INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Kenyan Media Goes Wild Over Senator Obama

Published: Thu 14 Sep 2006 11:33 AM
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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 rebuked by the press and public
for doing so. End summary.
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BACKGROUND
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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?.
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THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION AND TRIBALISM
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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?.
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A CATALYST FOR CHANGE
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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.
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GOVERNMENT OF KENYA (GOK) RESPONSE
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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.
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PUBLIC RESPONSE
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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.
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COMMENT
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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
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