Six months after taking over the presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta has established himself as one of the greatest speakers of our time. This is a hidden talent Kenyans did not notice during his years in KANU and even during his term as a Minister in Mwai Kibaki’s government. His flair was not picked at public political rallies either. It is therefore possible the talent would have remained hidden had Kenyans not elect him President of our great country.
The first time the country heard Uhuru speak as a national leader – on the day of his inauguration – Kenyan’s were awed by his eloquence, his smooth delivery of lines, his poise and his confidence. That speech was in complete contrast to the boring, repetitive, poorly written and badly delivered speeches by Presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. For comparison purposes, Uhuru’s aptitude comes very close to the vibracy exhibited by his father, founder President Jomo Kenyatta, whose booming voice and strong delivery at the height of his career were legendary.
It is not only that Uhuru has employed more youthful, more educated and more qualified speech writers. It is that he is more concerned with what gets in his speeches. The information available is that Uhuru works closely with his speech writers. It is a collaborative effort. He injects ideas, improves on ideas already made and makes changes over and over until the final product is ready for delivery. The cardinal rule about speeches is that the writer and the deliverer must be in sync. The writer must understand the mind and the reading ability of the deliverer. It makes no sense for a writer to use difficult, bombastic words the deliverer is not able to pronounce.
Uhuru’s inaugural speech was a masterpiece. “We will leave no community behind…Let us remember that although we may not be bound together by ethnicity, or cultural practices or religious convictions, our kinship rests solidly upon the fact that we have all been adopted by Kenya’s borders. We are children of this nation. We are all bound to one constitution which calls to us to rise above our individual ideologies and march to our national anthem.”
Compare that to the highly-praised speech by Senator Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
“Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise summed up in a declaration made over 200 years ago: We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”
A great speech must convey one idea even though it may have many points. In both cases, the theme of both Uhuru’s and Obama’s speeches was: reconcilliation, one idea. By quoting the National Athem in Kenya and the Constitution in the United States, Uhuru and Obama, wanted to affirm their commitment to the rule of the law and to galvanise all citizens regardless of their race, tribe, gender or religion. Both speeches – though delivered in two completely different scenarios, before two different audiences – were delivered in a clear, bold voice using simple delivery technics such as shifts in tone, adherence to comas and full stops, and a show of emotion or firmness whenever necessary.
Another similarity between Obama and Uhuru is in their speech writing staff. Both their main writers are young. The person who is credited for crafting Uhuru’s inaugural speech is a 22-year old Julie Wang’ombe, still a student in the United States. John Favreau who left White House in March to pursue other careers was only 23 years old when he was spotted by Obama’s people in 2004. He spent seven years turning overpowering speeches for the US leader. That does not mean that presidents rely on only one speech writer. Usually there are several, of different backgrounds and training. I am sure that is what is happening at State House.
After that speech in Chicago, Obama’s profile rose to amazing levels paving the way for his election as the 44th President of the United States. In Kenya, people have begun to pay attention to Uhuru a man who was rejected as a Moi project in the 2002 elections. Moi must be a proud and a happy man today.
Uhuru hit the mark again when he stood to address Kenyans at the conclusion of the counter-terrorism operations at the Westgate. He was firm, unthreatened and clear on the path Kenya wants to take in the fight against terrorism. The delivery was statesmanlike and authoritative. “Our attackers wished to destroy the essential character of our society. They failed. Kenya endured. Kenya endures.” Classic.
The advise to speech writers from Forbes is basic: Keep your speech simple with a clear beginning, middle and end. Focus on the theme and eliminate everything else.
As a former speech writer myself, I agree.
And that is my say.