Nairobi News

NewsWhat's Hot

Day KOT was discussed at Obama White House

A former script writer at the White House has recalled the day Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) went ham on former US president Barack Obama for lumping Kenya together with Syria.

David Litt, who left the White House in 2016 after serving as a special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter, says he actually penned the words that offended Kenyans during the Gridiron Club dinner in March 2013.

“They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya stories that need to be told,” President Obama said.

This phrase was construed to mean that then US president felt that Kenya was unsafe for American journalists, just like Syria.

While several Western journalists have been captured and beheaded in Syria, Kenya plays host to a number of news bureaus in Nairobi.

RHYME SCHEME

But Mr Litt says he was just trying to ensure a rhyme scheme of some sorts.

“You lump the countries ending in yuh sounds together. Everything flows perfectly. The crowd goes wild. The end,” he writes in a book serialized by Politico.

He says at the dinner, which was on a Saturday, the speech was well received. But come Monday, his world came down tumbling.

“I was on top of the world, wondering if I might actually be the best wordsmith in history, when I heard from one of the president’s longest-serving speechwriters, a soft-spoken Massachusetts native named Terry,” recalls Mr Litt.

“He wanted to know if I’d seen an article in the Daily Nation, a newspaper published in Nairobi.”

The article was headlined: Kenya not safe for foreign journalists, says Obama. Therein, then Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemohad released an official statement calling the Obama’s words “not only inaccurate, but exceedingly disturbing.”

#SOMEONETELLOBAMA

“A group called KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) created a brand-new hashtag (#SomeoneTellObama) to channel their rage,” he recalls.

“If you’ve never angered a country of more than 45 million people before, it might seem like a power trip. It’s not. Sitting in my office, typing Kenya angry at Obama into the search bar over and over, I felt more helpless than ever.”

Mr Litt says he wanted to call a Kenyan and explain that those were his words and by all Americans.

He did not know any.

Eventually, America’s State Department issued a statement that calmed everything.

“We recognize and commend the press freedoms enshrined in Kenya’s constitution. Obviously, the situations in Syria and Kenya are quite different,” an unnamed White House official said.

He later learnt that he “wasn’t even the first speechwriter to piss off another country by mistake”.