White House rolls out Kenya propaganda plan

By Steve Peacock

Now that the Obama administration is pouring vast amounts of money into Kenya, it’s going to need some help selling its spending to the people.

WND has discovered the U.S. Agency for International Development has devised a sophisticated scheme to sway public opinion on U.S. “investments” in the African nation, including strategies to “groom” targeted journalists for favorable media coverage.

The USAID/Kenya Strategic Communications Plan 2012-2013 emerges at a time when the level of U.S. government projects in Kenya has outpaced agency resources. As WND reported, U.S. spending in Kenya has grown ‘exponentially’ under Obama, forcing USAID to hire contractors to oversee it all.

On June 29 USAID attached the Kenya propaganda plan – which itself is dated June 16 – as an addendum to its procurement documents.

The Kenya strategic plan maps out its intentions in the context of the White House’s position that a “stable and prosperous Kenya is central to American foreign policy.”

Indeed, the document’s first line establishes that “USAID/Kenya is playing a lead role implementing President Obama’s vision for global development, which sees development assistance as a pillar of foreign policy and crucial to America’s national security and economic interests.”

The document repeatedly asserts that helping Kenya is crucial to safeguarding those interests, claiming that “U.S. development efforts can defuse the anger and injustice that fuel conflict.” It declares that the U.S. government therefore must exert greater effort to influence how “targeted opinion leaders” in both nations portray U.S. assistance in Kenya.

The USAID/Kenya Development and Outreach Communications, or DOC, team – in conjunction with privately contracted “implementing partners” – must leverage tactics spelled out in the strategic plan to successfully sway those leaders. The agency also refers to those leaders as “message multipliers.”

“Journalists, editors and media personalities are also opinion leaders,” the document says. “They determine what gets written or talked about in the media.”

The strategic plan envisions the DOC team collaborating with groups such as the United Nations Development Program to “target specific journalists at key media outlets to be groomed to cover targeted issues over time.”

The document even revealed the names of several mainstream media journalists, bloggers and radio station personalities, in both the U.S. and Kenya, for outreach: “Engage a few key international journalists, such as the Economist’s Africa Baobab blog, the Washington Post’s [Africa Bureau Chief] Sudarsan Raghaven, the New York Times [East Africa Bureau Chief] Jeffrey Gettleman and AP’s [Kenya correspondent] Jason Straziuso in following our progress on targeted issues.”

Cultivating relationships “with bloggers such as Bankelele, The Young Agropreneur, Kenyanfarmer and DJs of popular radio programs such as DJ Prince of Ghetto Radio, Cess and Maqbul on Capital FM” likewise should be pursued.

These Kenyan sources “can weave brief mentions of USAID results in their patter,” an end-result first requiring DOC and its partners to “regularly e-mail, SMS [short message service] or tweet brief facts or stories for them to use.”

Another strategy to encourage media coverage of specific USAID/Kenya topics will be sponsorship of “Best Reporting” awards in multiple categories – recognition that the agency would arrange to be bestowed upon those journalists at the Media Council of Kenya’s annual gathering.

Providing “support” to targeted journalists to accommodate travel to international meetings of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program and other groups likewise could boost positive coverage of USAID/Kenya. It did not elaborate, however, on the level of support provided to reporters.

Improving how the agency “packages” its information is another key element of the strategy, which proposes devising indirect approaches to “earning” media attention.

One such indirect scheme is the development of a USAID/Kenya “mobile road show,” which would include the deployment of a vehicle equipped with audio and video recording technology.

Key audiences such as school children, teachers, farmers and agricultural producers would use the mobile studio to “record their stories” as beneficiaries of U.S. assistance, “thus contributing to better information collection.”

Once this information is amassed, it can be edited, re-packaged and distributed to “radio stations, including national news programs in English and Kiswahili, regional news programs in English, Kiswahili and vernacular languages and popular talk shows and drive time chatter shows.”

The strategic plan proposes to create an Interactive Voice Response, or IVR, system, which, similar to the mobile road show, “would primarily serve as a database of information and stories that Kenyans could access via their mobile phones. … The IVR also has the capacity to record the stories of Kenyans who call in. This could become another source of stories and impact information.”

Designing media messages based on USAID/Kenya organizational components – economic growth, democracy and governance, health and education – is less effective than basing them on how its audiences “think of themselves (entrepreneur, farmer, woman, youth, government official, journalist),” the plan reasons. Consequently, the agency says that “drawing them into our events and our web-based spaces with speakers or photographs of people like themselves” will achieve the agency’s official objective to “increase comprehension among targeted Kenyan audiences that the U.S. provides foreign assistance in Kenya through USAID.”

Finally, the strategic plan aims to streamline the diversity of messages the agency creates and distributes.

Bombarding people with information about too many of USAID/Kenya’s activities “runs the risk of providing a small amount of information about a lot of different things.”

The document suggests intensively disseminating data with a more generalized focus on goals and achievements. Readers and listeners who “hear the same thing again and again from multiple sources” are more likely to have their attitudes changed, thereby more effectively establishing U.S. government credibility among those populations, according to the document.

USAID/Kenya therefore will attempt to create “centers of gravity by rallying stakeholders, the Kenyan and international media and opinion leaders around ‘big wins’ in the next year,” conveying messages specifically about:

  • Fair and peaceful elections;
  • An AIDS-free generation;
  • Hopeful and engaged youth;
  • Women contributing to food security and improved nutrition; and,
  • Kenyans engaged in managing natural resources.

The agency says its efforts must imitate the advertising industry, which clusters its communications “around one center of gravity or message at a time for a 3-6 week period.” By doing so, USAID/Kenya will “ensure the target audience hears the message several times and is thus better able to retain the message.”

USAID/Kenya also views Kenyan government officials as potential “message multipliers” who can influence not only the media and the Kenyan people, but also those who hold the purse strings to all USAID activities: members of the U.S. Congress.

“This includes ministerial and director-level officials in the Government of Kenya, members of Parliament, business leaders and civil society leaders,” the plan states. “These Kenyan leaders also interact regularly with U.S. business leaders and members of Congress and provide important corroboration that USAID/Kenya’s assessment of its impact and progress is shared and appreciated by the Kenyan people.”

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