Viewing cable 06NAIROBI4000
Title: KENYAN MEDIA GOES WILD OVER SENATOR OBAMA

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
06NAIROBI40002006-09-14 11:18:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Nairobi
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SUBJECT: KENYAN MEDIA GOES WILD OVER SENATOR OBAMA 
 
¶1.  Summary:  Media reaction to United States Senator Barack Obama's 
(D-IL) visit to Kenya was overwhelmingly positive and included 
extensive coverage.  Over-the-fold, inside articles and letters to 
the editor by members of the general Kenyan public were almost 
exclusively positive descriptions and analyses of Obama's key 
messages on fighting tribalism and corruption, and promoting 
democracy and development.  The Government of Kenya (GOK) reacted 
negatively in a small number of advertisements and letters but found 
itself sharply rebukeQby the press and public for doing so.  End 
summary. 
 
BACKGROUND 
 
¶2.  U.S. Senator Barack Obama, whose father was a Kenyan citizen, 
visited the country August 24-30 as part of a wider trip through 
Africa.  He was greeted everywhere in Kenya by huge, enthusiastic 
crowds and a flurry of media coverage.  Among other events, his 
policy speech at the University of Nairobi was carried live on 
Kenyan national TV and on radio by BBC East Africa.  The TV viewing 
audience was the largest in recent Kenyan history.  Anecdotal 
evidence indicates that rival network staff tuned in to watch the 
live coverage in their newsrooms, as reportedly did members of the 
GOK at State House.  Those media houses which did not carry the 
event live excerpted it extensively in television, radio and 
newspaper coverage.  Most media coverage can be broken down into 
specific themes: "Obama's stand against corruption and tribalism;" 
and how his visit set the standards for the changes which "all 
Kenyans strive for". 
 
THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION AND TRIBALISM 
 
¶3.  "Obama attacks NARC team on corruption and reforms," which 
appeared in The Daily Nation (independent, left-of-center) focused 
on the Senator's references that "(Kenyans) were now crying out for 
a real change and were dissatisfied with a Government showing 
continued tolerance of  high-level corruption." "Obama terms graft a 
crisis" (The Standard, independent, populist) and "This is what ails 
Kenya - Obama" (The People, Investigative, sensationalist) are 
similar examples.  In "Obama hit nail right on head" (Kenya Times, 
KANU party owned), Obama was praised with the commentary "Yet Obama 
is right: We must fight corruption if we are to progress and build 
on the successes we have already achieved". 
 
A CATALYST FOR CHANGE 
 
¶4.  "Let us pick up the gauntlet Obama has thrown us," a headline 
appearing in Kenya's second highest circulation newspaper, The 
Standard, is a case in point wherein the media picked up Obama's 
themes and urged Kenyans to use his visit as a catalyst.  "The fact, 
as Senator Obama put it, is that the two key challenges that our 
country faces today are surmountable.  All it needs is a critical 
mass of committed citizens who are ready to challenge the status quo 
by speaking out against injustice and mediocrity at first sight". 
Similar articles, such as "If we truly love Obama, let's practice 
what he says (Kenya Times)," and "Why our politicians should emulate 
Senator Obama" (The People) appeared in the main news and commentary 
sections of every major media house. 
 
GOVERNMENT OF KENYA (GOK) RESPONSE 
 
¶5. The GOK, which is responding with hypersensitive defensiveness to 
all criticism the closer we get to general elections in 2007, 
responded badly to Obama's key themes.  In an August 26 advertised 
statement entitled "Levying of Fees to TV Crew Accompanying Senator 
Obama Done in Accordance with the Law" in the Daily Nation, the GOK 
Spokesman disputed the Senator's claim that two U.S. members of his 
traveling press had been required to pay heavy bribes to get their 
equipment into Kenya.  The GOK stated that the fees paid were 
legitimate customs duties and that the journalists had received 
official receipts.  These facts were later disputed by the 
journalists in question. 
 
¶6. In another example, the Kenyan Ambassador to the U.S. in 
Washington sent a letter to the Senator with copies to local and 
international press in which he said "Your (Obama) unprovoked and 
uncalled for statements were in bad taste" referring to Obama's 
speech at the University of Nairobi. 
 
PUBLIC RESPONSE 
 
¶7. The GOK was quickly and resoundingly refuted by the general 
public and media houses in letters to the editor and commentaries. 
Public reaction included letters and commentaries such as 
"Ambassador's reaction a cheap shot at Obama" (Daily Nation) in 
which the correspondent accused the Kenyan Ambassador of negative 
political interference and "Duties levied on journalists in Obama 
crew ill-advised" (The Standard), in which a Kenyan film maker who 
had traveled around the world with his equipment pointed out that 
the basis of the airport fee was bad law. 
 
COMMENT 
 
¶8. Senator Obama's visit created overwhelming, though realistically 
temporary, goodwill between post and local media houses.  A number 
of senior media officials and personalities praised Embassy PAS for 
the level of access and assistance they received in covering events. 
 The Senator's comments resonated with post's own concerns and 
received the kind of coverage press officers normally only dream 
about.  Whether the visit will, in fact, be used by the Kenyan 
people as a catalyst for change remains to be seen. 
 
RANNEBERGER