Raphael Tuju – The ace of political messaging

If a poll were taken among Kenyans about what President Mwai Kibaki’s greatest legacy is, what would come out on top? Free primary education? Road infrastructure development? Economic growth? Maybe all of them as one inseparable package. But think again: There is a critical mass of the Kenyan population that believes Kibaki’s greatest legacy is freedom of expression, the antithesis of 40 years of repressive rule under the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party. Without it, everything else was impossible, hence the campaign catchphrase ‘everything is possible without Moi’.

The core mission of the Kibaki administration was to foster a national renewal through winning the war against graft and engineering economic reconstruction through investment in social services and infrastructure. This was not all. Restoration of Kenya’s image in the global community was not any less an endeavour for Kibaki’s government. To achieve this end, the new National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government had to embrace a shift in paradigm in so far as the relationship between the seat of power and the fourth estate was concerned.

It was during Tuju’s time at the Ministry of Information and Tourism that vernacular radio stations began popping up in large numbers

There was no better manifestation of Kibaki’s interest in giving the media a free hand to operate than to put one of their own at the Ministry of Information and Tourism. Kibaki’s choice for this portfolio was Raphael Tuju.

In the first Kibaki administration Cabinet, Tuju was appointed Minister for Information and Tourism. His assistant at the ministry was Beth Mugo. Tuju, a renowned journalist, was no doubt a good fit for the ministry. An alumnus of the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, Tuju had in the late 1980s and early 1990s worked as a part-time television news anchor. Besides, he had produced and directed several documentaries, television and radio commercials for international agencies, private sector bodies and public institutions. And he had been a columnist for local newspapers, particularly the East African Standard.

Tuju’s professional background gave him first-hand experience of how critical media freedom was in a democratic and progressive society. It therefore did not come as a surprise that while he was at the helm of the Ministry of Information and Tourism, the Kibaki administration nurtured greater freedom of expression. State House kept its hands off media content and tolerated criticism. Further, the voice of the civil society got way louder than it had been before.

In a bid to have Kenya retain her position as the regional centre for international news, Tuju made total liberalisation of the airwaves a priority of his Ministry. Under the KANU regime, privately-owned radio stations were only allowed to broadcast in limited spaces. The State-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) enjoyed unlimited airwaves access.

Even though the KANU government had partially liberalised the airwaves in 1996, rapid expansion of the broadcasting sector started in 2003. In line with the NARC vision, Tuju oversaw the allocation of numerous frequencies to private investors. This resulted in the birth of more than 50 privately-owned radio stations in Kibaki’s first term.

It was during Tuju’s time at the Ministry of Information and Tourism that vernacular radio stations began popping up in large numbers. Privately-owned vernacular radio stations such as Kameme FM, which broadcasts in Gĩkũyũ, Kass FM, which broadcasts in Kalenjin, and Ramogi FM, which broadcasts in Dholuo, among others came into existence.

Under Tuju’s leadership, the television sector also grew. New players such Sayare TV (2004) and K24 (2007) arrived on the scene. In addition to other privately-owned television stations such as the Kenya Television Network (KTN), started in 1990, and Nation TV (NTV), started in 1999, the new players in the television sector offered Kenyans a range of sources of information in Kiswahili, Kenya’s lingua franca, English and other indigenous languages to choose from.

Print media, too, did well thanks to the media freedom occasioned by the change of guard. The two leading dailies, the Daily Nation and the East African Standard maintained their dominance of the Kenyan market. But by the end of the first term of the Kibaki Presidency, the number of newspapers in the country had shot up to eight. Nation Media Group launched the Business Daily whose beat was finance and economic affairs. Patrick Quarcoo’s The Star newspaper also came into existence around the same time.

Aware of what potent tools media outlets are in the construction of a people’s popular culture, Tuju insisted that the local media creates room for local content. On 8 August 2003, Tuju announced that beginning 1 January 2004, local television stations would be required to broadcast a minimum of 20 per cent local content. For radio stations, he set the ratio at 30 per cent. Tuju’s directive was not successfully executed then. It, however, brought the subject of suitability of media content to the national discourse table.

As the Minister for Information and Tourism, Tuju took Kenya’s image redemption campaign to the global arena. Fed up of what in media parlance is called bad press, Tuju attempted to take Kenya’s broadcasting voice to the United Kingdom. His intention was to reverse the 50-year one-way broadcasting regime that Kenya and Britain had maintained. In November 2003, Tuju and Wachira Waruru, then the head of the KBC, visited London to apply for an FM radio station licence to enable KBC to be heard in the UK.

The FM station, in Tuju’s view, would offer an alternative voice to that of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Tuju argued that unlike the BBC, the Kenya-owned FM radio station would give Kenya unbiased media coverage. The bid failed. It turned out that British broadcasting laws only allowed European companies to run radio stations in Britain. Besides, at the time all the licences for the London FM spectrum were booked up to 2010. Even though the law has since changed and non-nationals can now apply for licences and run FM stations in the UK, the challenge of limited FM spectrum persists.

Tuju’s fight against the bad press Kenya was getting in the wake of Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks was boosted by the fact that it enjoyed the support of Kenyans. As a result, Kenya’s tourism industry, the third largest foreign exchange earner in the country, had lost US$ 125 million since the 1998 US Embassy bomb attack in Nairobi. Immediately after the attack, European and American authorities released travel advisories to their citizenry citing Kenya as an unsafe destination. The situation had been aggravated by the ban of UK flights to Nairobi and Mombasa by the British government in May 2003. The ban was anchored on the fear of terrorist attacks on western targets.

After his bid to establish an FM station in the UK flopped, Tuju changed tack. He made a series of appearances on international radio and television stations. Tuju gave one message at each of the talk shows. He informed the world that even though Nairobi was concerned about the terrorism threat, it had taken all the necessary precautions. He emphasised that Kenya was not any more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than other tourist destinations.

Tuju’s crusade paid off. The UK lifted the Nairobi and Mombasa flight ban.

In March 2004, Spain suffered a terrorist attack where 200 people lost their lives. Another 1,400 others suffered injuries. Western governments reacted differently to the terrorist attack in Spain. The British and American governments cautioned tourists to be vigilant. They did not impose travel bans.

This elicited a reaction from Tuju. He read double standards in Western countries’ reaction to the Spain terrorist attacks and questioned why Kenya was treated differently after suffering a similar fate.

During the Commonwealth Ministers’ conference in Malaysia that was convened after the attacks, Tuju aired Kenya’s concerns. He told the global community that Kenya found it ironical that the very countries that had issued travel advisories against Kenya were encouraging their citizens to visit Spain in a show of solidarity.

Tuju’s resolve to turn around Kenya’s tourism fortunes was not any more pronounced abroad than it was at home. His intervention soon after his appointment to the Information and Tourism docket to have the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) taken from the KANU party leadership goes to show this.

The banner headline of the Daily Nation on 18 March 2003 — Tuju’s fight to repossess KICC from claws of KANU bigwigs — memorably captures the way things had changed after only three months of NARC. The unthinkable was happening. Tuju walked into KICC and dramatically repossessed it over the spirited objections of party hacks. He cited an Executive Order by the President and pointed out that the building belonged to the government and not the ousted ruling party. It so happened that Kibaki was the Minister for Finance when the building was constructed in the 1960s.

The repossession of KICC was largely interpreted, at that time, as a pointer to the Kibaki administration’s commitment to deliver back to Kenyans what the Moi regime had over the years plundered or forcefully allocated to the ruling party or politically correct individuals.

Later in 2005, Kibaki’s government appointed Philip Kisia as KICC’s Managing Director. His first task was to give the historical building a badly needed facelift and then transform it into a proper international conference centre.

But why was KICC critical to the Kibaki administration? The NARC government envisioned a KICC that would position Nairobi as the centre for conference tourism in the region. This mission has since grown into an established fact and the days when the building served as meeting place for planning weddings and funerals are long gone.

Tuju served Kibaki’s administration as the Information and Tourism Minister until 2005. His later stint in the Cabinet had much to do with the convulsions that engulfed NARC in the lead up to the 2005 referendum.

Within months of clinching power, cracks emerged in the coalition. These cracks assumed the form of a Kibaki-Raila Odinga power-sharing tussle. Odinga claimed that his party and Kibaki’s had signed a pre-election Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that spelt out how they would share power after winning elections. The MoU supposedly stipulated a 50-50 power sharing formula between Kibaki’s and Odinga’s parties.

Kibaki never disowned the existence of the MoU. His position, however, was that the MoU was limited to Cabinet slots. He disagreed with Odinga’s demand that the MoU extended to the civil service. Odinga and his supporters, wanted the MoU to overlap to government jobs, diplomatic appointments, State corporations and security services.

The Kibaki-Odinga feud caused divisions in Kibaki’s first Cabinet. It was in this scenario that Tuju, Moody Awori and George Saitoti switched allegiance to Kibaki.
The gap between Odinga’s camp and Kibaki’s was further widened by their divergent stances on constitutional reforms. Odinga’s faction used the 2005 proposed Constitution referendum to get even with Kibaki. They rallied their supporters to reject the proposed Constitution. Odinga and his supporters wanted an autonomous premier with a ceremonial president while Kibaki and his supporters wanted the opposite of this arrangement. The government lost the referendum.

A day after the government lost the plebiscite something historical happened. Kibaki fired his Cabinet save for Vice President Awori and Attorney General Amos Wako. In his terse message to Kenyans, Kibaki clarified that the referendum results had prompted him to reshuffle his ministers and assistant ministers for harmony and efficient service delivery to the people.

In the new Cabinet that he announced a fortnight later, he excluded Odinga (Roads, Public Works and Housing), Kalonzo Musyoka (Environment), Ochilo Ayacko (Gender and Sports), Linah Jebii Kilimo (Home Affairs and Registration of Persons), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Planning and National Development), Najib Balala (National Heritage and Culture) and William ole Ntimama (Office of the President — Public Service).
In the new Cabinet Kibaki appointed Tuju Minister for Foreign Affairs. From a purely bureaucratic point of view, Tuju’s brief was to advance the government’s foreign policy. But from a political angle, Kibaki’s elevation of Tuju to the Foreign Affairs docket was a strategic move. Empowering Tuju was one of Kibaki’s ways preparing for the 2007 political duel with Odinga.

In the run up to the 2005 referendum Tuju formed the People’s Progressive Party. Political analysts considered Tuju’s party an outfit whose aim was to eat into Odinga’s support base and consequently reduce Odinga’s camp’s chances of winning the referendum.

Tuju served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs until the end of the first term of the Kibaki Presidency.

Interestingly, Tuju, who served as the Member of Parliament for Rarieda between 2003 and 2007, got into NARC thanks to his affiliation with Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This explains why his fallout with Odinga resulted in him losing the Rarieda Parliamentary seat. The political animosity between him and Odinga worked to his disadvantage since the electorate considered it a betrayal to their community kingpin.

In spite of his loss at the 2007 polls, Tuju did not slide into a political oblivion. In a demonstration of the high regard which President Kibaki had for him, Tuju was appointed as Special Envoy and Presidential adviser in the government. Tuju worked alongside Kivutha Kibwana. Whereas Kibwana advised Kibaki on Constitutional affairs, Tuju advised him on Media and Management of diversity or Ethnic Relations.

Tuju served Kibaki as one of his advisers until 2011 when he resigned to focus on his 2013 Presidential bid. Afterwards, he formed Party of Action (POA), the political vehicle through which he purposed to run for the Presidency.

Those who were familiar with inner workings of Kibaki’s two-term Presidency place Tuju right inside Kibaki’s think tank. In the Kibaki administration, he played in the same league as Mukhisa Kituyi, and Kibwana. This is the team that helped shape the policy of the decade-long Kibaki reign.

In 2017, Tuju became Jubilee Party’s Secretary General, securing his place in the list of names of nine trusted appointees President Uhuru Kenyatta inherited from Kibaki’s administration.

But as the twists and turns of politics go, Tuju has reconciled with Odinga, the man with whom they could not see eye to eye in the Kibaki Cabinet.

Tuju was born on 30 March 1959. He went to Majiwa Primary School from where he joined Starehe Boys’ Centre. Tuju holds a Master of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. Before joining politics, Tuju worked as a consultant in design and implementation of public communication programmes. Among other organisations and agencies he consulted for were the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, the Department of International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Between 1992 and 2001, Tuju was the Founder and Director, Ace Communications.

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