The mention of northern Kenya often brings to mind the picture of many saddening stories of drought, floods and diseases among others.
This is especially because such stories have been flooding the information platforms both locally and internationally over the years, painting a grim picture of poverty and suffering, a common phenomenon in the Global South.
However, there is much more to this, and many uplifting stories are being reported from Kenya’s north.
The establishment of Kenya’s devolved system of government, through the constitution which was promulgated in 2010 has provided platforms for counties to tell their own stories, with digitisation further enhancing speed, efficiency and reach.
However, many Kenyan counties have weak communications systems, with some lacking proper structures for information dissemination.
Last Thursday, communications directors from nine regions in the country’s arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) converged at the Clarence Hotel in Nairobi to discuss ways of ensuring there are effective communication and knowledge management systems at the county level for good governance.
Stories of resilience
Under the theme ‘Strengthening county governments’ resilience capacities through knowledge management and strategic communications practices’, the two-day event was organised by USAID, through the Resilience Learning Activity (RLA) programme.
“I come from Marsabit, a county which is often associated with issues such as conflicts, drought and cattle rustling,” said Galgalo Fayo, the Marsabit County Director of Communication.
However, he noted, the county is endowed with a rich culture and tourism sites such as the Marsabit National Park and the Chalbi Desert.
Additionally, Mr Fayo said that there are stories of resilience among the people who are able to withstand harsh climatic conditions and still survive and thrive.
The county also boasts of a thriving meat sector with goats, sheep and cattle being supplied to various places across the country for slaughter.
His counterpart from Kitui County said that although the county is classified as semi-arid, it has a huge potential for development if resources that are found there are well exploited.
“We have learnt that the ability to communicate effectively and with impact is in itself a rich resource towards changing the narratives from Kenya’s grassroots,” said Kitui Director of Communication Onesmus Kilonzo.
Focus on positive stories
Kitui, he added, is a sleeping giant whose stories of mineral deposits like coal should feature prominently as the face of the county.
A seasoned county communications officer, Mr Kilonzo advised newbies in the field to focus beyond the negative and traditional news and cast their lenses wider on bigger, positive stories.
During the event, Prof Levy Obonyo, a seasoned communication expert within Kenya’s media landscape and a university lecturer, challenged counties in the country to design their messages according to their audiences in a bid to inform, educate and influence behaviour, primarily among local communities.
Prof Obonyo has been among experts training the communications officers both within their counties and in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
“The people at the grassroots depend on county communications frameworks to get such basic but very important information [on] agriculture, rain patterns and governance,” said Prof Obonyo.
“Through efficiency in communication, the public gets an opportunity to audit county governments,” he added.
Prof Obonyo called for continuous trainings among communications officers based in the counties, saying they need to tell stories about government activities, engagements with development partners and social-cultural and economic dynamics, among others.
This way, he added, the faces of these counties, especially those in Asals, will be objective as opposed to information revolving around select aspects.
For the last three years, USAID/RLA has been training communications officers and local journalists on strengthening communication.
Some of the fruits of the numerous trainings is the launch of a communication strategy in Turkana County and a disaster risk management communication strategy for Isiolo County.
Samburu and Taita Taveta counties have draft communication strategies in place.