. Suppose the first speaker would talk about agriculture, the second about the economy, the third about housing, the fourth about healthcare and so on, and have this going on throughout the country and avoid sideshows. The temptation to scold the opponent might be there, but there will be plenty of time four years down the road to do that.

This is not so much about the media and journalists as some would want to believe. Journalists should be free to ask their questions on whatever subject, but the respondent must focus on the message. It is about discipline and the message.
— The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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