UNCLAS NAIROBI 004000
STATE FOR AF/E, AF/EPS, AF/PD, AND IO
NSC FOR JMELINE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OFDP OPRC OREP PREL PGOV SOCI KDEM KE
SUBJECT: KENYAN MEDIA GOES WILD OVER SENATOR OBAMA
Â¶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
Â¶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
Â¶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
Â¶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
Â¶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.
Â¶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.
Â¶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.
Â¶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.