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urbanoINTERNATIONAL #4: Social Media in Kenya


by Monicah Karangi

In the past the internet has seldom been used as a tool for rallying mass movements towards meeting an agenda. This is fast changing in Kenya. The purpose of this article is to show how the internet plus mobile phone technology has been used as a vital tool in moving both positive and negative agendas in Kenya.

With the recent growth in access to affordable mobile phone access, access to internet and other forms of social networks, the range for the coverage of social networks has greatly increased. In 2010, in a population of 40 million Kenyans, there are over 22 million mobile subscribers, with a mobile subscription growth of 9.5%. 8.69 million internet users and at over 22% of the population with the numbers expected to rise due to the fibre optic cable establishment. Over 98% of web access in Kenya is through mobile phones. The number of internet/data subscriptions is 3.2 million per year. In 2010, 6.63 billion minutes of local calls were made on the mobile networks and 740 million text messages were sent. The coverage of radio and newspapers is countrywide. These statistics clearly indicate the broad coverage of the internet and mobile phone in the country.

Kenyan Politicians on Social Networks-“Political Campaigns Revolutionarised “

The leading politicians who are busy readying themselves to contest next year’s presidential election in Kenya have gone for a different strategy to reach out to the masses. The leading contenders for next year’s elections have joined social media and at the same time have realized that this is all about personal interaction.

In a bid to connect and establish beneficial personal relationships online, Kenyan politicians have organized high profile meet-ups with local popular bloggers and social media opinion-makers. This has been shown by recent declaration for Presidential Candidacy through using internetlinks, for example Hon. Raphael Tuju who declared his presidential candidacy through YouTube or Hon. Martha Karua hosting a facebook page inorder to declare her interest for the presidential seat and to attract youth support. This has been seen as a tool also in attracting votes from the Kenyans in the Diaspora.

2008 Post Election Violence

Kenyan youth are talented and full of energy; and if channeled in the right direction the outcome could be amazing. Yet the same energy channeled in the wrong direction could have devastating effects as was shown by the upsurge of violence in Kenya after the December 2007 general elections. In all, more than 1,200 people were killed and some 350,000 displaced into temporary camps with an equal number seeking refuge with friends and relatives.

Kenyan bloggers became a critical part of the information flow in the country, starting from the three-day ban on live broadcasts, when it is reported that the web traffic from within Kenya shot through the roof. The influence grew further when radio broadcasters began to read entries from influential bloggers over the airwaves, helping them reach not 5 per cent of internet users, but 95 per cent of the Kenya population. While some social media seeked to increase the tribal conflict, some seeked to create resolve and solve the conflict.

Over 600 blogs were created shortly before the 2007 elections. Such blogs discussed politics in a way meant to challenge the mainstream media. Some were also used for online campaigns to promote awareness about human rights violations in the light of election violence. was greatly used by users to zoom in and view satellite images of Kenya, via mobile phone or Internet browser, to report incidents of violence on the map, add photos, video, and written content that document where and when violence occurs.

Without any organized structure or deliberate motive, citizen journalism was made possible by new media technology. The Internet was also used to send pictures that aroused anger in citizens and civil society, who in turn put pressure on the ruling class to find a solution. In Kenya, the same new media too played a remarkable role in putting pressure on the political elite to reach a political solution.

Crowd sourcing Comments for Kenyan Budget

In what was a first, Kenyans were asked to share their ideas and suggestions on the budgetary interventions they would like to see in the 2011/2012 Financial Year Budget through social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook. The response was overwhelming. The Treasury received an unprecedented 3,000+ submissions through Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere.

The Kenyans For Kenya Campaign

Another classic example of young Kenyan setting the agenda on social media is the “Kenyans For Kenya Campaign” . In the dire situation where many Kenyans were affected by the drought in mid this year, Kenyans grew weary of waiting for the government and other NGOs to step in. The government had estimated that about 5 million Kenyans run the risk of dying from lack of food countrywide. Thousands of malnourished men, women and children had been moving to camps to get relief food. Food that was not readily available.

The Kenyans for Kenya campaign seeked to rally Kenyans towards contributing funds in order to provide for the drought victims. A campaign on Facebook and Twitter urged Kenyans to skip at least one meal and donate the cost to help feed starving Kenyans. Safaricom (mobile telephone company) in collaboration with the Red Cross set out to raise One billion shillings (approximately 8.3 Million Euros) to buy and distribute food. Through the use of Mobile Money transfers millions of Kenyans responded to this call and at least KES.671,784,062.00 (4,901,978.00 EUR) was raised by both individuals and corporates including SMEs with over one million households receiving food relief.

In an article by Katrina Crew on the Red Cross Blog, Stephen McDowell, east Africa food security advisor describes how social media could be vital in East Africa’s fight against hunger. He describes the use of the internet and mobile phone technology as a tool in responding to disasters as in the case of the Kenyans for Kenya Campaign. Also these networks can be useful in preventing disasters or helping communities be prepared before the disaster happens. Stephen McDowell, East Africa food security advisor, Red Cross:

Mobile technology is key to helping the younger generation of east Africans prepare for future droughts, floods and other factors that leave people without access to food. So many people have cell phones. They’re going to be one of the stock tools of our trade in the near future. This is the internet generation in east Africa, so we’ll have to speak with them differently than we spoke to their parents.

Role of Social Media Now

Flip to the other side of the world and the role of social media in the events leading to the Arab spring is well documented. Social media in the form of millions of tweets played a “central role” in leading up to the mass protests that toppled dictators in Egypt and Tunisian.

The role of social media is increasingly gaining popularity in Kenya, but the real question is “ will Kenyans bring about much needed change in the country through social media and will social media take us to the next step of an inclusive Kenya?



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