• Wednesday, 24 July 2024
TSM OPINION: How Communication Gaps Fueled A Revolution In Kenya

TSM OPINION: How Communication Gaps Fueled A Revolution In Kenya

By Ruth Musembi

Recent events in Kenya have highlighted a critical issue that can have far-reaching consequences: the failure of effective communication. For communication to be truly effective, it must involve three critical elements: listening, clear messaging, and concrete action.

These three pillars form a magical communication triangle that works wonders. Leave out one of the three, and communication will always falter. In essence, effective communication goes beyond sharing information. Listening and concrete action must be present.

Additionally, for communication to be effective, the three pillars must follow a clear sequence. First, listening to the public and engaging with their concerns should precede any messaging. To create messages without listening to people is like singing off-key.


Such messages fall flat at best, and, at worst, they repel and even anger listeners. Subsequently, listening must result in concrete responses about any issues raised, the incorporationof valid suggestions into subsequent decisions, and tangible actions.

In the recent past, Kenya has witnessed a wave of national outrage and riots, a clear indication that, among other things, the government's communication strategy has faltered on multiple fronts.

1. Lack of Listening

A notable failure that preceded the recent national outrage we have witnessed in Kenya has been the government's lack of engagement with the voices of the people. When citizens feel unheard, their frustration grows, leading to a heightened sense of alienation and anger.


This lack of listening contributed significantly to the fever-pitch outrage observed in the country. Effective communication is a two-way street. It is not enough for leaders to simply broadcast their messages; they must also listen to the needs, interests, concerns, and expectations of their audience.

2. Lack of Adequate Resonant Information

The information disseminated to the public has consistently lacked the necessary depth and clarity to address the concerns of the people. When citizens feel that their needs and questions are not being met with transparent and substantial responses, it fuels uncertainty and fear, contributing to unrest and anger.

In times of crisis, citizens look to their leaders for clear, consistent, and resonant information. Yet, most of the messages by the government have not reflected the mood and desires of the people, possibly pointing to a situation where message drafters did not incorporate insights from strategic listening, if they had listened at all. The absence of insights-driven messaging has led to confusion and mistrust.


3. Contradictory Actions 

The Kenyan public has continually observed discrepancies between what was communicated and what was done. Inconsistency between messages and actions undermines the credibility of leadership, as people struggle to reconcile the differences between words and deeds.

Such contradictions not only erode trust but also provide fertile ground for rumors and misinformation, which can rapidly escalate into widespread dissent and protests.

The Role of Seasoned Communication Experts


Having practiced communication for over two decades, I am convinced that the need for seasoned communication experts within government cannot be overstated. Here are three critical ways in which their involvement can bring about positive change:

1. Strategic Listening and Engagement

Seasoned communication experts will facilitate strategic listening to the public. They can establish channels of genuine engagement, allowing citizens to voice their concerns and feel heard.

Strategic listening will foster a sense of inclusion and significantly reduce feelings of alienation and anger. When Kenyans believe their voices matter, they will be less likely to resort to protests.


2. Crafting Clear Insights-Driven Messages

Experienced communication professionals will craft messages that are clear, consistent, and resonate with the public. They understand the importance of strategic messaging that incorporates the needs, interests, concerns, and expectations of the people.

They will, therefore, ensure that the information disseminated is coherent and trustworthy. This will then reduce confusion and build a foundation of trust between the government of Kenya and its citizens.

3. Aligning Actions with Words

One of the most critical aspects of effective communication is ensuring that actions align with words. Seasoned communication experts understand that for messages to be credible, they must be backed by concrete actions.

They can advise government leaders on how to implement policies and initiatives that reflect their statements, ensuring consistency between what is said and what is done. This alignment is essential for building and maintaining trust.

When citizens see that their government not only listens to them but also acts on their feedback and concerns, they will likely be pacified. Moreover, an openness to acknowledge mistakes and correct them transparently can further enhance trust and cooperation, ultimately leading to a more stable and harmonious society.

Proactive Crisis Management

In times of crisis, communication experts are crucial in managing the narrative and mitigating panic. They can anticipate public reactions and prepare strategic responses that address concerns before they escalate. 

The recent riots in Kenya underscore the devastating impact of poor communication. To prevent such crises, it is imperative for governments to prioritize effective communication strategies. For communication to be truly effective, it must involve three critical elements: strategic listening, clear messaging, and concrete action.

Listening to the public and engaging with their concerns should precede any messaging. Aligning actions with words and maintaining openness is pivotal for governments that want to build trust, reduce unrest, and create a more harmonious society.

The Need for PR Regulation

The failures observed in Kenya's recent communication breakdown underscore the necessity of a regulatory framework governing the practice of public relations in Kenya. By instituting a law that mandates the engagement of seasoned communication professionals and sets standards for strategic listening, message crafting, and aligning actions with words, the Kenya government will ensure more reliable and effective communication.

A PR law will not only professionalize communication efforts but also protect public interest by fostering transparency, trust, and accountability. This regulatory approach will serve as a safeguard against misinformation, enhance public confidence, and contribute to a more informed and stable society.

The writer is a strategic communication and people development expert currently serving diverse clients at Burson, A WPP-Scangroup PR agency based in Kenya. Follow Ruth Musembi on LinkedIn.

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