Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Social media playing key role in Kenya`s electoral process

By Bedah Mengo

A woman surfs on the laptop.Picture:Internet Source
About eight months from now, Kenya will vote in a historic election that is set to transform the East African nation into a respectable democracy, and as the March 2013 polls near, presidential aspirants are crisscrossing the country in meet-the-people tours to sell their policies and visions.

However, as the aspirants seek to meet voters physically, many of them have realized that they must also make rounds on Twitter and Facebook, among other internet sites. 
The social media platforms are playing a big role in Kenya's electoral process as both politicians and electorate embrace them. The sites role in the polls are expected to
increase as Kenya's elections, the first since the country degenerated into violence after 2007 disputed presidential polls, draw closer.

It is estimated that there are over 2 million users of Facebook and Twitter in the East African nation. The number of social media users in the country is rising as internet-
enabled phones become cheaper and more people embrace the platforms.  Data from Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) indicates that close to 7 million people in
the East African nation access the internet, majority through their mobile phones. And as the number of social media users increase and the influence of social media spread,
politicians cannot ignore this voting constituency. Many of them are using social media to interact with voters, reach Diaspora, fundraise, sell their policies and inform people
of their activities.

On the other hand, the electorate is using the platforms to hold political debates, access their presidential candidates and inform them about their aspirations and fears. Top
on the list of presidential candidates in the East African nation who are using social media actively to engage voters is Prime Minister Raila Odinga and legislator Martha
Karua.The two are among people in the East African nation with the biggest followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook. Almost every hour, they inform voters of what they
are doing, in both words and pictures, and comment on issues that affect Kenyans. "I will be at Kamukunji grounds in Kibera at 2 p.m. today for a public rally. You are all
welcome," wrote Odinga on his Twitter handle on Sunday. On Friday, the Prime Minister had informed voters of his tour of Nyandarua County in central Kenya."I will pay a
visit to the family of J.M. Kariuki and make a stopover at Kinangop to visit Mukami Kimathi, wife of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi," he wrote.

Similarly, Karua is reaching out to voters using her Twitter and Facebook accounts as much as she is campaigning in various parts of the East African nation. "This Sunday, I
would like to appreciate millions of Kenyans who wake up every day and go about their business hoping to make ends meet. You are the game-changers and you all humble
me. To you, I say better days are coming," she wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday.  The presidential candidate is also using social media to raise funds for her campaigns. 
Karua launched an initiative dubbed Simama na mama na mia (donate 1.2 dollars for my campaign) on social media. The initiative appeals to voters to help her raise funds,
which will make her be accountable to voters when she is elected president.   "Thank you all for your overwhelming support to Simama na mama na mia fundraising initiative.
You have taken a step of faith and heeded my call to action for you to own your presidency," she appreciated as she gave out a mobile phone money account where voters
can send their donations.

Every Friday and Thursday respectively, Odinga and Karua hold ' press conferences' on Twitter where they field questions live from Kenyans. In a country where presidential
candidates shy away from public debates, social media therefore remains the only platform where Kenyans can reach and question their leaders. "For how long will Kenyans
continue living in insecurity and poor health? Many Kenyans are economic refugees in the U.S., Britain and other countries because they could not get jobs here. Every five
years, Kenyans go to the polls to elect leaders who promise them heaven, yet they never live up to their promises, what will be different this time?" George Otieno asked
Karua. That Karua answered Otieno on Facebook made him appreciate the power of social media in linking leaders and voters."I would never have found an opportunity to
ask her the question but social media has given me the power to do that," he said.

Inmobi, a global mobile advertisement network in a research released last month on the role of new media in Kenya's elections, noted that majority of Kenyans are using
social media as a source of political information. The research noted that social media will increasingly play a crucial role in disseminating political information and political
leaders will use it to convince voters to vote for them. Inmobi further indicated that about 60 percent of voters will want to have party memorabilia that include wall papers
on their social media pages and mobile phones as screen savers. It is expected that during elections, Kenyans will also use social media to report cases of election malpractices
like voter bribery and violence.  But as the polls near, authorities fear that Kenyans may use social media to spread hate and intimidate opponents as happened in 2007. The
government is, however, putting measures to check this. (Xinhua)

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