President William Ruto has often been described by many as a great orator and a master at the art of giving speeches. He often comes out as articulate, in-depth, impactful, and well-thought-out in his speeches.
However, while many celebrate the linguistic prowess of the head of state, a few know the man behind the powerful pieces of work. Lawyer Eric Ng’eno is no stranger at State House, he was responsible for former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s great speeches and is making a comeback in the same position for President Ruto.
Ng’eno is a Partner at Kipsang & Mutai Advocates in charge of Litigation, Research, and Legal Advisory. The lawyer has had a working relationship with the head of state spanning over 15 years.
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During an interview with The Standard, Ng’eno revealed that he began working with President Ruto during the aftermath of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. Initially, he conducted research and secretarial services for him during the Serena negotiations that yielded the National Accord after the PEV. Ruto had asked for someone with a legal background and who has excellent communication and writing skills.
“Initially, I didn’t understand why communication skills were that important for him. But he was clearly farsighted. When the Grand Coalition Government was formed, he was appointed Minister for Agriculture. As a minister, Hon Ruto wanted technical materials to be packaged in a language that could be used to successfully engage a national audience. He is rather good at it, and we spent lots of time going through a lot of documents and prepping him for presentations at various levels,” Ng’eno revealed.
At one time, Dr. Ruto approached the lawyer for a speech he was to issue during an event at Moi University. Ng’eno pawned the assignment to junior members of the staff and later presented the speech to Ruto himself. However, the head of state was underwhelmed and threw it away. He asked Ng’eno to write the speech himself.
“Since we were on our way to Wilson Airport, and I had less than an hour to put something together. I found a computer and produced a brief speech. When he returned, he told me that he liked it. So, I became his messaging resource person for Press statements, speeches, briefs, presentations and other communication,” he recalled.
Eric Ng’eno was introduced to President Kenyatta when they were drafting the United Republican Party (URP) manifesto in 2012 and since then, he worked with them both until his unceremonious exit.
He worked as President Kenyatta’s speech writer from May 2013 to June 2020, when he and four other members of the communication team were suspended from the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) over alleged inconsistent messaging.
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President Ruto’s Digital Strategist Dennis Itumbi along with external press director Munyori Buku and events director James Kinyua were among those shown the door. Together with Ng’eno, the three joined Ruto’s Communication team, serving alongside Communication Secretary David Mugonyi and Director of Communication Emmanuel Tallam.
Ng’eno describes Ruto as driven by high standards and will always work to ensure that he delivers. He has been quoted saying that the president appreciates technical materials packaged in a manner that can be used to successfully attract a national audience.
The lawyer-cum-presidential speech writer is an alumni of Alliance High School. He attended the prestigious school between 1991 and 1994 before proceeding to Moi University where he graduated from with a Bachelor of Laws degree.
He joined Strathmore Business School in 2015 for a Masters in Public Policy and Management.
Ng’eno boasts experience in commercial, legal, legislative, public policy, and regulatory affairs, as well as legal and regulatory compliance audits, QMS audits, research consultation, and facilitation. He also has a background in political, government, and strategic communication.
The lawyer notes that when writing speeches for the president, various assignments are delivered using different formats. He explains that some speeches are products of quick one-on-one consultations whereas others are instructions transmitted through official channels. Others are put together over a period of time by large teams of high-level technical people.
“Messaging is not necessarily substantive technical material development. It is simply reducing all those things into a language that the president is accustomed to in terms of cadence, rhetorical quality, and key message projection and so on,” he told The Standard.
“I usually work with one draft, sometimes two or three, not more. When a large team is involved, it is not uncommon to see more than five drafts. My legal training helps. I take my instructions the way advocates are trained to take their clients’ briefs. Usually, we reduce these instructions into research assignments, opinions, pleadings, affidavits, contracts and so on.”
Ng’eno notes that speech writing for the president is a team sport. He works on it with other members of the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) and the Spokesperson who he notes, likes to ensure that key government messages are embedded in every speech, subject to relevance.
He also notes that the length of each speech depends on the occasion as well as the subject or number of subjects to be covered.
“The State of the Nation address, for instance, can never be a 10-minute affair because there are critical constitutional and political expectations to be canvassed. Contrast this with, say, the laying of a foundation stone for a sub-county library.”