The Social Savvy Hope to Help in Kenya's March 4th Elections

Steve King called to tell me that Fresh Air, at 2 p.m. locally on public radio, would discuss possible riots in Nairobi as the March 4th election nears.  A few minutes later I exchanged text messages (or SMS, Short Message Service, as they are called in Kenya) with Jackson.  An aside: Jackson, who is truly like a son to me, and I fret if we don’t hear from each other every few days.  He is on his way home to Oltorotua and left his laptop at the Apple Store in Nairobi with Hellen Mutungi, who keeps Jackson and me connected online.

Jackson: In Nbi, left mac with Hellen for software update.  You can sms for any updates.

Me: We hear there is pre-election violence in Mathere. Hope it doesn’t spill into rest of Kenya. Take care.

Jackson: Im in Nbi city, only 15 mins to Mathare and Im not even aware of. Sometimes media makes little things big.

I hope Jackson is right! Why do we feel the media may be making too big a deal of possible violence? On March 4th Kenyans go to the polls in the first national election since 2007, when my husband, daughter, granddaughter, and I postponed a trip there for several months and were aghast daily as we read about the terror and killing. But this election may well be different!

Gregory Warner, on NPR’s All Things Considered, reported that steps are being taken to use social media to encourage voting and halt those who see gain in death and disruption. Smartphones, now owned by 30 million Kenyans, will play a big role. In a 2010 constitutional referendum, a text message about young men with machetes outside a polling station — intended to incite — was stopped by a counter-text from on-the-ground election officials and two trucks of police who hightailed it to the polling station as a deterrent. Smartphones are expected to play an even bigger role in next week’s elections.

Not to forget the web presence. For example, Wangui Kaniaru, a corporate lawyer in Nairobi, has a website — — that explains the importance of the election:

Kenya is taking two giant steps:  Establishing the separation of powers between executive and legislature by electing a new President and a new legislature following the expiry of Mwai Kibaki’s term.  Establishing a new government structure by electing county governments that will manage development and budget expenditures on regional priorities.

One million Kenyans are on Facebook and Kaniaru hopes to reach them and encourage the vote because many, especially those in Kenya’s middle class, have given up expecting much of government and don’t vote.  

Kenyans, please vote and give the media and pundits only one sentence to report: The election went smoothly; all is well in Kenya.

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