Connecting Leadership and Communication

Good communication enables, fosters, and creates the understanding and trust necessary to encourage others to follow a leader. In fact, older studies of how much time managers spend on various activities show that communication occupies 70 to 90 percent of their time every day.  With cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, if that same study were done today, it would yield even higher percentages. The sheer amount of time leaders spend communicating underscores how important strong communication can be for an individual desiring to advance to leadership positions.

It is on this basis that political parties in Kenya are excited about a new program aimed at strengthening communication strategies and tools of political parties to enhance internal and external communication processes, applying, among other things, innovative internet/Smartphone platforms. The Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD-Kenya) and the Danish Liberal Democracy Program/Danish Institute for Parties and Development collaboration also seeks to strengthen and consolidate political parties through an increased participation of the youth in a meaningful and empowering way. The program was launched in November 2011 with implementation of both the communication and youth components smoothly progressing. 

Danish delegation and CMD Board members after a meeting at CMD-Kenya office in Nairobi on the day of the ‘communication and Youth participation in politics project’

CMD Kenya’s 27 member political parties have undertaken a communications needs and assessment hence identified what they consider the most pressing communications issues or challenges facing them. This will guide development of more responsive intervention strategies that address the felt needs specific to each political party’s communication. Besides the assessment, political parties have participated in various buildup engagements to prepare for development of their own communication strategies for successful campaigning. Political party Secretaries General, Secretaries in charge of information and publicity, Executive Directors and communications officers attended a two day workshop November 8-9 aimed at promoting youth cooperation in political parties and enhancing communication skills with an emphasis on social media and campaigning.

The workshop was facilitated by Kenyan and Danish experts in Communication and political campaigning. Danish facilitators were Soren Toft (Director of Communication - Copenhagen School of Business) Jens-Kristian Lutken (Information Officer - the European Movement and a parliamentary candidate in September 2011 Danish elections) and Hanne Tornager (DLDP Project consultant). Kenya’s well respected political editor Alex Chamwada discussed the relationship between media and political parties in Kenya with other topics discussed including: political campaigning and social media, how parties can deal with media relations in a democracy, communicating in politics, how to attract youth to a political party and strengthening their role, crisis communication, strategies and tactics of modern campaign.

Kenya’s well respected political journalist Alex Chamwada making a presentation at a workshop on communication for political parties

Another buildup engagement was a meeting that brought together party leadership and youth representatives to discuss and identify needs and priorities for youth involvement in political parties and communication. Political parties were represented by the Secretary General and two youth leaders (male and female). Additionally, young people from various interest groups and sport disciplines were invited to participate. Discussions during the workshop revolved around the role of youth in improving internal and external communication for political parties, priority needs, challenges and opportunities of young politicians in Kenya and avenues for youth involvement in political parties.  Participants shared experiences and gained knowledge specifically on priority needs for their involvement in political parties and communication.

The key note speaker was one of the few young first term legislators in Kenya’s national assembly. Hon. John Mbadi observed that young politicians face many challenges in politics in Kenya. He said the political environment in Kenya has always been unfriendly and does not subscribe to the ideals of integrity, transparency and the democracy. “These are great concerns for young people in politics and those who are aspiring to become political leaders,” he said adding that “the constitution has been too general in terms of what the youth opportunities are compared to other marginalized groups such as women”. He recommended that there was need for affirmative action for youth too.

Young politicians and party members engage party leaders in a group discussion

After successful buildup workshops, political parties are looking up to developing their communication strategies. Bilateral communication strategy building workshops have indeed kicked off in earnest with the objective being to achieve a draft communication strategy outline for each party. The training covers subjects about: choosing policy issues for a campaign, defining target groups, developing messages, choosing channels and developing an implementation plan. The participants are explained to about each section of the communication strategy, given an opportunity to seek clarifications if any and are challenged to undertake an assignment in specific political party groups, thereafter make presentations followed by plenary discussions led by facilitators to shape and fine tune ideas. 

To realize maximum impact of the communication strategy training workshops, CMD-Kenya has clustered the 27 member political parties into seven groups. Political parties are now capable of working in small groups of 5 making it easy for the project consultant and CMD Kenya Communications Officer to give almost individual guidance to participants in the development of the communication strategies. Two trainings are scheduled to take place in the month of December with the 8 political parties achieving a template to fill in their strategy. The remaining five trainings are scheduled for January 2012.