Research for Global Development

Will Kenya’s Digitally Engaged Have an Effect on this Election?


The Kenyan presidential elections are now just a couple of days away. Since the last elections, Kenya has become a much more connected place, and in recent weeks much has been made about how the spread of technology will affect election outcomes and the potential for election-related violence.  This is particularly important given the bloody aftermath of the 2007-8 elections.

It appears that social media has become an increasingly important part of campaigning for the coming elections. “Presidential aspirants have embraced the digital platform as they step up campaigns ahead of the General Election”, as an article in Kenya’s Daily Nation noted.

The more technologically savvy among the voting public are discussing the elections online, often on popular social media sites. While levels of online political engagement in Kenya have yet to rival those observed in the west, those who are engaged are young, active and their numbers are growing. The digital space will no doubt become an important arena in Kenyan politics in the coming years.

However, if we take a step back from the current buzz surrounding emerging online political dialogues in Kenya, and place them in a broader national media context,  it’s natural  to ask –   will Kenyan voters’  increasing use of digital technology  really make a difference in the outcome of this election?

The Kenyan Context

Kenya’s information and communication technology (ICT) landscape has witnessed large changes over the last decade. InterMedia’s AudienceScapes National Survey of Kenya found that by July 2009, not long after the violence that followed the last presidential election, the mobile phone was the second most widely-available ICT within the household and that growing numbers of mobile phone owners were using their phones to access the Web.

Kenya elections - Access to ICTs

In the years since, this trend has accelerated with an increasingly large percentage of the Kenyan population now online thanks to the rapid uptake of mobile technology. Opera’s “State of the Mobile Web” report for 2012 shows data usage from mobile handsets in Kenya increased 83 percent year-on-year from 2011 as mobile penetration reached 27 million handsets in a country of about 42 million.

With this increase in Web traffic, Kenyan mobile phone users are engaging more often with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are two of the top three domains in Kenya.

Facebook in Context

According to social media metrics tracker SocialBaker, Kenya has nearly 2 million Facebook users—while this number represents a mere 5 percent of the population, nearly 20 percent of Kenyans online use Facebook, ranking Kenya 65th in global Facebook engagement.

Kenya elections - Facebook rankings

SocialBaker’s Facebook page tracker shows some Kenyan presidential candidates are already using Facebook as part of their digital engagement strategy. Candidates Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth, for example, each boast more than 150,000 fans on their personal Facebook pages.

Despite having a large fan base, very few fans are involved in discussing Martha Karua. This stands in sharp contrast to the number of people discussing Peter Kenneth, who boasts the most engaged Facebook fan-base.

Twitter in Context

A Portland Communications study conducted at the end of 2011 found Kenya trailed only South Africa for the most tweets sent in Africa. Organized around the #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) hashtag, in 2012, Kenyans have turned to Twitter as a channel for political and social agency where institutions are weak, including shaming dangerous drivers on Kenyan roads, protecting homes against theft, and as a platform to disseminate public information. Further cementing its social importance, Kenyans are turning to Twitter to share interests and activities of more dubious distinction. Political debate on Twitter has also become heated in the lead-up to the elections.

A Change is Gonna Come

But will we feel it this time around?

Even if Facebook users in Kenya are highly active online, is 5 percent of the population enough to make a splash in national politics? Twitter is becoming an important forum for politically engaged Kenyans online, but will their discussions, debates and calls for action be heard offline? Are the politicians who embrace and engage in online political dialogues going to benefit in a meaningful way?  If the answers to these questions are no, the focus on the election impact of emerging social media trends may be premature.

So, when does a growing minority of digitally engaged citizens begin to affect the bottom line in national politics in an observable way? And, how can we quantify the impact?  We will continue to follow the work of those monitoring Kenyan social media with great interest.  In the meantime, it’s important to pair new insights with more traditional measures and a deep understanding of the local context.

In a follow-up post coming soon we will examine ways in which some presidential candidates took to Twitter to bring their messages to Kenyans online.

InterMedia

Will Kenya’s Digitally Engaged Have an Effect on this Election?


The Kenyan presidential elections are now just a couple of days away. Since the last elections, Kenya has become a much more connected place, and in recent weeks much has been made about how the spread of technology will affect election outcomes and the potential for election-related violence.  This is particularly important given the bloody aftermath of the 2007-8 elections.

It appears that social media has become an increasingly important part of campaigning for the coming elections. “Presidential aspirants have embraced the digital platform as they step up campaigns ahead of the General Election”, as an article in Kenya’s Daily Nation noted.

The more technologically savvy among the voting public are discussing the elections online, often on popular social media sites. While levels of online political engagement in Kenya have yet to rival those observed in the west, those who are engaged are young, active and their numbers are growing. The digital space will no doubt become an important arena in Kenyan politics in the coming years.

However, if we take a step back from the current buzz surrounding emerging online political dialogues in Kenya, and place them in a broader national media context,  it’s natural  to ask –   will Kenyan voters’  increasing use of digital technology  really make a difference in the outcome of this election?

The Kenyan Context

Kenya’s information and communication technology (ICT) landscape has witnessed large changes over the last decade. InterMedia’s AudienceScapes National Survey of Kenya found that by July 2009, not long after the violence that followed the last presidential election, the mobile phone was the second most widely-available ICT within the household and that growing numbers of mobile phone owners were using their phones to access the Web.

Kenya elections - Access to ICTs

In the years since, this trend has accelerated with an increasingly large percentage of the Kenyan population now online thanks to the rapid uptake of mobile technology. Opera’s “State of the Mobile Web” report for 2012 shows data usage from mobile handsets in Kenya increased 83 percent year-on-year from 2011 as mobile penetration reached 27 million handsets in a country of about 42 million.

With this increase in Web traffic, Kenyan mobile phone users are engaging more often with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are two of the top three domains in Kenya.

Facebook in Context

According to social media metrics tracker SocialBaker, Kenya has nearly 2 million Facebook users—while this number represents a mere 5 percent of the population, nearly 20 percent of Kenyans online use Facebook, ranking Kenya 65th in global Facebook engagement.

Kenya elections - Facebook rankings

SocialBaker’s Facebook page tracker shows some Kenyan presidential candidates are already using Facebook as part of their digital engagement strategy. Candidates Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth, for example, each boast more than 150,000 fans on their personal Facebook pages.

Despite having a large fan base, very few fans are involved in discussing Martha Karua. This stands in sharp contrast to the number of people discussing Peter Kenneth, who boasts the most engaged Facebook fan-base.

Twitter in Context

A Portland Communications study conducted at the end of 2011 found Kenya trailed only South Africa for the most tweets sent in Africa. Organized around the #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) hashtag, in 2012, Kenyans have turned to Twitter as a channel for political and social agency where institutions are weak, including shaming dangerous drivers on Kenyan roads, protecting homes against theft, and as a platform to disseminate public information. Further cementing its social importance, Kenyans are turning to Twitter to share interests and activities of more dubious distinction. Political debate on Twitter has also become heated in the lead-up to the elections.

A Change is Gonna Come

But will we feel it this time around?

Even if Facebook users in Kenya are highly active online, is 5 percent of the population enough to make a splash in national politics? Twitter is becoming an important forum for politically engaged Kenyans online, but will their discussions, debates and calls for action be heard offline? Are the politicians who embrace and engage in online political dialogues going to benefit in a meaningful way?  If the answers to these questions are no, the focus on the election impact of emerging social media trends may be premature.

So, when does a growing minority of digitally engaged citizens begin to affect the bottom line in national politics in an observable way? And, how can we quantify the impact?  We will continue to follow the work of those monitoring Kenyan social media with great interest.  In the meantime, it’s important to pair new insights with more traditional measures and a deep understanding of the local context.

In a follow-up post coming soon we will examine ways in which some presidential candidates took to Twitter to bring their messages to Kenyans online.

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