Here are the best and worst public and corporate communicators of last year

From left, former Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, Activist Jerotich Seii, Neno Evangelism’s Pastor James Ng’ang’a’ and Garissa Woman Representative Subow Gure. PHOTOS | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • This year, our best and worst communicators list not only focuses on individuals but also corporates.
  • We limited the inclusion of politicians to those who have hogged the limelight in previous years.

As the world welcomes a new decade, the role of effective communication cannot be understated. In the next decade, effective communication will be the fuel that powers individuals and organisations to the next level.

This year, our best and worst communicators list not only focuses on individuals but also corporates.

In compiling the list, we limited the inclusion of politicians to those who have hogged the limelight in previous years. There is a wide world outside of politics which also revolves around communication.

The list is bound to generate debate, but readers should use it as a learning opportunity and deploy the lessons therein.


Bob Collymore: Authentic, emotional and memorable

In October, Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore departed this world ... but not his memory nor his impact. During his final months, he kept strong even under great pain, and continued to steer the most profitable company in the region. He cemented a legacy that will be long remembered.

In a cultural context where public figures rarely open up about their health challenges, he was very candid about his battle with cancer and courageously and authentically talked about his struggles. Eloquent and thoughtful, he epitomised courage, and used his own health challenge to bring into greater prominence the fight against cancer.

His funeral service revealed a man who was very organised and had set his affairs in place, even deciding how his memorial service would be conducted.

It was clear he was a systematic communicator, organised to the core, and his final media interview will remain a classic communication masterpiece of candour, courage and authenticity that moved him from the hallowed pedestal of a celebrated CEO to just another human being going through life’s struggles.

DPP Noordin Haji: Sincerity, courage, humble confidence

Kenya’s top prosecutor amplified the war on corruption and led the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from a department largely unknown to one that earned the respect of many citizens in 2019.

When he appeared for parliamentary vetting in 2018, he was clear that the war against corruption was going to be the centrepiece of his tenure and he kept his promise.

When announcing his decisions to charge, he displayed great courage. A keen scrutiny of the statements accompanying these decisions revealed a prosecutor interpreting the concept of public interest and the evidential threshold on particular cases, while explaining them through the arch of history and their significance to future generations.

While delivering his statements, he came across as a direct communicator who was straightforward, detailed in the specifics of the law and humble enough to acknowledge the efforts of other players within the criminal justice.

He could do well to use a lectern with the ODPPs’ seal in future, as opposed to sitting down as this will help to amplify his authority.

Peter Tabichi: Authentic and unpremeditated

When the world’s best teacher appeared on the scene, his even temperament and new fortunes clearly seemed to intersect. In media interviews, he had the talent to make straight, seemingly unpremeditated answers that portrayed him as authentic, empathetic, with an open and natural manner of speaking.

He came across as someone who genuinely cares for his students and is intent on making the world a better place and was unmoved by celebrity.

The takeaway is that good communicators are authentic, a quality the audience can detect, especially when the verbal and non-verbal cues are in congruence.

Rtd Col Cyrus Oguna: Calm under pressure

Getting the unenviable job of Government Spokesperson in an administration serving its second and final term inevitably meant that the spokesperson will be playing defence most of the time while concurrently striving to explain government policy and warding off critics keen to position themselves in the next administration.

Mr Oguna was able to straddle the delicate balance of explaining government policy, defending the same while maintaining his credibility and not coming across as a sycophant. He spoke with a strong voice, conviction, full of energetic open gestures, and excellent mastery of Kiswahili and English.

His best moment came during the tragedies the nation had to bear. He not only gave updates of the retrieval efforts but also took on the role of a comforter to the nation. His empathy, compassion and determination came across in his verbal and non-verbal communication.

Even when under intense questioning by journalists, he kept calm and never lost his cool. Perhaps his background as a spokesperson from the frontlines of war helped, but he certainly earned his communication stripes in 2019.

It’s likely that in 2020 the nation will hear a lot from him as he leads the strategic communication efforts of an administration entering its final years.

Jerotich Seii: Enter the era of smart activism

The social activism scene in Kenya has undergone a metamorphosis during the years, leading to different players emerging to lead or ride the activism waves. In 2019, Ms Seii managed to seize the promise and navigate the challenge effectively and came out as a brilliant communicator able to straddle both the traditional and new communication mediums.

She was proof that the next decade calls for versatile activists possessing enhanced communication capabilities and who will manage to adapt their techniques and customise their messages to appeal to various audiences in order to achieve the change they seek.

Ms Seii managed to seize the promise and navigate the challenge effectively and came out as a brilliant communicator able to straddle both traditional and new communication mediums.

She also achieved the rare feat of bridging her activism from the “street” to the courtroom and in media interviews. She was eloquent, firm yet respectful and kept on message with a strong focus on her audience.

She was proof that the next decade calls for versatile activists possessing enhanced communication capabilities and who will manage to adapt their techniques and customise their messages to appeal to various audiences in order to achieve change.

Justice Mumbi Ngugi: Standing out in the Judiciary

In a year when the Judiciary came under greater scrutiny from the public, based on various rulings from the bench; this High Court Judge had a break out moment with her ruling that public officials facing corruption charges must not be allowed to access their offices.

Deliver TED Talks

The ruling, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, further cemented her reputation as one of the leading legal minds in the country. We are not sure if judges are allowed to deliver TED talks, but we predict that she may be the first Kenyan judge to do so in this new decade.

Yvonne Okwara: Hard-hitting, eloquent advocacy

Yvonne Okwara has evolved from reporting and anchoring to creating a segment “Yvonne’s Take”, that speaks truth to power in an eloquent, serious, straightforward manner.

She usually identifies a current issue, researches it and delivers a hard-hitting and eloquent opinion that ensures the message gets home.

She has also mastered the vocal and verbal aspects of communication evidenced in her expressiveness of voice and enunciation.

An attribute that good communicators possess is the ability to keep reinventing themselves and improving on their delivery. In 2019, Yvonne’s systematic communication style and eloquent advocacy resonated with many.

Prof Kalamagamba Kabudi: Masterful, powerful delivery

Few Kenyans had ever heard of Tanzania’s Foreign minister, Prof Kalamagamba Kabudi, until he delivered the keynote address during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at the Bomas of Kenya.

His powerful booming voice captured the attention of the audience. He masterfully merged Kiswahili and English languages while using the rhetorical devices of rhyme and repetition to capture his audience.

It was clear that he understood his audience well and the content of his message resonated deeply with them. It had been long since a politician delivered such a captivating address within the Kenyan context.

The Takeaway is that good communicators will conduct audience analysis prior to their presentation and customise their address to connect with the people. They also work on their voice which is the primary tool of delivery and certainly improves the impact of a speech when a presenter deploys rhetorical devices.

Prof. Kabudi’s use of imagery, analogy, amplification, storytelling and parallelism showed that even in political set-ups a good communicator is still appreciated. He also served to challenge Kenyan leaders to step up their speech making abilities in the next decade.

Lynn Mengich: Authoritative, thoughtful and measured

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission chairperson had the tough job of telling Parliament No! to their ever-increasing appetite for more allowances.

Despite provocation and clear attempts to intimidate her, the SRC chairperson remained focused, well prepared with facts to defend the SRC’s position and always measured in her comments to avoid picking unnecessary fights.

She also understood the psychology of colour in communication and seemed to wear colours and accessories that complemented her message and enhanced her authority.

The takeaway is that the ability to deploy steady and calm communication is a valued attribute in leadership.

Edward Mungai: Inspiring and motivational CEO

Edward is a gifted storyteller who uses his personal journey of transformation to inspire positive change in others. The CEO of Kenya Climate Innovation Centre is an avid runner who participated in the Tokyo and Boston marathons and got to be on the world marathon major six star.

His story of transformation from an out-of-shape, unhappy corporate executive, who took up running to keep fit and eventually managed to join the ranks of the top 40 under 40, while starting a leading green venture capital organisation that eventually manages millions of dollars, to becoming a leading African authority and speaker on green technology, is the stuff of legends.

Add the fact that he managed to merge all these aspects of his life and transform his story into a compelling narrative and training model makes him a top pick to speak to corporate teams.

Credibility is key in the world of inspirational and motivational speaking and he has certainly used his personal story to earn credibility.


Chief Justice David Maraga: Disastrous press conference

Whenever the Chief Justice calls a press conference, everyone stops to pay attention.
So, when he called a press conference, it seemed odd that he was alone and not flanked by other members of the Judiciary, as is the norm. The interpretation was that he alone was responsible for his speech and he would bear full responsibility for his presentation.

The Chief Justice knows how to communicate confidence and authority and this was in full display from his swagger and his upright positioning behind the lectern.

He had a stern look and when he began his speech, it was clear the gloves were off and the Executive arm of government was the target.

Upon completion of his statement, he opened it up to the question and answer session and it is clear that he was ill prepared and failed to realise that any misspeaking at this point could rob him of the impact he desired from his speech.

He would swallow the bait from a reporter and go on to complain about the lack of a luxury car befitting his status while seeming to cast blame on the Executive for this state of affairs. This brief segment ended up dominating the news cycle and the key message of his media briefing was lost.

The lesson learnt is that leaders must always prepare for media appearances. But more importantly, the role of a communications professional is to prepare leaders and help them navigate press conferences, a key function that cannot be understated.

PSCU: A house divided

The Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) is charged with crafting a communication strategy that should offer Kenyans a chance to interrogate, understand and participate in government policy.

In recent times, the PSCU seems to have limited its communication to focus on the Office of the Presidency, which comprises of the President and his Deputy.

However, at times, it seemed as though the PSCU read from different scripts when communicating about the President and his Deputy, which to a keen observer gave the impression of division.

On this score, the PSCU failed as it became a unit that merely pushed information and reported the itinerary of the Presidency while failing to guide the wider governmental strategic communication efforts.

Huduma Namba implementers: Disjointed confusing communication

The Huduma Number project communication mix deservedly joins the worst communicators list.

The basic attempt at persuading citizens to enrol was laced with initial pleas, subsequent threats and a complete lack of clarity on its ultimate intention.

The government seemed unable to create a coherent message to sell the benefits of the Huduma Namba while differentiating it from the other myriad identification numbers Kenyans possess from birth to death.

The incompetence in the whole Huduma Namba process was glaring and, as the new year rolls by, citizens still don’t know what the Huduma Namba stands for, what it will achieve or even if they have been allocated individual Huduma numbers.

Pastor James Ng’ang’a: Arrogant and controversial with no moral authority

Neno Evangelism’s Pastor Ng’ang’a’s public meltdown seemed to have started in 2015 when he was allegedly involved in a road accident where a woman lost her life.

In the subsequent judicial trial, narratives of attempted cover-ups, driving under the influence of alcohol, and witness intimidation made news.

Religious leaders derive their moral authority from the content of their character and their words plus behaviour are expected to be beyond reproach.

In various instances, he ranted and raved, devoid of logic, at his perceived enemies. His arrogant, mean, vicious and insulting messages, coupled with media reports of his legal troubles, punctured his credibility, moral authority and exemplified the very antithesis of what religious leaders should be.

Wafula Chebukati: Low connection, limited likeability

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairperson failed to inspire greater confidence or enhance his credibility with the public.

Having been in the public arena for some time now, it would be expected that he would have mastered the basics of communication and evolved into an inspiring ambassador for the organisation he leads in order to enhance its credibility with the public.

Whenever he stood to speak, he was halting, lacking in passion, at times looking uncertain, and spoke in a monotone. His body language did not convey confidence. Add his serious demeanour, it all pointed to poor communication skills.

The IEBC chairperson missed the opportunity to increase his influence and enhance goodwill for the organisation he leads. One way to enhance a speaker’s likeability is smiling occasionally.

Macdonald Mariga: Not ready for the game

Macdonald Mariga, the retired world-class footballer, made his political debut in 2019 seeking to replace the late Ken Okoth in Kibra Constituency. Perhaps the public unfairly judged Mariga’s communication abilities by comparing them to the former Member of Parliament, who had set the bar quite high.

His first days on the stump revealed an aloof, incoherent and almost reluctant candidate who became the punchline of many jokes.

Politics is a contact sport and emotionally connecting with your electorate is key to winning.

In order to have been an effective communicator as he ran his campaign, Mariga needed to transform into a versatile storyteller, deploy a good grasp of local issues, be passionate, and transform his campaign speech into a compelling narrative. He failed in this and also failed in his political debut.

Anab Subow Gure: Nasty and vulgar communication

The first-time legislator and Garissa Woman Representative, in a moment of rookie excitement at a political rally, decided to go further than all other speakers in their attack on former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

In a snarly tone, she made vulgar reference to the private parts of a man senior enough to be her father and openly wished him death; it clearly represented the lowest point of expressing political differences.

There is a certain meanness creeping into our politics, largely exhibited by the newbies serving their first term.

A major segment of the older generation, even when they differed politically, would be measured in their comments. The meanness exhibited by Ms Anab Gure bespoke of an emptiness of political purpose. It is also a lesson to leaders that one should never run their mouth until their mind’s gear is engaged.

Judicial Service Commission: Secretive judges' interviews

The post 2010 constitutional order places a high premium on public participation, especially in high level public service appointments.

The order by the Chief Justice to lock out the media in the process was a major strategic mistake and the excuse proffered that the JSC’s boardroom was not large enough to accommodate media crews was not convincing.

Kenyans have a major stake and interest in the Judiciary and it seems the institution charged with interpreting the law failed to interpret the meaning of public participation in the current social context.

The communication coming from the JSC could be interpreted to mean that an opaque process was their intention and it did them no favours in enhancing the credibility of an institution that has struggled to gain and maintain public goodwill.

Inspekta Mwala: Defensive and lacking in empathy

“Am sorry for what happened and pole to the family, if I am a killer then I would have joined al-Shabaab...let’s be constructive guys some of our pple are dying of hunger and hamjaichangamkia hivi... waaah lets sit down n think,”(sic).

This was the message sent out in the form of a tweet by Inspekta Mwala in an attempt to apologise to the family of the man who died when the actor’s vehicle hit him in a road accident.

Accidents and mistakes do happen. When they do and we need to apologise, we must be empathetic, acknowledge the facts, avoid getting defensive, and make it about the victims and not ourselves.

The backlash Davis Mwabili (real name) received from the public after posting this tweet led him to delete it, and hopefully he learnt his lesson.

Kenyan Athletes: Inability to effectively ace an interview

The elite Kenyan athlete makes an appearance again among the worst communicators.
In a year that saw Kenyan athletes dominate many races around the world, their glaring inability to effectively navigate the post-race interview was apparent for the world to see.

The ability to effectively communicate for athletes leads to numerous opportunities which come in the form of corporate endorsements, paid sponsorships to serve as spokespersons for various global causes and also the highly paid speaking circuit.

In the new decade, it is important for training programmes focused on mastering interview skills, dealing with nervousness, mastering basic post-race talking points and enunciation to be designed and developed for the Kenyan athletes.

Authored by a team from Jade Communications Limited, led by chief executive officer Paul Achar