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Irish PR failure will be success for Uganda

By Moses Odokonyero

The Uganda police join a long list of African despotic forces that have sought PR services from Europe and America

They are men and women from Dublin, capital of Ireland, armed with cleaning brushes.  Their monumental task is to clean the dirty image of the Uganda Police Force.

In February the media reported that government had hired an Irish PR and security firm, Glenevin Operational Risk and Security Consultancy at a about  Shs 2 billion to clean the image of the police and by extension  that of the government.

Television footage has since shown men reported to be from the firm trotting behind armed, geared and robotic looking men swinging mallets at protesters at the now banned Activists for Change (A4C) rallies. The A4C has morphed into For God and My Country (4GC) which also happens to be Uganda’s motto.

The hiring of the PR firm is in line with the increasing practice of intolerant African dictators making a mad dash to western capitals for public relation and lobbying services.

The list of African dictators that have sought lobbying and PR services from Europe and America is long and endless; deposed Hosni Mubarak hired UK firm Bell Pottinger; deposed Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia hired the Washington Media Group; deposed and dead Muamar Gaddafi hired Brown Lloyd James in addition to some Harvard scholars; notorious Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea had Qorvis Communications.

Back home in Uganda, in 2005 the government hired international PR firm Hill & Knowlton to clean its image.

Breaking the complex labyrinth of international affairs is no easy job and may not be within the means of Uganda’s embassies in western capitals. To that extent it is justifiable to hire lobbyists and PR firms.

But the primary reason for hiring PR firms by governments such as Uganda’s has always not been to promote her image abroad for the benefit of citizens but rather to gloss over vices such as human rights abuse and corruption. The immediate beneficiary of such projects is, and has been the rulers and their cronies.

When Uganda hired Hill& Knowlton, the BBC reported that the move came shortly after donors cut off aid to the country amidst criticism of Kampala in the western media.

Students of public relations are taught one basic fact:  PR is a management function. The PR practitioner must reflect the position of management. The PR also advises management and devises strategies on how best to reach and create a mutually beneficial relationship with publics important for his/her employer in achieving set strategic objectives.

What then happens if the PR gets an insolent client like the Uganda police that never learns from past mistakes?  That is the uphill task facing Glenevin Operational Risk and Security Consultancy.

In the past the police have undressed a woman member of parliament. Now they have introduced pinching breasts. They did so with Ingrid Turinawe’s. When did these methods become techniques of effecting arrests?

The group from Ireland must have felt like the earth should swallow them after the latest scandal.

Fortunately they have better options from which to choose than barrowing into the earth. By the time they crumble, most African despots will have been long abandoned by lobbyists in their payroll. It happened with Ben Ali. It happened with Hosni Mubarak. It happened with Muammar Gaddafi. Glenevin Operational Risk and Security Consultancy can learn from that and take an early duck unless they are desperate for the buck. Ugandans are concerned about their destiny and are fighting to have a leadership that is accountable and respects the voices and dignity citizens. For this reason, failure by the PR firm will be success for Ugandans.  For the Irish firm, however, it could be about the money. (After all, they appear to be what we call a “briefcase company”.  After graduation in 2002, the owner of the company arrived in Kenya in 2007.The Ugandan deal looks like his company’s first big one –Editor).

The writer is a Masters student of Journalism& Communication, Makerere University.

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