I pray that you are keeping well. Again, do everything you can to stay alive. A respondent in my last blog post, Light Juma posted, “I have personally adopted the phrase #KeepSafe #KeepSane #KeepTheFaith. That is what is keeping me going on.” Well, I love this. She has coined her way of survival. Do coin yours and let it be your driving force.
Do you fancy flowers? Yes, I mean cut flowers such as roses, tulips, daisies, lilies and carnations? If you love flowers like I do, then you will not miss a thing to do with flowers. By now, you can guess where I am headed with this blog post. I have keenly followed Kenyans reactions after photos emerged that the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the Kenya Flower Council had delivered 200 Kenyan branded bouquets to the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK).
Kenya’s High Commissioner to the UK; Ambassador Manoah Esipisu through a Twitter thread, posted an explainer about the gesture on Thursday evening. Photos accompanying the tweet included some NHS frontline workers, in their uniforms, holding the flowers in a way that could easily be interpreted to mean, they were quite pleased with our out of the box gesture.
On their faces, I read-gratitude. An acknowledgement of the gracious gesture as an expression of “solidarity and partnership” during this COVID-19 era that has led to over 28,000 deaths and more than 180,000 positive infections in the UK as per the Government of UK website.
President Uhuru Kenyatta (UK’s) message on each bouquet read, “Whatever the adversity, no matter the foe, we shall triumph together.” Kenya was sending a message of encouragement and hope. One that signalled…” We feel you, we are in this together and, we shall overcome.”
As a Kenyan in the UK, I was touched. My face beamed with undisguised admiration. “Awww…a beautiful gesture, I am so proud to be a Kenyan right now.” But there was a problem. Back at home, my countrymen were not happy at all. This gesture wasn’t receiving the same kind of appreciation as I had hoped. Many were seeing it from a different perspective altogether leaving some of us in utter shock.
“I am struggling to understand why this gesture angers Kenyans. When other countries send us medical equipment (apart from China, lol) including funds and other humanitarian aid like the time of floods from Qatar, no Kenyan complained. Ours is a problem of always receiving and not giving mentality,’ posted Milka Sabuni in a digital chat.
It was also evident that most of us had missed the initial photos on KEPSA’s social media pages when the #FlowersOfHope campaign was launched. I blame KEPSA for a lousy job with their publicity. Next time, please be very strategic and deliberate about this. You failed Kenyans, and you are largely to blame for the negative feedback that the President received concerning this gesture.
“KEPSA has to indulge in more public awareness and also build more emotional connections with local communities. It must interrogate the ‘Why’ of its existence. For GoK, there seems to be a demonic force within that turns every opportunity into a disaster.” Commented Caleb Atemi, Leadership and Communications Consultant in Kenya. I found his last sentence, very hilarious.
Friday, 1st May 2020, in his address to Kenyans during the Labour Day celebrations, we subjected the President into explaining the gesture behind sending branded bouquets to the UK. Jamaneni said in a typical Kenyan style. They were 200 bouquets. Not 2000, but 200 only. President Uhuru was mad, and he was not mincing his words, “Careful before you post your nonsense on social media,’ he warned.
Well, we were all left wondering, how did he know we were posting nonsense on social media? We all know that he left social media. “Looks like the President is still on social media but using pseudonym. We must unmask him. Which account is he using?” Kenyans asked. I laughed at this. Of course he has his intel.
After his rant, many Kenyans realised they had misjudged the President, and others started apologizing immediately. “Wow, I must go on Radio and apologize to the President. I am among those who criticised him, but now I reckon I was wrong,” posted a radio presenter in one of the digital chats.
This is what we missed as Kenyans. An opportunity for NATION BRANDING. Please allow me to explain. Have you ever been with a group of friends, in the middle of some hot gossip and one cracks a joke then you miss it? In the spirit of friendship, one of your friends’ volunteers to explain the joke because everyone wants to bring you up to speed, so they interpret it for you. By the time you get it, you’ve lost a laughing moment with everyone else.
Dear Kenyans, I understand your frustrations about our Government. I know that there are many things we don’t like about our Government and our political leaders. Corruption, police brutality, unemployment, human rights violations, injustices and inequalities, name it, the list is endless.
But this is the reality. Each country has its own problems. If not corruption, then illegal immigration. If not unemployment, then land pollution. Do not be deceived that there is a country that has everything in place. COVID-19 has unmasked each country’s fragility, and now we are left making fun of even those that we consider superpowers. I came across a joke a few days ago. “Looks like some countries have been lying to us. Coronavirus has proved to us that all these developed countries are just but third-world countries in a Gucci belt.’ Well, this sentence bitterly hit home.
Sadly but true, even developed countries have problems they are grappling with. There are some things that I genuinely don’t like about the UK. In Kenya, when you are unwell, all you need to do is to go to the hospital and seek treatment. Imagine in this country such freedom is unheard of. You have to call your General Practitioner (GP) seeking an appointment before making your way to the hospital. Sometimes, that appointment takes weeks or months to come by. Thankfully, I have not had a reason to seek medical attention. However, my friend suffered COVID-19, and all our attempts to see her get to the hospital were futile. She has now recovered, so we grateful for that. But, I rarely see people shout about this frustration.
My point is, our frustration with the Kenyan government will not be won through insults directed to the President. We must be very deliberate in what we want our country to be. This we must do. Before you compose another insult to the President, or that Cabinet Secretary, or that political leader, take a minute and ask yourself whether you can express yourself without throwing in an insult. I am saying this with full understanding that a recently released survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has ranked Kenyans as the worst bullies on Twitter.
You see, leaders serve within a given time frame. When their time is up, they will pack and go. Another leader will take office, and our insulting tendencies will continue. Unknowingly, what we are doing is damaging our country and its image out there. Imagine if we all saw the opportunity last Thursday (like I did) and branded our country using the photos we highly criticised. Think about the collective responsibility towards Nation Branding.
The UK is undoubtedly a key market for Kenyan flowers. The UK in buying flowers from Kenya is safeguarding more than 200,000 jobs in the Kenyan floriculture industry and a major source of foreign exchange earnings. The 5billion stems of flowers grown in Kenya will go to waste if at all we did not have a market like the one in the UK. During Valentine’s, you are sure to see our flowers spreading love. In weddings, our flowers are a colossal mark of celebration of love. In funerals, our flowers are a great source of comfort and solace.
The photos were shared, wide and far, and the gesture was highly appreciated. NHS has been the focal point in the fight against COVID-19. According to Amb. Manoah Esipisu thousands of Kenyans work in the care sector in the UK and 1000 directly at NHS. This was also a chance to boost their morale as well as a self-preservation act in standing with the UK when they are most afflicted.
Perspective is key. Marketing abroad is not based on certain conditions being met at home. A market focus is based on imperatives relevant to the particular market, and not on the popularity or otherwise of these decisions at home (unless there is material harm). In Europe, most flower shops and supermarkets are not open to non-essential shopping. The UK is one of the very few to have flower shops open and hence one of the very few avenues of export during these exceptional times. They are, therefore helping my countrymen feed their families.
Just like that person who misses a joke when it’s first cracked, we have understood this gesture, way too late. Our apology to the President is too little too late. We’ve trashed our country in full view of our enemies and competitors.
Any efforts towards Nation Branding demands that we see the opportunity, grab it and use it to our advantage, immediately. Nation Branding is more than our leaders; it’s everything in what we believe our country is… it’s in our Constitution, our values, our ethos, symbols of patriotism including our National Anthem, our Flag, national dress, T-shirts, souvenirs, the wrist bands that we all love (everything branded Kenya) etc. It goes beyond leaders because leaders outlive a season but, our country is here to stay. This, calls for collective responsibility! Even in our frustrations, may we learn to seize the moment 🥰🥰🥰
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