As 2019 ends and 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 organizations to the next level.
This year our Best and Worst Communicators list not only focuses on individuals but also incorporates communication moments for organizations.
In compiling the list, we limited the inclusion of politicians who have hogged previous years. There is a big wide world outside of politics and it 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.
1. 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. When he began his address, his powerful booming voice immediately captured the attention of the audience and in his introduction; he masterfully merged Swahili and English languages while using the rhetorical devices of rhyme and repetition to capture his audience.
It was clear he understood his audience well, and the content of his message resonated deeply with them. He may have sounded professorial at certain points and he could have done well to shorten his twenty-four-minute speech but 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 customize their address to connect with the audience. They also work on their voice which is the primary tool of delivery and it certainly improves the impact of a speech when a presenter deploys rhetorical devices. Prof. Kalamagamba Kabudi’s use of imagery, analogy, amplification, story-telling and parallelism showed that even in political set-ups a good communicator is still appreciated, but also served to challenge Kenyan leaders to step up their speech making abilities in the next decade.
2.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.
Whether it was during the ceremony in which he received the award as the world’s best teacher, and called his father from the audience to join him on the stage while wholeheartedly expressing his appreciation for the contribution he had made in his life or meeting President Donald Trump at the Whitehouse, to saying the opening prayer in the United States Congress, his enormous self-confidence masterfully combined with self-awareness was apparent.
His announcement that he would donate his $1Million Dollar award to his students reinforced his authentic message; that he cared less for material things and that teaching was his true calling which offered him a chance to contribute in making the world a better place. 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.
3. 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, the proliferation of various mediums to communicate heralded both a promise and a challenge to the activist. The promise was that their message or campaign could be passed through many channels especially to the younger generation using the social media platforms while the challenge lay in contextualization of their content and selection of the appropriate mediums to disseminate the same without losing the core message.
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 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 customize their messages to appeal to various audiences in order to achieve the change they seek.
4. 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. The ruling, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, further cemented her reputation as one of the leading legal minds in the country.
Her naturally deep, authoritative voice, her ability to not only speak the language of the law but also deliver to an audience lacking in legal technical competencies were a perfect blend in enhancing her communication credibility. Her ability to share her own personal story and experiences growing up with albinism in a society that had not fully embraced persons like her and merge the same with technical content certainly puts her in the league of great communicators.
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.
5. DPP Noordin Haji- Sincerity, Courage and Humble Confidence
The Nation’s top prosecutor amplified the war on corruption and led the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from a department largely unknown by many Kenyans 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 a centerpiece of his tenure as the Director of Public Prosecutions and he kept his promise.
When announcing his decisions to charge, he displayed great courage and 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 the 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 system as crucial to their overall success. He also managed to maintain an even tone of voice even when talking on highly charged emotional matters.
He could do well to use a lectern with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions Seal in future whenever he makes announcements on his decisions to charge as opposed to sitting down as this will help to amplify his authority.
6. Bob Collymore- Authentic, Emotional Memorable last moments
In October, the Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore departed this world but not his memory nor his impact. His final months during which he kept strong even under great pain, continued to show up and steer the most profitable company in the region 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, thoughtful and sometimes in a halting manner, he explained his battles but always managed to paint a hopeful picture. He epitomized courage, and used his own health challenge to bring into greater prominence the fight against cancer.
In what would be his last media appearance, in an emotional but without maudlin interview he spoke hope, displayed great knowledge of the healthcare sector and what ailed it while proposing some solutions, and managed to infuse humor while at it.
His funeral service revealed a man who was so organized and had set his affairs in place even deciding how his memorial service would be conducted. Even in his departure it was clear he was a systematic communicator, organized to the core and his final media interview will remain a classic communication masterpiece of candor, courage and authenticity that moved him from the hallowed pedestal of a celebrated CEO to just another human being going through life’s struggles and emotionally connected him to the audience.
7.Lynn Mengich- Authoritative, Thoughtful and Measured Communicator
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 color in communication and seemed to wear colors 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.
8. 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 and is delivered in an eloquent, serious, straightforward manner.
Her show, the News Gang, has grown a following based on its conversational format where she 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 of 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.
9. 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 defense most of the time while concurrently striving to explain government policy and wadding off critic’s keen to position themselves in the next administration.
Rtd. Col. 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, absolute conviction, full of energetic open gestures, and excellent mastery of Swahili and English.
His best moment came during the tragedies the nation had to bear especially when a car slid off the ferry into the Indian ocean with two passengers at the Likoni crossing channel in Mombasa, Col. Oguna not only gave updates of the retrieval efforts but also took on the role of a comforter to the nation effortlessly. 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 even once. 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.
10. Edward Mungai- The Inspiring and Motivational CEO
Edward is a gifted storyteller who uses his personal journey of transformation to inspire positive change in others. The Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre is an avid runner who participated in the Tokyo and Boston marathons and got to be in the world marathon major six star list making it to be the sixth Kenyan to get on the list.
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 forty under forty, while starting a leading green venture capital organization that eventually manages millions of dollars, to becoming a leading African authority and speaker on green technology is the stuff of legend.
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, focusing on inspiring professionals to become healthier, wealthier and more spiritual, then you get the reason why he is increasingly becoming a top pick to speak to corporate teams around the world.
Credibility is key in the world of inspirational and motivational speaking and he has certainly used his personal story to earn credibility and increase his influence.
Worst Communicators/ Communication Moments
1. Judicial Service Commission- Secretive Interviews for Judges
The post 2010 constitutional order places a high premium on public participation especially in high level public service appointments. The media has played a crucial role in broadcasting such interviews for the public and the Judicial Service Commission’s interview process for judges was one such forum of great public interest.
The order by the Chief Justice to lock out the media in the whole 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.
2. Pastor James Ng’ang’a- Arrogant and Controversial loss of 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 behavior is 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.
3. Hon. Anab Subow Gure – Nasty and Vulgar Communicatio
The first-time legislator and Garissa Women Representative in a moment of rookie excitement at a political rally decided to go further than all other speakers in their attack on the Former Prime Minister.
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. This meanness exhibited by Hon. Anab Gure bespoke of an emptiness of political purpose, and set the country on a dangerous path of balkanization and should not be encouraged in 2020. It is also a lesson to leaders that one should never run their mouth until their mind’s gear is engaged.
4. 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 story teller, 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.
5. Huduma Number Implementors- Disjointed Confusing Communication
The Huduma Number project communication mix deservedly joins the worst communicators list. The basic attempt at persuading citizens to enroll 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 number while differentiating it from the other myriad identification numbers Kenyans possess from birth to death.
The incompetence in the whole Huduma Number process was glaring and as the new year rolls by, citizens still don’t know what the Huduma number stands for, what it will achieve or even if they have been allocated individual Huduma numbers.
6. Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU)- A House Divided Doesn’t inspire Confidence
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 Executive Office of the Presidency which comprises of His Excellency 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.
Strategic Communication within the context of governance means anchoring communication efforts with a clear Policy agenda and master plan, and using appropriate channels of communication, to introduce, interrogate and influence Policy while promoting the Administration’s agenda.
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.
7. Inspekta Mwala real name Davis Mwabili- Defensive and lacking in empathy
“Am sorry for what hapened and pole to the familly, if am a killer then i,my poit is… lets b constractive guys some of our pple are dying of hunger and hamjaichangamkia hivi,,,waaah lets sitdown n think,”(sic) This was the message sent out in the form of a tweet by Inspekta Mwala in an attempt to apologize to the family of the man who lost his life when the actor’s vehicle hit him in a road accident.
Accidents and mistakes do and will happen. When they do and we need to apologize, we must be empathetic, acknowledge the facts, avoid getting defensive, and make it about the victims and not ourselves. The backlash Inspekta Mwala received from the public after posting this tweet led him to delete it and hopefully he learnt his lesson.
8. The Kenyan Athlete- Inability to effectively ace the post-race intervie
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 programs 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.
9. 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 organization 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 and add his serious demeanor it all pointed to poor communication skills and the IEBC Chairperson missed the opportunity to increase his influence and enhance goodwill for the organization he leads. One way to enhance a speaker’s likeability with audiences is smiling something the IEBC chairperson could learn to do in 2020.
10. 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 realize 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 vehicle befitting his status while seeming to cast blame on the Executive arm of the government for this state of affairs. This brief segment ended up controlling the news cycle and the entire message of his media briefing was lost.
The lesson learnt is that leaders must always prepare for the question and answer session, but more importantly the role of a communication or Public Relations director in helping leaders navigate the press conference cannot be understated.