A new book about Kenya’s interaction of digital technology and its impact on politics has been published in Nairobi.
Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming politics in Kenya, by Nanjaala Nyabola – a writer and commentator focusing on politics, social justice, books and feminism - explores how Kenyans use social media to make their government accountable and how to respond to terror attacks. It also explores how women have organised themselves to demand equality. I joined participants at the launch of Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics at the Rift Valley Institute in Nairobi.
“Unlike many African countries, Kenyans are free on online,” said Nyabola. “They feel free to express their frustrations and the powerful and disempowered get engaged in conversations online on a medium like Twitter,” Nyabola added during the launch of the book at the Rift Valley Institute. “In many other countries people go missing after posting online,” she said.
Kenya is one of the few most digitally-advanced countries in sub-Sahara Africa, where Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and other online platforms are part of everyday life. Digital platforms have provided space for marginalised groups, particularly women and the disabled, to build new communities and organise online for offline activities.
Although social media has contributed positively on so many fronts, Nyabola argued, we hear more about the #MeToo movement than its Kenyan version of #MyDressMyChoice. There has been little appreciation of the importance of the feminist movement in Kenya.
Political elites struggle to prevent social movements from translating online action into meaningful online gains. Muthoni Marilyn Kamuru, an advocate and activist, who was a panellist at the launch of Nyabola’s book, claimed the current Kenyan parliament is unlawful, citing the constitutional requirement that no gender should constitute more than two-thirds of all members. Women make up less than a third of parliament, and women leaders and activists have been protesting against this online and in the courts.
“Because it is women who are saying this is unlawful, it is not taken seriously,” Muruki said. “Many male lawyers kept quiet about this,” she added. The Kenyan parliament has on so many occasions failed to pass a bill seeking to give more seats to women.
The book also talks about how Kenyan social media users forced a top CNN executive to fly to Nairobi to apologise to the country for its coverage calling the country a ‘hotbed of terror’ ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Nairobi in 2015. Kenyans were outraged by the report, which suggested Obama was likely to be attacked while on his visit to Kenya – his father’s homeland. The hashtag #SomeOneTellCNN trended for days, with Twitter users deploying humour and satire to criticise CNN. CNN later withdrew the report.
Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics also explores the role of Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm, in Kenya’s disputed 2017 presidential election.
Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling Jubilee party to package and disseminate its campaign message.
Kenyan political parties have often hire foreign PR and ICT consultants, but no one in Kenya knew exactly the role of Cambridge Analytica.The research firm was accused of collecting private data, manipulating Kenyan voters with attack ads and smearing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s main rival, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Cambridge Analytica’s work may have led to rifts among opposing tribes. Raila Odinga said he would sue the company after it emerged that it was behind “Kenyatta’s success.” Mr Odinga seems to have abandoned the idea since he reconciled with President Kenyatta, vowing to work with the government.
The UK-based firm also worked for the campaign of US President Donald Trump and the United Kingdom’s Brexit movement. Facebook executives have been forced to appear before the European Parliament, the US Congress and even in Singapore to shed light on data mining activities and how it helped firms like Cambridge Analytica. Nairobi has not made any attempt.
As suggested by Nanjala Nyabola in Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics, it is time Kenyans for to know they have power over politicians and make use of it to ensure their civil liberties.
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