Drop the fuss around Naomi Campbell deal

Kenyans will look for any reason to complain on Twitter

In Summary

• Other than some quirky photoshoot, Lupita has hardly done anything for Kenya

• Naomi has been visiting Malindi for decades and has a higher international profile

Naomi Campbell
Naomi Campbell
Image: Courtesy

When the Tourism ministry announced earlier this month they had named supermodel Naomi Campbell as a Magical Kenya Tourism ambassador, my reaction was “huh?”, and I moved on. It was not nonchalance; I came from a place of background knowledge.

As a child, I spent most of my school holidays in Malindi, visiting the maternal side of my family that resides there. One family member resided in the affluent Mchangani area, and as she had kids my age, her house was our preferred holiday destination. Since those days, my cousins would tell me how Naomi Campbell lived in their area when she was in town. Mind you these were the days Malindi only received coverage of the national broadcaster, KBC. For my cousins to tell me about Naomi Campbell being in the neighbourhood means they actually saw her.

It has been an open secret that Naomi Campbell loves to holiday in Malindi. However, when the media made a big deal about her arrival in Malindi in December, it got me wondering. Naomi Campbell has been vacationing in Malindi for decades, and usually, like any celebrity, she prefers flying under the radar. She would come in, get her vacation away from prying eyes, and leave without anyone bothering her. When the Ministry of Tourism announced her ambassadorship this year, all the media coverage finally made sense.

Then again, the question remains, is she a good ambassador for tourism in Kenya? My take is, why not! She is an internationally acclaimed supermodel, who dates and is friends with billionaires, and she likes to visit Kenya as often as possible. In fact, people do not even have to be associated with a country to appear in a 30-second tourism ad. All they need is to use their celebrity status to gain the trust of potential visitors.

However, when the country went up in arms about Miss Campbell being given the job, I could not help but think, “Here we go”. Kenyans will look for any reason to complain about any little matter on Twitter and milk on that cow for as long as it lasts. Luckily, their ‘outrage’ did not last long as Tourism CS Najib Balala clarified that Miss Campbell had taken on the role pro bono. Then for a short while, we seemed somewhat appeased… until we came up with another reason. Why didn’t the tourism sector appoint Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o as brand ambassador for Magical Kenya?

Once again, CS Najib Balala explained why he did not pick Lupita. On a side note, I find it exhausting every time public officials come out to explain themselves to the public. The people will never be satisfied with government choices and explanations. If Balala had picked Campbell as the ambassador and she agreed to do it pro bono, he should have run with the idea and let the work speak for itself.

Then again, what would be the aim of a public official if he did not engage in Twitter drama? Balala found himself pulled into a Twitter debate after he made this public statement: “I know everybody is asking, why not Lupita. Lupita has commitments and her managers cannot allow us to access her. We’ve spent the last five years looking for Lupita.” Lupita responded with a sarcastic post. “Me when I hear the Kenya Ministry of Tourism has been looking for me for five years.”

I have no doubt that the ministry might have tried to reach out to Lupita once or twice in the five years. Lupita’s ‘people’ probably did not classify that as an important agenda. I do not think the ministry would make such a statement without any kind of evidence.

Lupita gained celebrity status with her breakout role in the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. However, she does not have the same international recognition Naomi Campbell has. In addition, other than some quirky, African-inspired photoshoot in Kenya, Lupita has hardly done anything for Kenya.

We should not have to ‘reach out’ to her for her to promote Kenya. Even a simple Instagram post goes a long way. In the words of John F Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

The whole debate seems to have taken away the essence of the appointment. Appointing a brand ambassador is a tactical way of promoting our tourism sector, which has suffered a major hit in the last year. The most important thing to focus on is how to revive the sector, not whose name goes where. The Ministry of Tourism needs to stop giving provoking public statements and focus on executing the plan that will drive tourism back into the country.