It is said that the late Kwame Nkrumah, the founding father of the Ghanian nation (who went to University in the United States) was a master of “spin”. That is the term used to describe PR practitioner’s re-positioning of news and events to portray a certain desired image.
So good was Nkrumah at the art of spin that even as he enjoyed the trappings of power and behaved more or less like every other despotic African leader, he still managed to get the message across to his people that he was working very hard and making personal sacrifices on their behalf.
Legend has it that during a particularly wild party on the beach, Nkrumah took the time to be captured by cameras on a deserted area of the beach forlorn and deep in thought “carrying the heavy burden of his people.” When that photograph was splashed on the front pages of Ghanaian newspapers, the entire nation was touched and many people persevered in their poverty knowing that somebody was at least trying very hard on their behalf. If only the camera were able to show what was behind the cameraman, Ghanaians would have been shocked at the sheer fraud and manipulation.
American president Richard Nixon was an extreme case when it came to controlling public perception by hook or by crook and was in fact a control freak. For example he illegally crashed a spirited effort by British pop legend ex-Beatles, John Lennon’s peace movement to get many young voter’s across America registered and to basically vote against Nixon’s re-election. One of the “tools’ he used was J Edgar Hoover’s FBI which amongst other things attempted to deport Lennon. It worked and under immense pressure the pop legend abandoned his campaign which would well have changed the course of history.
Now in Kenya for the first time in our history we are faced with a president who is a politician of many years but has no grasp or understanding of how powerful and important public perception is. Or worse still, if he does he doesn’t care.
Clear evidence that this is a big weakness on the part of the president emerged early in his administration when the unprecedented decision was taken to appoint a government “spin doctor.” It is said the government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua was lured away from a lecturing position at some university in the Middle East with a hefy pay package and perks.
Still this has done little to create a good image in the eyes of the public for the president. Incidentally have you noticed that Dr Mutua in recent briefings has been emphasizing the policy of president Kibaki rather than the policy of the government?
Sickly Kenyatta cut the image of a hard working mzee with his busy working holidays (is a busy working holiday plausible?) in Mombasa frequently announced in the national media. President Moi was seen by many Kenyans as the president who personally lifted stones with the wananchi to build gabions against soil erosion and always looked sharp and in a hurry as he told Kenyans “we are on the run.” That spin fooled Kenyans for quite a long while. Things only really started going wrong when Dr Ouko was murdered. In fact Moi did such a good job with his image that when Dr Ouko was murdered majority of Kenyans (including this blogger) refused at first to see the obvious. I remember arguing passionately with a friend that there was no way that the government would have been involved in Dr Ouko’s murder. How naïve I was then.
Now how do Kenyans view president Kibaki? Just ask around for yourself. The mzee who wakes up at 11 am and loves to play golf. Also has a penchant for using the word “pumbavu.”
But recently the Kenyan commander in chief has acquired a very damaging new label. I talk about that in my next post.