Political Sentiment – Isaac Mwaura assumes government communication responsibilities amid outcry over CS utterances

  • 16 Oct 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

Attempts by Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) to exercise powers beyond their mandates and make pronouncements over roles outside their ambit are common characteristics of the Kenya Kwanza administration.    

The Cabinet has also been attracting attention for issues ranging from utterances by some of its members to reports of infighting in some ministries. Recently, some utterances by some CSs were deemed insensitive, drawing the censure of among others, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. 

At one point, President William Ruto personally expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of some members of his Cabinet, suggesting that they lacked adequate knowledge of their respective dockets. The performance of the CSs also caught the attention of the public who in a recent opinion poll, scored the entire Cabinet a meagre D plain grade.  

Opposition leaders even called out US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, accusing her of being a ‘spokesperson’ for the Kenya Kwanza administration. This is after the ambassador endorsed President Ruto’s victory in last year’s General Election as legitimate and promised the government full support and closer ties with the US administration.

Some argue that the Kenya Kwanza administration started on the wrong footing as it fell short of effectively communicating its intentions and actions, contributing to a growing disconnection between the government and citizens. 

In September, Media Council of Kenya (MCK) CEO David Omwoyo stated: “Admittedly, state officials have not been efficiently engaging the media and the public, what with changing information needs and lack of coherent messaging plans. The result has been a least informed or misinformed public.”

He added that, in the recent past, Kenyans have seen appalling cases of high-ranking state officials disowning pronouncements by their colleagues or where a ministry would quickly issue statements clarifying the ‘official’ position. 

“There have also been many other controversial statements that seemed to point towards the hit-or-miss nature of Kenya’s public communication. At each stage, what stands out is the tricky balance between personal and official views. Some of the views are entirely political disguised as official and only meant to attract publicity,” Mr Omwoyo wrote.

He added that deliberate effort should be made to address gaps in how government and media relate and that the government needs to organise communicators who do not give room for misinformation. 

For over a year now, there has been a noticeable lack of clear, consistent and inclusive communication from the government, leaving many Kenyans wondering about the impact of the government’s initiatives and actions on their lives.  

Voice of government 

To fix things, President Ruto on October 4, appointed Isaac Mwaura as the government spokesperson to fill the existing gap that has been in existence between the government and Kenyans. The position was left vacant after Colonel (Retired) Cyrus Oguna who had served in the position from May 2019, resigned in October 2022, to take up the position of Chief of Staff for Siaya Governor James Orengo. 

The Office of the Government Spokesperson serves as the nerve centre of government communications. Its core mandate is to coordinate, plan, manage and implement communication of government policies, programmes and initiatives. 

It is also mandated with providing oversight of the technical operations of the Directorates of Information, Public Communication, and Film Services, Kenya News Agency, Government Advertising Agency, Office of the Information Secretary, the government media centre, and all affiliated functions in various ministries and government agencies. 

Speaking earlier in the week during different interviews on local TV stations, government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura said there has been a lacuna and disconnect between what the government is doing because there’s a lot that has not been said since there was no point person to do that.

“I am the spokesperson of the government, the government is ministries, departments and agencies. The role of my office is to make the intentions of the government well-known and explain government decisions and actions,” he said. 

Before his appointment, Mwaura was the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) in the Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi. The former nominated Senator was yet to assume office in the CAS position following the court ruling that suspended the CAS nominations. 

Prior to Colonel (Rtd) Oguna, the holder of the Office of Government Spokespersons was former police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe, who held the post between March 2016 and May 2019. After exiting the position Mr Kiraithe was moved to the Ministry of ICT as Principal Administrative Secretary. 

Muthui Kariuki was the second official spokesperson for the government, a post he held between November 22, 2012, and August 2013 when the office was dissolved. Tourism and Wildlife Minister Dr Alfred Mutua was the first government spokesperson during the grand coalition government between 2008 and 2013. 

Government communication 

In 2019, a report titled, ‘Winning the Trust’, by a 19-member task force constituted to study the status of government communication function, pointed out that the biggest challenge that continues to derail government communication is the mindset and culture in public service and touched on the need to gain public trust on government communication as well as looking at emerging public dynamics and expectations.  

The report further called for reviewing policies and laws that facilitate public communication and access to information, and the willingness of those in government to abide by the rule of law that guarantees the same. 

The team further noted that there was considerable suspicion and a rise in mistrust among citizens in government communication and information passed to them. It also highlighted the lack of adequate capacity among government communications persons as well as low morale accompanied by an environment termed as ‘poisoned’ by the task force.

Key among the recommendations highlighted by the task force was the need for relevant stakeholders to re-brand MyGov newspaper and make it a standalone paper distributed free across the country to improve access to government information.