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Media Played a major Role in the 2007/2008 Post Elections Violence in Kenya

Updated on January 27, 2014

The general Public received most of the information and developments of the election campaigns and the election process through the leading media houses in Kenya.

A majority of the respondents, about 107 out of 117 said they knew of the current developments through the radio. The electronic media kept highlighting instances where politicians kept talking ill of each other while campaign for themselves, weapons being ferried, leaflets of hate massages among others. These actions by the electronic media was so intense that at the peak of the electioneering process, the general public had set their minds on who will win and if not then the results will not be accepted. So each ethnic group had their own mind set and believed nothing else. The result was upraising and revolts from all the parts of the country were witnessed.

As observed during the conflict, most participants believed that the Kenyan public took any news coming from the electronic media as gospel truth rather than questioning the information. The way in which the electronic media packaged the information was authoritative and convincing.

Moreover, 72participants out of 117 agreed that even though some national television and radio stations tried to attenuate their message it was still clear to the audience that the elections were not carried out in a transparent manner. [1]The facial expression and tonal variations of the presenters clearly reflected the stations feelings and attitude. And as a result, these 72 participants were verbatim that the fueling of the violence through the electronic media was not necessarily verbal/transmission of hate messages but it was about the vocal and facial expressions of the anchors. Hence, the electronic media needed to give cautious attention to the vocal and facial aspects of their delivery, which might have comprised above 90% of the passing their message during the conflict.

[2]All the participants agreed that generally, the media especially the FM radio stations promoted hate speech that brought forth ethnic hatred and animosity that burst into open post-election violence.

[3]While a majority of media stations were much more cautious, Ethnic FM radio stations played a big role in fuelling ethnic hatred and hostility through the use of disgusting and nasty language.

Reviewers have argued that some FM stations intentionally encouraged ill feelings against other communities by giving extreme airspace to hate mongers who talked ill about other ethnic communities perceived as political enemies.

The FM stations siding with ODM encouraged their audiences to keenly participate in mass action called by ODM leadership. However, translated to a negative connotation. Most Kenyans took mass action as a confrontation of the enemy. [4]Mass action characterized what came out to be demonstrators fighting on the streets with the police resulting into loss of life and destruction of property. By calling for mass action, electronic media encouraged confrontation between ODM and PNU supporters and the police on one hand.

[5]Some FM stations broadcasting in ethnic languages gave plain suggestions to voters on how to deal with their counterparts who were perceived to have stolen votes.

When a ban was put on live coverage of what was happening in Kenya from December 30th 2007, most FM radio and TV stations simply reinforced live messages broadcast by BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera that demonstrated violence taking place in various parts of the country. [6]These international media stations showed real time pictures of burning houses, scared people and people chopped to death. Some electronic media relayed such horrific stories that fueled the post-election violence in unexpected places far from the epicenter of the post-election violence. Certainly, these messages created animosity and fueled revenge attacks in Nairobi, Central, Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western provinces.

[7]During these conflicts, Ethnic radio stations fueled vengeance attacks through emotionally reporting the predicaments of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were returning to their “ancestral homes”. Most community radio such as Chamge FM and Inooro gave ample airtime discussing the tribulations of IDPs in the hands of perceived ethnic enemies. The collision of these messages was instant and infuriated. On the other hand, Luos destroyed homes and looted property while evicting Kikuyus from all parts of Nyanza province.

During the conflict, electronic media stations especially FM radios broadcasting in ethnic languages advised their tribesmen and women to support sides taken by politicians from their ethnic communities. They were actually the mouthpieces of politicians calling for mass action against other communities. The PNU sensitive media also called on their supporters to resist mass action and advised the government to protect Kenyans and their property. While some ethnic stations were explicit and incited audiences to take arms and commit acts of aggression others were contained and sent hate messages through hints.

Soon after the announcement of the presidential results on December 30th 2007, the ethnic-based community radios tended to give lots of time and distinction to the violence through spike and animated descriptions of what was happening. These kinds of reporting fueled post-election violence.

Some of the respondents also indicated that there was perceived mismanagement of the 2007 general elections and this, they came to learn through the media. [8]They indicated that electronic media showed how electoral process and the composition of the election management team for the 2007 elections were flawed and highly manipulated. The media also broadcasted live how the Electoral Commission of Kenya appeared to mismanage the vote tallying exercise, it only served to confirm the fears of the opposition that the electoral process and supervision was designed to ensure the re-election of the incumbent.

The Hate speech and inciting statements by the political leaders aired live through the electronic media contributed a lot in fueling of the violence. Casual statements of politicians and incitement of the public to hate the antagonist parties and communities, coupled with hate propaganda given expression over especially vernacular radio served to increase the violence.

4.3 Electronic Media in Peace Building during the Post-Election Violence in 2007

A majority of the respondents, about 87 out of the 117 respondents felt that the electronic media played a major role in peace building within the Kenyan society. However bad the media would have fueled the violence, the same media was used to broadcast messages of good will from the international community, Kenyans in the Diaspora and Ambassadors.

The magic or hypodermic needle theory assumed that media had direct, immediate and powerful effect on their audience with the capability to bring about social change.[9]The media uniformly shot or injected audiences with appropriate messages that had effect on how they carried out their activities. Therefore, through the electronic media the church was involved in civic education across the country. In the midst of divisive “objective” news coverage of conflict, the most lucid, Calm voices rang forth from the editorials, at times calling for cross-ethnic cooperation, tolerance, compromise, forgiveness, and a sense of national unity.

[10]The electronic media aided a lot in conciliation though from varied motives. An initiative of Pamoja FM is a prominent example of electronic media influence in calming the violence. The Media Owners Association (MOA) came together to support peace-building initiatives in the country. All media houses devoted airtime and space to carry messages of peace and reconciliation. They aired special messages from Partners for Peace, a civil society peace building forum, asking the two principal leaders to call upon their supporters to stop the bloodshed; and calling them to negotiate a settlement. The media mobilized Kenyans to attend the special prayers for peace for the country on Sunday, 6th January, 2008 and dedicated a special day for peace programming. [11]Pamoja FM, broadcasted within a radius of 5Km to the 14 villages in Kibera slums which was the stronghold of post-election violence in Nairobi, organized peace events for youths and aired peace messages urging peaceful co-existence in the area.

Radio Umoja conducted live debates to promote peace between January and February in joint venture with the Regional Centre for Stability and Peace in Africa.

Several other radio stations like Ramogi FM, Inooro FM, Chamge FM, and Kass FM called for peaceful co-existence between Luos, Kalenjins and Kikuyus in Nyanza and Rift Valley and mobilized well wishers to provide relief assistance to IDPS countrywide.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) urged journalists to adhere to ethical standards.

Several media personnel were given awards to honor their peace initiatives during the violence period, such as NTV’s Julie Gichuru and KTN’s Linus Kakai’s Documentary on “Rift in the Valley”.

InterNews Network organized a series of workshops to build capacity of journalists and editors to respond to the unfolding conflict. InterNews Network, the International Media Support, Kenya Editors’ Guild, the Kenya Union of Journalists, Media Council of Kenya and The Kenya Association of Photographers, Illustrators and Designers and the Kenya Correspondents Association have held workshops to build the capacity of journalists to responsibly address peace-building concerns.

Aside from all this, the media supported the process of initiating mediation efforts between Odinga’s ODM and Kibaki’s PNU by calling for imperative settlement of the crisis in their editorials and commentaries. The mainstream media provided live coverage of the signing of the power sharing pact by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga. Since then, the media have monitored and highlighted the negotiations of Agenda 4 (for long term issues) and monitored the implementation of the Independent Review Commission, the Independent Inquiry into Post-Election Violence, the Comprehensive Constitutional Review and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.


4.4 Editorial Policies on conflict Reporting and Peace Building.

There seemed to be an absence of professional conduct in most media prior to and during the post-election violence[12]( Howard, 2008). Most reports were inaccurate and unfair for live coverage. Most of the Electronic media got wrong the precise locations of the violence, the affected number of people and the proper picture of what was really going on the ground. This was due to the competition of who will air the situation first. These were a clear indication that the editorial policies that governed these media streams were not keen on what was being aired. [13]Verification of facts was poor and victims of conflict were treated merely as statistics without identities. [14]The respondents were asked whether the electronic media had elaborate editorial policies on conflict reporting and peace building. Out of 112 respondents 56 of them said Yes and the others were for No. This might have been brought about by the respondents’ view of the news as there were many stations relaying same news in different styles

Initially, the media failed to provide background information to the emerging conflict. Analysis of the conflict was inaccurate and this led to a lot of anxiety and confusion countrywide. The media could not identify the fundamental issues and citing the sensitivity of the situation then. The media only referred to “armed youths”

[15]Lack of training and experience in conflict reporting was to blame for the initial poor reporting of post-election violence. Many Kenyan journalists were reporting on conflict for the first time in their careers as the country had been relatively peaceful though low level tribal clashes had occurred in 1992, 1997 and 2002. It has been noted that Most FM stations rely on DJs and presenters who lack journalism education and experience. Kenyan news media have also failed to invest and develop investigative journalism practice within news rooms and were unable to address the critical issues when the conflict erupted.

[16]The media houses were also very unethical in the style they handled the release of election results. They released varying, piecemeal and speculative results that caused anxiety and confusion among already anxious voters across the country .It galvanized the perception that the election was rigged. The media also fueled the post-election violence by refusing to stand up to the government and release their own versions of the presidential results. Prior to the elections, the media had informed the public that they were investing heavily on monitoring of elections with a view to tally and release results prior to the ECK results.

[17]The respondents gave divergent views on the issue of vernacular stations. About 101 of the 117 respondents said the stations should be encouraged for the enrichment and preservation of culture, entertainment more so the semi illiterate who do not understand neither English nor Swahili. The remaining respondents felt that the vernacular stations should be discouraged as they tended to be tribal based more than language based and also they do not have proper editorial policies in place. They sent information to one particular community which could be misunderstood as a majority of the listeners are illiterate and the political class used the said media to ethinicize national issues thus created disharmony among Kenyans.

However, respondents from the media houses felt that their policies in a way instigated the post election violence. They said that their views were aimed at various masses who were supporting various parties and groups thus had to air news skewed to be liked by the masses and the support of the candidates and parties was regionalwise. The news that were aired were non partisan as they analysed in a way to show the expected outcome which was exggerated and thus made some people reiteriate. Even after the government directive to ban live coverage, some media houses were still airing the happenings.The editorial policies of the media houses had a great impact on the reporting on peace agenda during the post election violence. Tribal background facilitated the collection of the news during the post election period rather than accessibility to news.

The Kenyan Electronic media has played a noteworthy role in public discourse since independence. It has been particularly upbeat with the coming to an end of the one party state in 1992, when it was crucial in assembling the voices of opposition to single party rule and the challenge to Nyayo era dictatorship. Since the steering in of multi-party democracy, the electronic media has been at the front position of detecting the excesses of the regimes especially corruption cases. However the media is neither static nor homogeneous, it is both hands-on and responsive to developments in the political and broadcasting systems [1](Semetko, 2008, p2). The media are not immune to the conflicting struggles going in Society. It is in this context that the assumptions of objectivity, balance, accuracy, impartiality, fairness as goals of media service delivery must be viewed.

The violence has several backgrounds that can be reduced to about three. This captures the core notion and beliefs that were the root causes of the eventual outbreak of countrywide violence.

The first main notion was the Ideological disparity. The electronic media came out clear about the difference in policies of the two main parties which was ODM and PNU.The electronic media kept informing the general public about this policies and went on to even campaign for the parties they supported. This made it very clear that the public had to side with their favorite party and eventually became charged, which led to the outbreak of the violence when presidential results were announced.

Secondly, there was the ethnicity issue which the main tribes in Kenya have been fighting about since Independence. The politicians from the Luo and Kikuyu tribes campaigned in their strongholds with the same mottos of improving common citizen’s life better with the assurance of winning the elctions.Therefore; the Electronic media took the position of informing the public about all these hence they were caught up in the midst of the whole conflict.

Thirdly, the Electronic media was a means used widely in educating voter’s on the whole voting process and its consequences. Hence, during the voting process it brought forth any irregularities, occurrences of preferential treatment to any party. The electronic media was also used as a watchdog to supervise the electioneering process. Reckless journalists also failed to desist from defamation, and hatefulness, hence reporting unpleasant news repeatedly sending artificial information to the public that in the end, the message begun to be ‗realistic due to the frequency of reporting. These actions escalated and caused possible harm to the politicians, government and public protest.

In the most recent 2007 election campaigns, the electronic media became the main arenas in which the political battles between PNU and ODM took place. Monitoring done throughout the campaigns up to the actual voting date in 2007brought forth several tendencies and patterns in electronic media coverage. The electronic media houses were found to have partiality towards the incumbent President. The KBC a public broadcasting institution was openly biased towards Kibaki and PNU. Citizen TV gave the ODM candidate the a lot of negative coverage and positivity and biasness to Kibaki. [2]Only 6% of total coverage given to candidates was given to women. (Semetko, p. 8). [3]Vernacular stations were aligned in their coverage by region and accorded opportunities to callers to air hate speeches especially during live talk shows. This was particularly so with Vernacular FM Radio Stations such as Kass FM (Kalenjin), Radio Lake Victoria (Luo), Inooro (Kikuyu) where callers made inflammatory statements (BBC Report; KNCHR Report; Waki Report; International Media Support, Jan, 2008)

All along, the electronic media was unable to report comprehensively on the violence as it unfolded and without much knowledge, promoted this violence through airing of hate speech, plus dramatization of conflict situations. Luckily, media came up with the peace and reconciliation initiatives immediately after the eruption of post-election violence.

Due to all these, they therefore the electronic media performed poorly in terms of conflict sensitive reporting index.

The vernacular radio stations reported the 2007 first because of their proximity to the polling stations. This therefore made them seem to have started the whole incitement issue. When the Electoral commission of Kenya gave a pause before releasing the results, the vernacular radios filled the gaps through continuous criticisms and updates of new results from officials on the ground.

However, after the eruption of the violence, the vernacular radio stations played important roles in promoting peaceful co-existence. For example, they supported the “Chagua Amani Zuia Noma” which means Choose peace avoid conflict campaign.

In reality, the argument that vernacular media fuelled post-election violence ignored the role played by other mass media such as Internet, mobile phones and satellite communication.

As much as the FM stations were deemed to have hastened the violence, it is the short message texts via mobile phones that were more overwhelming. Therefore, as we search for solutions in regards to the electronic media, let us also look at other forms of communication which are quicker in incitement than the electronic media. This way, we shall have curbed several loopholes.

The conduct of media during the 2007 elections and post-election violence revealed poor editorial policies and if they are to conduct responsible role in addressing the challenges of the country, they needed to work on these vital point. These then calls for an urgent need to address the structural and behavioral issues that bring down the positive role the electronic media can play in peace building in Kenya.

Some of the issues that need to be addressed include; Enforcement of professional ethics by The Media Council of Kenya which require all Journalists to have gone through the media code of Conduct before being employed in any media houses or news rooms across the country. The electronic media houses should work in enacting progressive media laws which include hate speech and incitement act, broadcasting act, media policy act among others.

The Media Council of Kenya should also embark on conducting a survey of the underlying vulnerabilities of media with aim of addressing each and every issue. The government should also have clear guidelines on monitoring media content. The hate speech law to prohibit politicians and media from airing hate messages should be strengthened. Recently, some politicians were charge in Courts of Kenya for hate speech and I believe this worked well as a lesson to others. Media houses should try to harmonize journalism curriculum in Kenya and improve media training for reporters and editors.

The Media Council of Kenya should also ensure that all vernacular stations have serious hands-on editorial policies and move with speed to identify and discipline errant community radio stations that encourage hate speech. Priority actions to address the challenges identified must include

The media houses should strictly adhering to the rules set by the several regulating bodies such as the Communication Commission of Kenya, the government of Kenya constitution and the Ministry of Information and Communication set guidelines. The responsibility of setting editorial policies should include all stakeholders in mind, i.e. the managerial team and the media owners. The media houses should stick to their mission and vision and should not be swayed during emotive issues. Policy formulation by policy makers such as the legislators in regard to media laws such that the laws that will not gag the media but bring about responsible journalism. There is need for capacity building on conflict reporting for journalists with an overall objective of achieving accurate and constructive news coverage and treatment of conflict stories in the region.

However, more research on the idea of media literacy and on how media literacy can

be improved should be a main concern for those interested in media and development. Nevertheless, how do we put together a critical audience? Awareness should be concurrently put on the two sides of the equation, It should be on the sender and the receiver since for existence of a healthy press ,there is need to be scrutinization by a ‘Media cultured’ population.

Based on what has been said on the system dependency theory [4](Ball-Rokeach, 1976), further research on what type of media the audience will rely on in times in crisis would be interesting.

In the Kenyan context, It would be more important and interesting to do studies on political ownership of vernacular radio stations which would help shed light on an existing authenticity that remains unknown to the general public . It could also be of significance to ponder and contextualize the criticism leveled at the media by the Politicians. We consider political possession of electronic media to be an alarming reality that is seldom tackled in Kenyan public debate on journalism.

The media play the gate keeping function and it’s from the idea of how news is treated, representing persistent pattern of selection emphasis, inclusions and exclusions that push a coherent interpretation and evaluation of events during conflicts. Decision and common practices in newsgathering- determining what and how stories are covered contribute towards particular news frames.

The degree to which policy and legislation provides a space within which the media can operate, and the degrees to which the judiciary can regulate and protect that space are crucial. If legislation is used to silence the media or the courts are easily influenced and corrupted, then its function as the ‘fourth estate’ and its role in conflict prevention and resolution will be significantly hindered. Conversely, if the media policy environment is too loose and legal and self regulatory checks and balances are not in place, this may allow ‘rogue’ media, whose aim is to disseminate hate speech and/or provoke conflict, to continue their activities without any reasonable recourse to deter or prohibit such action.

After all has been said and done about the electronic media and post-election violence, it remains my duty and your duty to guard ourselves against hate speech, tribalism and any other form of propaganda. This is the only way we can know that our country is more important than you and I.

[1] See Semetko, 2008, p2).The media is neither static nor homogeneous, it is both hands-on and responsive to developments in the political and broadcasting systems [1](

[2] See Semetko, p. 8: Only 6% of total coverage given to candidates was given to women.

[3] See BBC Report; KNCHR Report; Waki Report; International Media Support, Jan, 2008) Vernacular stations were aligned in their coverage by region and accorded opportunities to callers to air hate speeches especially during live talk shows. This was particularly so with Vernacular FM Radio Stations such as Kass FM (Kalenjin), Radio Lake Victoria (Luo), Inooro (Kikuyu) where callers made inflammatory statements.

[4] See Ball-Rokeach, 1976), further research on what type of media the audience will rely on in times in crisis would be interesting.


[1]Mehrabian (1998: 43), notes after his work on the influence of non verbal and verbal communication, the overall message influence on the listener is 38% vocal, 7% verbal, and 55% facial expression.

[2] BBCWST, 2008; Mbeke, 2008; ET, 2008). Hate speech is a form of speech that degrades others and promotes hatred and encourages violence against a group on the basis of a criteria including religion, race, color or ethnicity.

[3] A participant in Eldoret noted that Some radio stations in Kalenjin tribe in the Rift Valley used to call their Kikuyu neighbors Kenyambi (weeds), while a popular Kikuyu radio station often referred to Luos as fishermen

[4] A participant from Kibera noted that: we were asked to go and confront our PNU counterparts who had stolen our victory. Therefore, we had to respect this and show that we are ready to take what belongs to us.(Questionnaire filled on 25th July 2011)

[5] A participant in Kibera said that they were told, what do you do to a thief who has stolen your cow? Do you negotiate with him or you teach him a lesson? Questionnaire filled on 25th July 2011)

[6] A participant from Naivasha indicated that: When people saw pictures or heard their tribesmen being killed merely because of their ethnic identity, they did similar things to members of other communities living among them. This made the whole situation unbearable. Questionnaire filled on 15th July 2011)

[7] A participant in Naivasha said: “Here In Naivasha, Luos were burnt to death in houses and those traveling using public transport ejected from vehicles, killed and bodies used to blockage roads. It was quite horrific” Questionnaire filled on 5th July 2011)

[8]See the KNCHR Report on Post Elections Violence In 2007 KNCHR published a Report titled ‘Still Behaving Badly’, in which political hate speech was cited as a trigger for violence during political campaign period.

[9] See Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudent (1944/1968); The media uniformly shot or injected audiences with appropriate messages that had effect on how they carried out their activities

[10] See Peace Journalism as a Media Education Paradigm for East AfricaBy Levi Obonyo:In Kibera in minutes...planning to attack the Kikambas….Pamoja FM radio…decided to call some of the Kikuyu elders, the Luo elders, the Kikamba elders to the studio to discuss the implications of the rumor that was going around, and they allowed the callers to call in, ask questions.

[11]See Notes on Pamoja FM station 2008: In Kibera in minutes...planning to attack the Kikambas….Pamoja FM radio…decided to call some of the Kikuyu elders, the Luo elders, the Kikamba elders to the studio to discuss the implications of the rumor that was going around, and they allowed the callers to call in, ask questions.

[12] See Howard, 2008: There seemed to be an absence of professional conduct in most media prior to and during the post-election violence[12]( Howard, 2008).

[13] See (InterNews Network, 2008) Verification of facts was poor and victims of conflict were treated merely as statistics without identities.

[14] A respondent from Naivasha who filed the questionnaire on 5th of August 2011 said that: we kept watching news from televisions but they did not have factual information, some media stations said that more than 300 people have been killed while others said that around 200 and thereabouts so we were not sure of the information

[15] See (Howard, 2008). Lack of training and experience in conflict reporting was to blame for the initial poor reporting of post-election violence

[16] See (ET, 2008; Howard, 2008).The media houses were also very unethical in the style they handled the release of election results. They released varying, piecemeal and speculative results that caused anxiety and confusion among already anxious voters across the country

[17] A respondent interviewed from an FM station on 25th July 2011 said: These vernacular stations are good in enrichment of our cultures and entertainment, but they should not be encouraged during such times of elections because they only serve to incite people.

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    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 3 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Media's role is to be unbiased and report facts rather than opinions of the reporters .