Inside the intrigues that built and destroyed the President’s comms team. A story of blind ambition, unfettered ego, and utter destruction. And a brothel.
The president leaned forward, with his palms on the table. He was angry and tired. And it was showing. His red eyes widened, and his mouth broke into a sadistic smile.
For nearly an hour, he had sat quietly as one side of the table ganged up on his man. But he had let them vent first, before he banged the table. “I hired Manoah for a reason,” the President angrily said, staring his communications team down, “either take instructions from him or ship out!”
Many things had led to this point, to this particular meeting. And everyone who had talked so far had clearly misunderstood why the President had called the meeting. First, they had launched into tirades against Manoah Esipisu, the State House Spokesperson. They had spent their time at the meeting tabling their grievances against Manoah, hoping that this was the meeting that would finally get him sent away from State House.
In that room, with Uhuru Kenyatta and Manoah Esipisu, sat the top layer of the communications unit. They all had lofty titles of Senior Directors and Directors of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU). They included Dennis Itumbi, Munyori Buku, James Kinyua, Munira Mohamed, David Nzioka, and Big Ted. For professional communicators, they clearly had not read the mood in the room. Their bosses were quiet; even the man who they thought was the subject of the meeting sat quietly, listening, and taking notes.
And then the hammer fell. Their bosses had let them run amok with the presidency for long enough.
Without flinching, the president added “You will do what Manoah says. You will send him weekly plans of what you are doing, and weekly reviews of what you’ve done!” He wasn’t asking. By this point, the intrigues within the comms team had become an international spectacle, and the Presidency was in shambles.
“And no more media appearances except with express permission from Manoah!” He added.
It was Wednesday, 29th June 2016. It was sunny, but cold, outside. In this meeting room within State House, it was suddenly cloudy.
For the team the President had just been dressed down, this entire meeting had gone completely out of character. Uhuru Kenyatta was their personal friend. A man, as someone once wrote, from whose cigarette pack you could pick a stick. But they had forgotten, somewhere around mid-2013, that the man they had helped win the presidency had actually won. That while the campaigns are a rat race with little structure and rules, the presidency is a marathon that demands order, patience, and respect.
That’s why, despite having a young, vibrant, diverse team of communicators between 2010 and 2013, he had chosen Manoah Esipisu to manage State House comms. The boys, with whom he had had many conversations, and who had actually built for him the platform with which he won the presidency took this as a betrayal. In the years since 2013, they systematically deployed campaign-style tactics to try and oust Manoah. Manoah did not survive the second term of the Presidency. But neither did they. It was a Pyrrhic victory.
Manoah was not even replaced by one of them, as they had always intended. Instead, Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Kanze Dena, a young, career journalist, to take over Manoah’s position. She had less than two months to learn the job, but this time, unlike in Manoah’s tenure, she had the support of the formal State House structures.
In a quickly deleted post on a State House Whatsapp group they used to issue instructions to junior officers, Dennis Itumbi, having not read the signs of the times yet again, took his first aim at Kanze Dena, as he had done for many years, publicly, privately, and covertly, against Manoah. But State House was reclaiming the prestige of the presidency, and with Uhuru’s second term in progress, and the March 9th 2018 handshake giving him political peace, cleaning house. And it had to begin with the communications unit, which had soiled itself so much in public that it had become a story all by itself, and not a good one.
All the unofficial accounts opened and run by the PSCU unit’s rogue elements were deleted in one fell swoop. In an alert sent to media houses by the Chief of Staff, Nzioka Waita, on Friday, July 27th 2018 their tenure as the president’s communicators was effectively ended. In it, Waita clearly indicated the official state house accounts, ending their six-year chaotic run.
But they were not going to go down without fight. They would either burn the house down, in a communications sense, or be invited back. Even worse, their contracts ran upto 2020, and remain in place at the time of writing, but their access to and work for State House was revoked.
In a series of organised comms and false flag attacks using proxies, they waged war against the Presidency by attacking institutions and people close to the Presidency. This was orchestrated to make it look like communications in State House has been in jeopardy since their exit. In private whatsapp groups, they organised attacks against the President’s Delivery Unit, whose Head is also the Chief of Staff, because they blamed him for their ouster in August 2018. He was also the one who locked them out of State House while the President was away in June 2016, and set up the meeting where Uhuru banged the table and tried to set new rules.
A second strategy even before the ouster was to seek space in the Deputy President’s campaign machinery at Harambee Annex. The lesson they had learnt was that the campaign process, with its fluid, chaotic, and exciting energy, is where they thrive best. They ensured all their accounts would retweet everything the DP tweeted. In the only channels that they currently manage, like @Nexuske, their content was geared towards the Deputy President. The 36 bloggers, a unit of mercenary writers and online content creators, now have only one mandate, making the DP trend.
Manoah, now perked in a much saner office in London, must have been watching with amusement…..
Ego had checked in long before the meeting on that day in June 2016. Even to anyone with no access to the hallowed halls of the House on the Hill, it was clear the comms team had gone from a mercenary unit to a public nuisance. The trail of evidence in this story is built from tweets, leaked documents and emails, legal documents, press releases, and interviews.
It is the story of how the team that became the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) forgot the first law of the 48 Laws of Power “Never Outshine Your Master.”