News Column

Social Media Said to Enhance Kenyans' Surveillance of Elections

Feb 5, 2013

Bedah Mengo

After a disputed election that led to bloodshed almost five years ago, Kenyans are determined to hold free and fair polls come March 4.

While government and electoral commission are leading in preparations to guarantee transparent elections, citizens have taken it upon themselves to ensure the East African nation conducts credible polls.

Using social media, Kenyans have increased surveillance on the electoral exercise by turning themselves into poll monitors and fighting fraud that is deeply entrenched in the East African nation's election process.

The rallying call behind this spirit sweeping across the East African nation is the statement, "it should not happen again", in reference to 2007 post-election violence, which resulted from electoral fraud.

This was evident during political parties' nominations exercises carried across the African nation Thursday and Friday. With the help of social media, Kenyans turned themselves into poll observers by reporting incidents of fraud and electoral malpractices.

Through Twitter and Facebook, Kenyans informed political parties' electoral boards, the police, leaders, fellow citizens and Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) where poll fraud was taking place.

They exposed candidates engaging in voter bribery, returning officers who had disappeared with ballot papers, where violence, intimidation and rigging were happening and where security was compromised.

"Mbita voting stopped. This is after a councilor was beaten for allegedly marking ballots for outgoing Member of Parliament Otieno Kajwang," tweeted Vincent Oluoch from Western Kenya.

"Voters are becoming chaotic. The situation is getting out of control. Police have been overwhelmed," added Oluoch.

From Nyali in Coast province, Shaka wrote, "UDF Nyali Ward representative giving out cash to voters and he is using own car to carry ballot boxes. Where is the fairness?"

"There is chaos in Muhoroni. One person stabbed and two pistols recovered from civilians," journalist Larry Madowo, who was covering the primaries for a Kenyan media house, wrote on Twitter.

"Two women have passed out in the last few minutes at Siaya County Council polling station. They have been standing on the queue for too long. Voting has not started," Madowo tweeted few minutes later.

"TNA officials have not brought ballot boxes in Naivasha. Voting is not taking place. They have wasted our time," wrote Patrick Kirimi on Facebook.

"Police shoots URP party agent in Baringo. The man tried to stop elections from going on. He was allegedly armed," wrote Fanuel Kipkorir moments after the incident happened Thursday evening.

It was one of the worst cases of violence reported in the nominations exercise by Kenyans on social media yesterday.

"I am disappointed. Left my work to come and vote. Have queued for hours only to be told TNA will not conduct nominations. This is a big inconvenience," noted Bernard Mungai on Facebook, who had gone to vote at a center in central Kenya.

"There was too much corruption at Embakasi South Wiper nominations. IEBC list was not availed. There was no permanent ink. There was no order. The best candidates lost due to these malpractices and lack of issuing a monitoring mechanism. Am so pissed off with this process," a frustrated Stephen Munguti informed IEBC on Face Book.

The reports on social media gave a peep into what will happen on March 4, when Kenyans go to the ballot to elect new leaders under a new Constitution.

"It is the only way we can make political parties and leaders accountable, and most importantly, the elections credible. In the past, Kenyans have not been active in monitoring elections because they did not have platforms to do so. This work was left to a few poll observers, but social media has changed things," said George Okanga, who was active on Twitter Thursday exposing electoral fraud.

Okanga, who works with a non-state organization as a social worker in Kariobangi, a suburb on the east of Nairobi, said the social media reports work.

"People may dismiss them but authorities are following the reports. I went to a polling center in Kariobangi on Thursday and found there was tension. I shared it with Kenya Police on Facebook and it did not take long before more officers were brought in," said the social media enthusiast.

Okanga noted the good thing about citizens' reports on social media is that they are accompanied with photos hence factual.

"Most people post their reports accompanied with photos. Concerned authorities are, therefore, able to see what is taking place on the ground and act. This is why social media is powerful than text-messages or calling on mobile phone," he said.

Kenya's political leaders, government authorities and individuals have realized the role citizens can play in ensuring elections are free and fair through social media and they are encouraging to do so.

Notable among leaders asking Kenyans to monitor elections using social media is Prime Minister Raila Odinga. On Thursday, he appealed to supporters to share information on ODM party and Cord alliance nominations on social media.

"Share your observations, comments and photos of what is going on in the nominations in the place you are. But let us vote wisely and peacefully," he appealed.

Authorities at Kenya Police also turned to social media to appeal for peace in the nomination exercise.

"Vote peacefully and stop thinking that those who disagree with you are enemies. Let's all be responsible citizens," a message Kenya Police Facebook page read.

However, despite citizens' spirited attempts to ensure free and fair elections in the nominations, the exercise was still marred with chaos and irregularities.

"If disorder in party nominations is anything to go by, then IEBC may be in trouble on March 4 if it does not manage election logistics well," observed Ory Okolloh, Google's policy and government relations manager for sub-Saharan Africa.

Source: (c) 2013 Xinhua News Agency - CEIS. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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