Of Kenya’s best and worst speech makers, writers

Friday, December 8th, 2023 07:00 | By
Of Kenya’s best and worst speech makers, writers
Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o. PHOTO/Print

Wuod Nyong’o, as friends call Kisumu Governor Anyang’, is a man of many talents. But one of them is hardly acknowledged. 

The good professor, a son of a preacher--who has said he will retire to the pulpit-- is a gifted speech writer. He wrote some of Anglican Bishop Henry Okullu’s much-quoted sermons and speeches for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

He wrote the acclaimed speech by then Vice-President Michael Wamalwa Kijana in 2003 delivered at a retreat for Legislators in Nanyuki following squabbles in the Rainbow Alliance. It was here that Wamalwa spoke of individuals “playing some cards on the table while hiding dangerous ones under the table.”   Nyong’o says the speech was cobbled together in Wamalwa’s house. You would not know this because speech writers are ghost, backroom operators who feed on barrels of ink.  The governor delivered a well-articulated speech at the funeral of his former classmate at Alliance, Joe Nyagah. Sadly, Nyong’o belongs to the thin number of Kenyans who have invested in the critical but neglected art of speech writing.

There are a few memorable speeches to go round.  An example is the Kibaki inauguration speech at Uhuru Park in December 2002.  “I feel extremely happy to address you today. I am overwhelmed by your love. I am emboldened by your support and enthusiasm,” he said. After that the speech writer must have died.

Kibaki spent his presidency reading dense, policy- punctuated and data-heavy speeches. Uhuru Kenyatta made colourful speeches during national celebrations, often anchored in the country’s liberation history.   William Ruto’s speeches are well- researched and delivered with admirable flair and clarity.

But Ruto’s speech writers must be told that his State of the Nation address was an unimaginative copy and paste out of usual script by US presidents. PLO Lumumba is a master of soliloquy. Mukhisa Kituyi has a good turn of phrase. Speaker Moses Wetangula is beautifully witty and effortlessly quotes Shakespeare and other sages of yore. Chief Justice Martha Koome’s speeches are dry and stiff, just as are those of Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi. DCJ Philemona Mwilu is spiritual and reflective, with strong pauses for impact. 

But, Good Heavens, who writes speeches for DP Rigathi Gachagua, CSs Rebeccah Miano, Njuguna Ndung’u, Simon Chelugui, Ezekiel Machogu, Florence Bore, CJ Koome and Francis Atwoli?

Throughout life, business and politics we tell our stories through speeches. Successful organisations are led by individuals capable of telling their stories to inspire confidence in a business.

Barack Obama used his 2004 convention speech to define his identity and introduce himself to America.

Many Democrats believe Bill Clinton’s 2012 speech at their convention won Obama-re-election. Though Obama is known to have participated in drafting his speeches and make heavy edits, he benefited from talented ghost writers.

This bring us to the rumbling speeches from our people in high places--from Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Vice-Chancellors, judges, parastatal bosses, commissioners, CEOs of blue chip companies to heads of professional societies-- that frequently send their audiences to an early siesta.

At public events, people are treated to boring, self-serving monologues and officialdom by leaders written by bureaucrats sagging with raw data, technical jargon and delivered like dirges for the village witch-- at times with misplaced animation.

A few lessons. A good speech should be like a conversation between two good friends – personal, informal and sincere.  It should be clear, concise, resonate with audience and bear a definite message.

It should be free from emotions and nuanced with quotes and anecdotes for color.  Good speech delivery goes with necessary body language and ensures the participation of the audience. You are as good as your last speech.

The writer,  a founder of the Kenya Speechwriters Clinic, is the Political Editor at People Daily [email protected]

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