26 February 2013

Kenya: 'Vote Wisely, Vote for Peace' - Social Media Comments on Kenyan Elections

Photo: The Star
Burundi government through ambassador Ezechiel Nibigira, has urged the Kenyan government and the electoral body to ensure March 4 general election is peaceful (file photo).

Nairobi — At the iHub, an open workspace in Nairobi for technology entrepreneurs, an army of programmers and researchers is preparing for Kenya's upcoming election.

Daudi Were is the coordinator of Uchaguzi, which mean selection in Kiswahili:

"Uchaguzi is a project whose core aim is to help Kenya have a free, fair, credible general election. Our strategy for achieving that aim is increasing transparency and accountability by increasing citizen participation in the electoral process," he explains.

The website is built on the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform, which emerged during the post-election crisis in January 2008. Nearly 45,000 Kenyans contributed to Ushahidi over twitter, SMS, email and the web, to map incidents of violence around the country.

"We want to know what's happening, where its happening, how it is happening," says Daudi Were.

Social media also played a destructive role during the last elections. Hate speech flourished on twitter, facebook and in blogs.

Another arm of the Uchaguzi project, called Umati, has been monitoring the online space for dangerous speech. Angela Crandall works with Umati:

"Dangerous speech tends to be an early warning. We still haven't been able to say that this incidence of violence is directly related to this speech that happened, you can't make that kind of causal relationship. What we say is that dangerous speech has a high potential to catalyze violence. "

Umati recently produced a report documenting inflammatory speech posted online by Kenyans in the past three months.

"We are worried ... on 5 march, or whenever the results come out, we don't want to look back, and say we were sitting on all of this information and didn't to anything."

If Uchaguzi or Umati receive information they believe requires action, they pass the case on to Kenyan electoral authorities or to the police.

Also working from the iHub, entrepreneur Jeremy Gordon is using his venture, Flashcast to promote a peaceful election.

Gordon has installed location-sensitive text displays on public buses, allowing organizations and businesses to reach a mass market.

Flashcast is running a discussion topic in the run-up to elections, asking passengers to sms messages of peace.

"In general the content has been extremely positive, there have been many messages about thinking altruistically, nationalistically, avoiding ethnic thinking, avoiding the topic of tribalism," says Gordon.

A real-time stream of the messages is published online and is also rebroadcast on the text displays in the buses.

One passenger texted "Vote wisely, vote for peace ... Kenya our nation, our pride."

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