Considering that most African countries attained independence less than five decades ago, the influence of the colonial administration on the practice of public relations in African countries cannot be ignored. Kenya is a country in East Africa. Having attained her independence from Great Britain in 1963, Kenya’s history is replete with several aspects of the colonial administration that to date permeate the traditional and professional aspects of life among its people and organizations.
The emergence of public relations in Kenya was the consequence of the desire of powerful interest groups, among them the British colonial administration, to create and manage public opinion. It is in the early 1920s that British civil servants at both the local and national levels started getting aware of the importance of public relations.
The British government public relations existed in Kenya from the inception of the colony in terms of building and maintaining relationships with key publics but used interpersonal and social relations as the main technique to achieve harmony and acceptance of its goals. In order to step up its efforts to pass information to the people, the colonial administration established the Kenyan Information Office (KIO) to handle it’s information and press functions. In 1942, the post of principal information officer (PIO) was created to take over the information and press duties from the KIO. Then, in 1944, a specialized post of public relations officer was created within the KIO with greater strategic responsibility for producing and supplying publicity materials.
Due to the prolonged struggle for independence that pitted Kenya against the colonial administration, it can be argued that most of the information coming from the British administrators was one-way and with one goal – to have Kenyans toe the line of the colonial administration.
The colonial government employed a top-down communication model that made use of the chiefs baraza (a public meeting called by the chief) as the focal point for exchange of communication between the government and the community. When it was not employing the “top-down” communication structure through the chief’s baraza, the colonial administration was involved in “distribution of propaganda messages to the settler and African communities”.
The top-down structure of communication and propaganda tactics that were employed during the colonial days in the Kenyan colony are prevalent in present day Kenya. A look at the structure of communication in the present day Kenyan government indicates the existence of a top-down structure of communication, similar to the one that existed during the colonial days. Every government ministry or organization has public information officers whose main responsibility is to communicate to the public decisions that the government wants embraced, irrespective of whether or not public opinion was factored when coming up with such decisions.
The one-way form of communication, commonly referred to as press agentry and public information models heightened during the 24-year rule of former President Daniel Moi..Journalists from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and Kenya News Agency (KNA), two media organizations that are fully funded by the taxpayer and controlled by the government of the day, would ordinarily relay government communication from ministries and other governmental organizations after those in charge have made decisions.
Another common background that has made contribution to the practice of public relations in Kenya is private business. In the private sector, public relations emerged as a consequence of labor conflicts and the important role that international capital played in the Kenyan post-independence economy. Organizations such as the East African Breweries, Kenya Shell, Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Unilever, and the East Africa Harbors Corporation became aware of the virtues of publicity in the late 1940s. Their charge was primarily to develop personal relationships in the Kenyan communities to win friends and influence people, particularly during Kenya’s labor conflicts and Mau Mau emergency. And after independence in 1963, most business organizations and union groups acknowledged the need for planned public relations.
Other organizations like the Kenya Power and Lighting Company developed their communication to include areas like internal communication while Kenya Shell developed a wide range of corporate social responsibility programs in areas such as environmental conservation and philanthropy.