Safaricom in partnership with an Non Governmental Association known as Sisi Ni Amani - Kenya (SNA-K) have announced the launch of an SMS platform that will seek to promote peace as Kenya gears for Elections.
The two have also partnered with other organisations including the Kenya Police Service, The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict - a body that seeks to manage integration and conflict in the country.
The announcement of the partnership was made at the Sarova Stanley on Thursday morning and attended by Safaricom Director of Corporate Affairs - Nzioka Waita and SNA-K CEO Rachel Brown.
The service will be accessible through the USSD shortcode *762# and SMS 8762 and seeks to provide information that will help maintain peace during the election period. Safaricom said that it has underwritten the cost of connectivity for the service and will be providing 50 million SMS and USSD sessions at no cost.
Nzioka Waita says that the country decided to take the move after violence that rocked the country in 2008 after disputed election towards the end of 2007 which saw over 1,000 Kenyans killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The company had not been prepared for such a scenario then, and could not move airtime due to logistical challenges resulting to loss in revenue since most mobile user sin Kenya are on prepaid. The company's dealers could also neither move airtime nor cash, while available prepaid airtime was being sold at various times its face value. In addition, Safaricom had to use helicopters to evacuate staff trapped in volatile areas.
Safaricom, that has been handling about 80 percent of mobile phone usage in the country, said that 300 million SMS were sent in the 6 to 8 week period that the violence lasted. Nzioka said that he and other company officials received a lot of pressure from politicians and government officials to fully or partly suspend mobile services saying SMS were being used to coordinate and plan attacks.
This year, the company expects to see 300 to 400 million SMS in the few days leading to the March 4th elections alone. Other electronic channels likely to present a problem include Kenya's two million active Facebook users and 300,000 on Twitter.
Brown says that the mobile phone "is the single most piece of equipment that can take communications to the grass root", hence posing a danger in being used in election related violence. Having seen the use of SMS in the 2008 Post Election Violence (PEV), Brown started SNA-K in 2010 in a few constituencies that were holding by-elections. She says that the platform proved helpful in halting of land crashes in Narok. Brown says SNA-K already had 50,000 registered users in 15 conflict areas within Nairobi county and the Rift Valley.
IEBC say they realised the usefulness of SMS when a court injunction stopped the holding of by-elections in Ikolomani the day before they were to be held. Joel Mabonga, in charge of voter education and partnership at IEBC says they used SMS to communicate the situation to voters on the ground.
Ahmed Bico, chairman of the National Steering Committee says counties identified as conflict areas include Kisumu, Nakuru, Garissa, Tana River, Wajir, Samburu, Mandera, Isiolo, West Pokot and Turkana.