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Electronic Media and Electoral conflict in Kenya

Updated on January 27, 2014

Information has always been a basis for knowledge; and the latter is power ([1]Hameso 1995). Lack of information contributes to knowledge deficiency, which leads to powerlessness. Therefore, access to information implies a form of empowerment, or better still, it signifies freedom from ignorance, freedom from servitude and ultimately freedom to choose.

Freedom of expression is a central characteristic of liberal democracy. In a weak liberal democracy, citizens have a constitutional right to express themselves freely. Sometimes, however, they get into difficulty when they criticize state officials such as the case of the raid on the East African Standard premises in 2006 when the media house suffered from a raid that led to the destruction of its computers and newspapers for the next day, The reason was apparently the fear that that issue of the newspaper contained damaging information on some government officials.

3.1 POLITICAL & ELECTORAL CONFLICTS IN KENYA

Since independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s most African states have experienced different forms of political conflict which has been rooted in both internal and external factors. The conflict generated by political succession is conflict over control of the state, where conflict is about who governs and does not usually envisage the creation of a new state.[2]Kenya has not been an exception.

Kenya has experienced a number of violent political conflicts since Independence in 1963. Most of these political conflicts have been termed “ethno-cultural conflicts” by the mass media [3] . [4]Oyugi argues that conflicts have largely been based on the distribution of resources and political power among the 42 ethno-cultural groups in Kenya. These ethnic groups have different cultures and languages which set them apart from each other.

Kenya has had only limited experience with competitive multi-party elections; and the experience is confined to the first three years of independence. At independence, a multi-party contest involved the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) — the two parties formed in 1960 in anticipation of independence. Up to that year, countrywide political organizations had been proscribed following the declaration of a state of emergency in October 1952 and the banning of the Kenya African Union (KAU) (intended to contain the Mau Mau revolt). Between 1955 and early 1960 only district based political parties or associations were allowed in non-Mau-Mau areas.

The conflict is relatively restrained and characterized by competition among elites for political power and therefore the conflict is self-containing and within the status quo.

The shrinking of political space in Kenya began with the `merger' of KANU and KADU in the National Assembly. Since the President and the National Assembly constitute the Parliament in Kenya, the growth of executive power affected parliament in its primary functions of lawmaking, public debate and political recruitment.([5]Charles N. Mwaura 2007).Kenyatta attempted to reduce competition for political recruitment through firstly an internal purge in KANU and secondly control of the electoral process. The roots of conflict in independent Kenya revolved around ideology and policies of the new state. The ideological conflict between Odinga and Kenyatta came to a head in 1966. By the time of the Limuru Conference in 1966 the myth of political unity and the illusion of leadership unity shattered as differences emerged on land, the organization of state power, economic development strategies and so on( [6]Furedi 1996)

At the height of the Kenyatta - Odinga Conflict in October, 1969, Kenyatta was in Kisumu to open the Russian Hospital, There occurred an open display of hostility by Heckling and booing during the President’s speech. The President’s Escort reacted to these by opening fire to the crowd. These, plus the assassination of Tom Mboya in July the same year brought about an ethnic rift between the Kikuyu and the Luo. Upon Kenyatta's return to Nairobi, KPU (a newly formed party by Odinga) was proscribed and its leaders arrested and detained. Political recruitment into parliament was now only through KANU in the 1969 general elections. It was against this grim background that the General Elections were held in December 1969.However, the turnout and outcome was impressive with the highest voter turnout registered Central Kenya.

The only avenue of political recruitment to parliament remained through elections which was reduced to one or both to two principles: the principle of choice; and the principle of acclamation ([7]Mazrui, 1973:3-4) the principle of choice is deeply rooted in the liberal tradition of politics, it confers on the electorate the right to choose/elect between candidates for parliament among alternative political parties, simply put the principle rests on "Let the People decide".

The combination of party chairman and the Presidency made Kenyatta ipso facto the president of the country. To additionally shelter this position was the institutionalization of party life membership in KANU, which ended in Kenyatta being declared KANU chairman forever. The President's positions became non-elective and in effect not open to succession either through choice or acclamation[8] (Charles N. Mwaura,2007)The conflict of political succession, particularly as regards the presidency was mitigated by this emergent electoral system, leadership succession was mitigated by the principle of choice by the electorate, political recruitment rested on both principles while the central recruiting institution remained KANU. To be legible for candidacy, all aspirants had to be life members of KANU. Former KPU members had to have been members of KANU for a period of three consecutive years from the time of their release from detention. All candidates and in particular former KPU members had to identify themselves with the government and KANU policies.

On realizing that Odinga and some of this KPU associates might qualify KANU stipulated that meeting the conditions would not result in automatic clearance to stand in the elections. Odinga and nine of his KPU associates were not allowed to vie for the 1974 elections.

The 1974 elections were the last under Kenyatta's regime and were shaped with irregularities and manipulations in Electoral law. These were manifested by the big number of election petitions. Some results were nullified although Kenyatta and KANU won the 1974 elections the question of political succession to Kenyatta's leadership re-emerged. In 1971 there was a threat to the presidency when

The government announced it had prevented an attempted coup d’état Popular politics focused after the elections on land particularly after "the transfer of millions acres of large farms intact to wealthy members of the community - mostly Kikuyu who were closely associated with the President awakened hostile criticism" of the government both within the KANU parliament and outside Parliament ([9]Ingham, 1990:102).

Upon his accession to office - President Moi was unanimously elected president of KANU On October 6, 1978 and became the sole party candidate for the post of President. On October10, 1978 President Moi was sworn in as Kenya's second president. President Moi's first cabinet increased in size as he attempted to make its representation countrywide while significantly reducing the power of the Kikuyu elite. In a bid to woo the Luo, Odinga was appointed Chairman of the Cotton Lint and Seed Marketing Board and granted life membership to KANU - he was however, denied clearance to compete in the elections. In June 1982 Odinga and George Anyona attempted to register an alternative party – the Kenya African Socialist Alliance (KASA). The government rushed a constitutional amendment to parliament - Amendment Act No. 7 of 1982, resulting in the infamous section 2(a) which constitutionally transformed Kenya from a defacto one-party state into a de jure one-party state.

In August, Moi was nominated as the sole KANU candidate for the General Election on September 16, 1983. By 1986 the witch-hunt had began with rumors of secret movements aimed at overthrowing the government such as Mwakenya; Kenya Revolutionary Movement and Kenya Patriotic Front, all seen as emanating from University graduates and many were arrested and charged with possession of seditious publication notably Pambana and Mupatanishi.

The 1988 General Election was a farce with most results being the work of fabrications by the Executive. While the government and KANU showered praise on themselves for victory, the country rejected the results outright. Many Kenyans even regretted having participated in the elections which were flawed right from the start. It must be reiterated that in both queue-voting and secret ballot, majority of the Kenyans declined to participate ([10] Wanjohi, 1993:32).

The end of the Cold War meant closer scrutiny of the political and economic realm of the Moi regime. The government's high handedness in dealing with criticism, the rampant levels of unabated corruption and the brutal murder of Dr. Robert Ouko Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation in February 1990 crystallized opposition both internally and externally against the Moi government. The Moi state came under siege. In April 1990 Kenneth Matiba, a Cabinet Minister, resigned and together with Charles Rubia called for the (re)introduction of a multi-party political system, culminating in the July 7, 1990 "Saba Saba “riots. The donor community stated that future aid to Kenya would depend on the government's willingness to implement economic and political liberalization. The government responded with its high handedness and promptly rounded up all multiparty advocates like Mohammed Ibrahim, John Khaminwa, Gitobu Imanyara, Raila Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, and Charles Rubia and detained them.

The greatest threat to Kenya's stability emerged not from electoral politics but from ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley which the Government unsuccessfully tried to portray as instigated by the Opposition. More accurately as [11]Bertha Amisi notes "they were KANU's efforts to frustrate the efforts of the democratization movement, to prove that multi-party politics can only lead to ethnic conflict and perhaps civil war", this led to "factoring of politico-ethnic conflict into Kenyan politics in such a way that it raises concern over the potential [that] the current political struggles between KANU and the Opposition can degenerate into outright civil war" (1997:9).

The Electoral Commission under the Chairmanship of Justice Zacheus Chesoni was raft with controversy. The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) provided equal coverage of all political parties in its broadcasts; the Provincial Administration did not infringe on the campaign licensing process .This marked the beginning of almost an unending struggle of electoral conflict in Kenya.

3.2 ELECTRONIC MEDIA IN KENYA

Over the past years during the one party regime under KANU government, There was one electronic media station which had the government’s control and ownership, this was The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), and its predecessor – the Voice of Kenya (VoK).It was then, more of a government mouthpiece than a public space where citizens’ voices could speak on a range of issues. While Kenyatta's reign from 1963 to 1978 had been characterized by less stringent control of the media, at least from the President himself, the press in Kenya, under Moi, was very different. This is not to say that there were no efforts to control the press under Kenyatta's regime ([12]Kenya Press, Media, TV, and Radio 1990). Kenya's media is noteworthy given the continent's history that has had a devastating effect on the industry. At independence most African states had media that could have been developed into vibrant institutions ([13]de Beer, Kasoma, Megwa & Steyn, 1995).

The return of multiparty democracy in 1992 opened the way for the licensing of Frequency Modulated (FM) radio stations; increased freedom for the public and other institutions to express themselves through the media, and increased political content. Inevitably, political battles would be fought through the media. The socio-political changes in the country also increased public demand for news and information. Over the past 15 years, the media industry in Kenya has grown exponentially. This growth has also been characterized by the deployment of the latest technological innovations in the field of communication, regional expansion within East Africa, increased number of professional media practitioners and the growth of citizen media.

Currently, there are more than 90 FM stations, 14 TV stations in Kenya. They mainly use English as the primary language, with some media houses using Swahili. Use of vernacular languages is commonly used in broadcast media, mostly radio. Kenya’s state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation remains the only broadcaster with countrywide coverage. It broadcasts in English and Swahili plus various vernacular languages. Royal Media Services is the largest private national broadcaster with countrywide coverage. It also broadcasts in English and Swahili plus various vernacular languages. A dozen private radio and television stations have ranges that are limited to the Nairobi area.

More than 100 applications for radio and television licenses are pending before the Communication Commission of Kenya, which is the independent regulatory authority for the communications industry in Kenya. Its role is to license and regulate telecommunications, radio-communication and postal/courier services in Kenya.

Under the Kibaki government, the media have demonstrated greater editorial independence than in previous years, and the number of press freedom abuses has declined. Still, some media policies and incidents continue to inhibit press freedom, e.g., the need to post a costly bond prior to publication and to register afterward. In 2003 the government invoked a restrictive constitutional provision on court coverage to intimidate journalists reporting on a possible political murder. In March 2006, hooded policemen raided the offices of The Standard newspaper and Kenya Television Network, claiming concerns about internal security

The media in Kenya is regulated by a statutory body called the Media Council of Kenya. The Media Council of Kenya is an independent national institution established by the Media Act, 2007 as the leading institution in the regulation of media and in the conduct and discipline of journalists [[14]]. It is mandated amongst other to register and accredit journalists, register media establishments, handle complaints from the public and create and publish yearly media audit on the Media Freedom in Kenya. During accreditation the journalists agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya, which was created by media practitioners and stakeholders with the view of making Journalism in Kenya a more professional and respectable field.

An unprecedented public debate has been raging in Kenya over the role of the media before, during and after the 2007 General Election. Questions about media conduct continue to rise as the country attempts to define what it considers a desirable media. The manner in which the media reported and portrayed the violence that erupted between various ethnic groups around the country in January 2008 has come under special scrutiny.

Religious organizations, civil society, government departments and foreign missions are some of the interest groups that have spoken out about the role of the media in that period. They have accused the media of incitement, promoting stereotypes, misreporting events and general misrepresentations. Kenya’s media are one of the most respected, thriving, sophisticated and innovative in Africa, according to a policy briefing by the BBC World Service Trust.

The report, which records the role of the media and communication in the 2007 General Election and their aftermath, notes that over the past 15 years, the media in Kenya have been increasingly assertive and self-confident. They have played a substantial role in mediating relationships between citizens and state, in shaping the democratic dispensation in the country and have transformed how some of the marginalized people in society access information on issues that shape their lives[15].

This obviously strong endorsement of the Kenyan media reflects an ideal that ought to be the basis for measuring performance. However, the fervent public debate about the media in Kenya in recent times does not approximate this assessment. During the FES-Media Council of Kenya’s monthly public debate series in 2005, in which ordinary citizens spoke directly to media practitioners, the range of opinions expressed strongly indicted the media. Most of those who spoke expressed grave dissatisfaction with the media, questioning why they should continue to listen to radio stations whose interpretation of reality were often misplaced.[16]

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the liberalization of the airwaves in the early 1990s created opportunities for a more diverse media playing field. It is this regard that this research is out to find out what role did the electronic media play during the 2007 post-elections violence in Kenya.

3.4 ELECTRONIC MEDIA AND ELECTORAL CONFLICT IN 2007

As elections in Africa have become more competitive, they, and their aftermath, have also become more violent. Elections are intended to facilitate political conflict in a controlled, non‐violent way and to legitimate outcomes—whether democratically determined or not. But given that most African states have weak institutions that the rule of law is often diluted, that orderly succession is difficult to achieve and that many states are either engaged in or emerging from war, this process is easily inflamed.

Election‐related violence is typically systemic and is often an indicator of challenges faced in terms of economic development, nation‐building and the consolidation of political power. This has certainly been the case in Kenya, where violence of varying degrees has flared up consistently in elections since 1992, most recently after the 2007 Presidential election where the outcome was deeply contested led to violent protests.

Although Kenya is frequently cited as a model for political stability and economic development in Africa, as Anderson and Lochery remind us, the violence in the aftermath of the Kenyan 2007 poll must be seen in the context of the contested nature of land settlement schemes since the 1960s and subsequent political violence, (SN Ndegwa - Africa Today, 1998 – JSTOR [17]).

Violence is a process, not an event. Violent acts may be spontaneous, but they are more often the product of a longer sequence of historical decisions and political actions. Among the many factors that can affect the incidence of violence, the role of the media is surely one of them. Many accounts of election‐related disputes in East Africa and elsewhere express a concern about the role of media. Although it is not usually the defining factor in determining whether violence will or will not occur, the role of the media is a significant aspect of the overall context.

Violence can be associated with all three or just one of the election phases: the pre‐election phase, the day/s of the election, or the immediate post election period. Typically, violence is clustered around the pre‐ and post‐election period; voting day generally—but not always—appears to proceed peacefully. It is the campaigning period and when the results start to emerge that the likelihood of violence increases. The level of competition in an election is a fundamental test for the likelihood of violence.

Kenya is representative of a growing trend across Africa whereby multiparty elections are associated with violence. In addition, the most recent elections in both Ethiopia (2005) and Zimbabwe (2008) saw scores killed.

In the post‐election context, the media (and particularly new media) can play three roles: that of mirror, amplifier and enabler. As a mirror, the press, in particular, serves as an important reflection of the state and nation building process. It provides insight into political dynamics and the level of dialogue within a society. It suggests the level of polarization in a society, the progress of reconciliation and, in the case of post‐election violence, and the possible avenues for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

To understand how the media can be used as a mirror to provide insight into political conflicts, there are four key areas for analysis: historic pathways, media structure, electoral system design and political structure.

In much the same way as the press acts as a mirror, the new technologies employed for the distribution of media serve as an amplifier. Election‐related violence is not a new phenomenon, but the use of mobile phones, the proliferation of radio stations, and an increasing ability to connect with like‐minded individuals through Facebook and other social networking platforms facilitates and accelerates the spread of messages in a less controllable way.

In short, technology does not necessarily alter the message—rumors and stereotypes that have been propagated for decades are still central in much of the violence— but it speeds up the ways in which such messages penetrate communities and mobilize individuals and groups for action.

In the Kenyan elections of 2007 we saw some of the effects new technology can have on post‐election violence. Despite a history of violence associated with elections, these were the first elections where mobile phones and access to vernacular radio stations was widely available. While mobile phones can be used for election monitoring and the verification of results, including obtaining up to‐ date provisional results, in the case of Kenya, many of these benefits were overshadowed by the role of mobile technology in spreading hate speech, particularly after polls closed [18].

This was opposed by the CEO of Safaricom, a leading mobile phone network operator in Kenya, who argued that chaos would result as phones were also used by displaced people to contact relatives and as part of humanitarian efforts. Another potential policy response was monitoring and filtering SMS messages, but this was complicated by the fact that words used in inflammatory messages were difficult to identify and screen as metaphors were often used, (BBC Monitoring Africa.)

Together, the three roles of the media offer a way of thinking about how the media contributes to the stability or instability of post‐election periods. The political disputes, and associated violence, are not uniform. Each case has its own underlying causes which are an assemblage of political, economic, historical and cultural factors. These cases also demonstrate the wide array of considerations that must be taken into account—from division in society on the one hand or reconciliation, nation‐building and societal functioning on the other.

In terms of encouraging violence, radio shows regularly used inflammatory language and campaigns were conducted via SMS and email which promoted intolerance and violence through the dehumanization of groups. Cell phones were key instruments by which misinformation and rumour, key contributory factors to the violence, were spread. However, the media also facilitated calls for democratic participation and peace through voter mobilization and SMS services which informed people about political processes.

The importance of new media forms has an impact on potential regulatory structures and government response to violence. In Kenya, suggested measures to prevent the use of mobile phones to disseminate incitement to violence included closing down mobile phone networks.

The media, again, characterized the ODM group as rebellious, bitter and consumed with political and electoral ‘revenge’. It was cast as having lost out to a ‘cheating’, not-to-be-trusted group and its political campaign was associated with a language which spoke of historical injustices, broken promises, betrayed memorandum, a corrupt cabal, the Mount Kenya mafia, the ethnic bloc, and the kitchen cabinet.

These terms tended to intensify the differences between the ruling group and the group in ‘opposition’, with members of the Kikuyu Ethnic group being seen as having unfairly benefit-ted from national opportunities and resources. The circulation of these terms within the public space happened through both formal and informal media networks. The print and electronic media, as well as the new media of the internet and mobile telephony (through SMS, for instance) uncritically circulated these ideas, most of which tended to carry heavy negative or prejudicial con-notations against one socio-economic class or ethnic group or region in the country.

News reports, analysis and opinions amplified the notion of spitted country, with power, opportunity and resources being said to be ‘unfairly’ distributed across the country. Although studies have consistently shown that Kenya is one of the most socio-economically unequal countries in the world54, the media often did not (and still does not) offer empirical evidence to support such claims, often ignoring, for instance, intra-group inequalities even in groups that are perceived to be ‘favored’ by the state.

Even after the country started to ‘burn’ with the destruction of property, the killing of more than 1000 Kenyans, the displacement of thousands of people across the country, the mainstream Kenyan media did not appreciate the magnitude of the national crisis and continued to take sides in the political divide between the Party of National Unity(a conglomeration of small parties which had won just about 50 percent of the parliamentary seats) and the Orange Democratic Party (which had won the majority of parliamentary seats but whose candidate had lost the elections to the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki). The “Daily Nation” and the “Standard”, the two leading daily newspapers, as well as their related electronic media, were seen to be supporting the PNU and ODM respectively. FM radio stations were even more biased.[19]


[1] See Seyoum Hameso: Issues and Dilemmas of Multi-Party Democracy in Africa

[2]See Political succession and related conflicts in Kenya, A paper prepared for the USAID Conference on Conflict Resolution in the Greater Horn of Africa held at Methodist Guest House, Nairobi, 27-28 March 1997. Charles n. Mwaura Department of Government University of Nairobi

[3] See Ogot, 1996; Kenya has experienced a number of violent political conflicts since Independence in 1963. Most of these political conflicts have been termed “ethno-cultural conflicts” by the mass media

[4] See Oyugi 2002: conflicts have largely been based on the distribution of resources and political power among the ethno-cultural groups in Kenya.

[5] See Charles N. Mwaura 2007); The shrinking of political space in Kenya began with the `merger' of KANU and KADU in the National Assembly. Since the President and the National Assembly constitute the Parliament in Kenya, the growth of executive power affected parliament in its primary functions of lawmaking, public debate and political recruitment

[6]See Furedi 1996: Kenyatta and Mboya successfully isolated Odinga as a renegade Politician)

[7] (See Lakidi and Mazrui, 1973:3-4; The only avenue of political recruitment to parliament remained through elections which was reduced to one or both to two principles: the principle of choice; and the principle of acclamation

[8] Charles N. Mwaura2007: The President's positions became non-elective and in effect not open to succession either through choice or acclamation.

[9] See Ingham, 1990:102; The government announced it had prevented an attempted coup d’état Popular politics focused after the elections on land particularly after "the transfer of millions acres of large farms intact to wealthy members of the community - mostly Kikuyu who were closely associated with the President awakened hostile criticism" of the government both within the KANU parliament and outside Parliament

[10] See Wanjohi, 1993:32; Many Kenyans even regretted having participated in the elections which were flawed right from the start. It must be reiterated that in both queue-voting and secret ballot, majority of the Kenyans declined to participate.

[11]See AMISI, Bertha Kadenyi 1992 Development and peacemaking in Africa: negotiating peace in a neo-liberal world

[12]See Kenya Press, Media, TV, Radio 1990: While Kenyatta's reign from 1963 to 1978 had been characterized by less stringent control of the media, at least from the President himself, the press in Kenya, under Moi, was very different. This is not to say that there were no efforts to control the press under Kenyatta's regime ([12]Kenya Press, Media, TV, and Radio).

[13] De Beer, A. S. Kasoma, F.P. Megwa, and E. Steyn. "Sub-Saharan Africa". In John C. Merrill (Ed). Global journalism: Survey of international communication 3rd Ed. New York: Longman, 1995.


[14] See Media Council of Kenya Act,2007: The Media Council of Kenya is an independent national institution established by the Media Act, 2007 as the leading institution in the regulation of media and in the conduct and discipline of journalists

[15] See SN Ndegwa - Africa Today, 1998 – JSTOR; They have played a substantial role in mediating relationships between citizens and state, in shaping the democratic dispensation in the country and have transformed how some of the marginalized people in society access information on issues that shape their lives

[16] See Media and Political Conflictsby Charles Nyambuga-Principal Researcher: During the FES-Media Council of Kenya’s monthly public debate series in 2005, in which ordinary citizens spoke directly to media practitioners, the range of opinions expressed strongly indicted the media. Most of those who spoke expressed grave dissatisfaction with the media, questioning why they should continue to listen to radio stations whose interpretation of reality were often misplaced.

[17] See SN Ndegwa - Africa Today, 1998 – JSTOR: Although Kenya is frequently cited as a model for political stability and economic development in Africa, as Anderson and Lochery remind us, the violence in the aftermath of the Kenyan 2007 poll must be seen in the context of the contested nature of land settlement schemes since the 1960s and subsequent political violence

[18] See GeMleman, 2007: Despite a history of violence associated with elections, these were the first elections where mobile phones and access to vernacular radio stations was widely available. While mobile phones can be used for election monitoring and the verification of results, including obtaining up to‐ date provisional results, in the case of Kenya, many of these benefits were overshadowed by the role of mobile technology in spreading hate speech, particularly after polls closed

[19] See Media and political crisis by Tom Odhiambo;1992; The “Daily Nation” and the “Standard”, the two leading daily newspapers, as well as their related electronic media, were seen to be supporting the PNU and ODM respectively. FM radio stations were even more biased.

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