21 December 2012

Kenya: False Narratives Harm Kenya Image

press release

It has come to the attention of the Office of Public Communications that certain media news reportage and academic report writing concerning the coming General Election and Presidential transition are promoting false narratives that seek to undermine the national discourse on matters of importance to all Kenyans.

These malicious perspectives must be exposed for what they are - fake, revisionist and malevolent on top of being reckless. They must not stand and the OPC wishes to challenge and correct this negative propaganda in the most forthright terms.

Among the worst offenders are Presidential candidate James ole Kiyiapi, who was until several months ago a Permanent Secretary at the Education ministry, and one Gabrielle Lynch, an academic from the British Warwick University who has been in Kenya on a mission described by the Financial Times of London newspaper earlier this week as "monitoring conflict hotspots in the country ahead of the polls".

Dr Lynch, author of the 2011 book I Say to You: Ethnic Politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya, has a mindset that a lynch mob would envy. On Tuesday December 18, the Financial Times East Africa Correspondent, Ms. Katrina Manson, quoted Dr. Lynch as declaring that "Election-related violence has already started", in Kenya.

This is a blatant falsehood. And it is truly regrettable that such a malicious lie should be quoted "authoritatively" in such a venerable publication as the Financial Times, a newspaper that is read by many serious investors.

I can only guess at Ms. Lynch's motivations beyond seeking to justify the grant for her so-called research and wishing to see Kenyans come to grief, but I can assure Warwick University, the Financial Times and indeed the world at large that there is no election-related violence in Kenya at this time.

Pretending otherwise, for whatever obscure reason, is as preposterous as contriving to portray the massacre of the innocents on Friday last week in Connecticut, USA, as political violence.

Dr. Lynch's is a nonsensical and dangerous narrative, calculated to occasion the Kenyan nation-brand maximum damage and to spread uncertainty about this country as a tourism and investment destination.

And yet, from December 2012 to August 2013 she will be based in this country heading a team of 10 UK researchers to monitor the General Election and its aftermath, in a mission sponsored by the Africa Conflict Prevention Pool Programme, which brings together the British Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID (Department for International Development).

As for Prof. Kiyiapi, almost everything about his Presidential campaign rhetoric is wrong and wrongheaded, right down to the tiny rent-a-crowd group that appears to follow him around the country and constitutes his live "audience".

Even the name of his party is redolent of a false narrative about where Kenya has been, is and will soon be. Restore and Build Kenya is a grievous misnomer.

It seeks to portray this country and nation as needing to be both restored and built up. In other words, it seeks to portray the first 50 years of Independence, and particularly the last one decade of the outgoing Mwai Kibaki Presidential administration, as a time of national collapse, thus the talk of "restoration", and no development, thus the talk of "building".

Kiyiapi is entitled to his own blinkered political views. But he is not entitled to a narrative that is so historically revisionist as to be a total lie! At every campaign stop Kiyiapi goes on and on about liberating Kenyans from this or that yoke.

And yet this is the man who was tried, tested and found so wanting at the Ministry of Education, where a colossal amount of money vanished to the total consternation of both Kenyans and the donor community. In other words, he almost poisoned the well of one of the greatest achievements of the last one decade, universal free primary school education.

False narratives like Dr. Lynch's crying wolf and Prof. Kiyiapi's fanciful restoration and rebuilding of Kenya are insidious propaganda that is disseminated by a local and international media which is not only sensationalist but also shallowly analytical and dangerous to this country.

If they are not challenged and corrected, Kenyans run the very real risk of being overtaken by storylines that actively seek to undermine the very reality of their lives and the very real gains and achievements of a period like the last one decade.

The Office of Public Communications will not let these false narratives (and others) pass. It will no longer be business as usual in the communications sector in this country as we move inexorably towards the Kibaki transition, legacy and succession. Whoever seeks to distort Kenya's national narrative and discourse will have the OPC to reckon with.

The author is the Public Communications Secretary and Government Spokesman.

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