Before Kenya’s August 8 general election, opposition candidate Raila Odinga promised to be a transitional, one-term president. Uhuru Kenyatta, meanwhile, was gunning for a second and final term. Both candidates’ political legacies were at stake.

But the nullification of the presidential election has thrown Kenya into uncharted territory. It’s been made even more unpredictable by Odinga’s withdrawal from the repeat election slated for October 26.

Odinga withdrew because, he claimed, the election commission refused to meet nine demands he made as preconditions for a credible fresh election after the August 8 poll was invalidated by the Supreme Court.

The political uncertainty is having a negative impact on the country’s economy, as well as its political stability.

The hard-line positions adopted by both sides have created a deep rift between the supporters of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance. To make matters worse, the police have repeatedly used excessive force to contain National Super Alliance protesters who have clashed with Jubilee supporters during demonstrations.

These protests could very easily escalate into tribal violence given the ethnically divisive nature of Kenyan politics.

Election commission to blame

Kenya’s current political crisis can be attributed to the ineptness of the electoral commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission mishandled the August 8 election. After the Supreme Court invalidated the poll, infighting among commissioners dented the commission’s image even further. The court found the commission committed grave irregularities and illegalities during the August election.

The commission has also aligned itself with the Jubilee Party. For its part, the party has often shielded the electoral body from criticism. For example it blamed the Supreme Court for invalidating the election. All this entrenches the notion that the commission is not exercising an independent mandate.

The commission has focused too much on short term political stability. It hasn’t considered the impact of another bungled election on Kenya’s long term democratic gains. It was given 60 days by the Supreme Court and the country’s Constitution to hold a second poll, and rushed into this process without any introspection.

And divisions between the commissioners are widening. One of them, Roselyn Akombe, has resigned and says the commission’s partisan nature makes it impossible for the body to hold a credible poll. Wafula Chebukati, the commission’s chairman, responded to Akombe’s resignation by saying he can’t guarantee that his team can hold a credible election.

All this suggests that the commission could make the same mistakes it did leading up to August 8 and that the second poll will also be a sham. This would drag Kenya further into political turmoil and lead to more economic strain on the country.

Immovable positions

Unlike its opposition, the ruling Jubilee party is keen to participate in the October 26 election. It even used its majority in both houses of Parliament to push through amendments to the election laws.

These amendments dilute the electoral commission chairman’s power and also give priority to manual voting over electronic processes. Confusion over manual processes played a large role in pushing Kenya into post-election violence during the contested 2007 polls.

Jubilee has not consulted widely on these amendments, and has been widely condemned for pushing through changes to election law so close to the second poll. The changes all appear to be knee-jerk reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling, and a push to ensure Kenyatta bags a second term.

Meanwhile, Odinga and his party have maintained that elections will not be conducted on October 26. To add fuel to the political fire, the coalition he leads has escalated its weekly demonstrations to daily countrywide protests.

Political solution

The next stage of this battle is likely to play out in the Supreme Court. The National Super Alliance still has the option to return to court to either stop the October 26 poll or challenge its outcome.

But the solution to Kenya’s ongoing constitutional crisis is not legal. It is political. The country is deeply divided along ethnic and political lines. If the electoral commission goes ahead with an election that doesn’t include Odinga, the process is likely to be deemed illegitimate.

It’s obvious that the electoral commission has been captured by partisan politics. It is operating in a hostile political environment and there is enormous division in its ranks.

In the worst case scenario, Kenya could degenerate into the kind of ethnicised election violence last seen in 2007. The feeling of disenfranchisement among some ethnic communities, who have felt marginalised by successive regimes since independence, has once again emerged in public discourse.

Assessing statements made by the electoral commission in recent days it’s clear that it’s unable to hold a credible election. On the other hand another legal battle would only drag the country into further political uncertainty.

What’s clear therefore is that a political settlement is needed to reconstitute the electoral body before holding a fresh election. This might involve forming a caretaker government to give the electoral commission time to effect the necessary reforms.


Sekou Toure Otondi, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Nairobi

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya plans to attract low-cost airlines in order to increase the number of international tourists visiting the country, a senior government official said.

Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Najib Balala told a media briefing in Nairobi that an increasing number of tourists are using low-cost airlines. "We are therefore developing an aviation strategy for the tourism sector that will offer incentives for low-cost airlines to begin flying into Kenya," Balala said during the Seventh Edition of the Annual Magical Kenya Travel Expo.

The three-day event will showcase Kenya's tourism destinations to overseas travel agencies. Tourism promotion agencies from Tanzania, Rwanda, and Seychelles were also represented in the conference. The east African nation had previously set aside 12 million U.S. dollars to promote chartered air travel.

"However, charter tourism is facing a lot of challenges due to the changing patterns of international holiday makers who are seeking to spend less on vacations," Balala said. 

Kenya already has a number of budget airlines operating in the country, which has helped expand the domestic tourism sector. Domestic low-cost airlines have contributed to pushing earnings of the local tourism sector to account for over 52 percent of the industry, Balala said.

He said Kenya needs to replicate the successful model of low-cost airlines to attract more foreign tourists. The country is planning to invest more in domestic tourism because it's more resilient as compared to international travelers, he said.

According to the ministry of tourism, Kenya recorded 1.3 million international arrivals in 2016. Balala noted that despite a 10 percent increase in tourist arrivals in the first eight months of 2017, overall tourist arrivals the whole year will likely fall as compared to last year due to the prevailing political uncertainty caused by a re-run of the presidential polls, now scheduled for Oct. 26.


Source: Xinhua

Kenya has registered an explosive growth in the number of TV and radio stations in about two years since the East African nation switched from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The growth has been unprecedented, with the number of TV stations rising to 66 while radio stations have doubled to 178 since 2015. The swell indicated that Kenyans now have more variety in terms of TV content and can choose from a myriad of radio stations to listen.

Besides, the growth means more jobs created in the sector, which include radio and TV announcers, technicians and journalists. "At the end of the financial year 2016/2017, the number of free-to-air TV channels on the digital terrestrial platform stood at 66 up from 60 recorded in the previous quarter," latest data from the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) shows Wednesday.

The TV stations are mainly free-to-air as tight competition among pay TV players in the East African nation has locked out new entrants. The regulator attributed the increase to the opened space in the broadcasting sector as a result of digital TV, which has made it easy to join as all investors need to do is register their stations and come up with content, which will be carried by companies that distribute the Digital Terrestrial Television network.

The mode of operation has, therefore, reduced investment capital for investors who initially had to install transmission infrastructure across the country. 

"The increase in TV stations is mainly as a result of licensing of new entrants in the broadcasting market," said the CA in the report for the quarter ending June.

Kenya switched to digital TV in January 2015 and since then, the signal has been expanding to cover 78 percent of the population as at the end of June, enabling millions of people who were locked out of TV viewing initially to enjoy the service. During the quarter, there was extension of network coverage by some of the self-provisioning digital signal distributors to various areas, including far-flung border towns like Kapenguria, Wajir and Lamu.
The expansion of the digital signal coupled with rise in the number of TV stations from five in 2015 has made more Kenyans acquire set-top-boxes. Close to 5 million Kenyans now own the set-top boxes which they use to access the digital signal, up from less than 1 million in 2015.

"The cumulative number of digital set-top boxes purchased as at the end of June stood at 729,477 for Free-to-Air set top boxes and 3,788,417 for pay TV," the CA noted.

Similarly, the total number of active FM stations in the country has risen to 178 stations as at the end of June from nearly 70 in 2015. Like TV, the FM stations are being carried on the digital platform making it easier for investors to join the industry.

"When compared to the 139 stations recorded in last financial year, there has been a remarkable increase of 28 percent, which was as a result of licensing of new operators in market," said CA. Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solution, noted that digital migration was a huge blessing for the Kenyan citizens and the sector in general.

"Though the migration was initially resisted by media owners, time has come to disapprove them as the sector has expanded exponentially. Now the industry is no longer controlled by the big corporates but even small players have a stake in it," he said. Mwaso observed that the entrance of the new TV and radio stations has led to more audience segmentation and fragmentation giving people a variety of stations and programmes to choose from.

"It is a good thing because you can now find a TV or radio station catering for farmers or news only, for instance. This is something that could not have been possible in the past," he noted, adding that a good number of stations are regional and broadcast in vernacular languages therefore addressing listeners immediate needs.


Source: Xinhua

Kenya is set to get an additional 4,000 hotel beds in the next five years as per an estimate of international and upcoming brands that have announced plans of setting up in the country.

Director of Tourism, Ms Keziah Odemba, said the coming of the international brands portends good tidings for the industry and for the country’s economy as the established brands will directly source for tourists from their niche markets thereby adding to the total visitor numbers.

Speaking during the World Tourism Day fete in Nairobi, Ms Odemba said the expected multi-billion shilling investments among them by Swiss Lenana Motel, Radisson Blu, Villa Rosa Kempinski, Golden Tulip, Amber, Ibis Styles and an array of upcoming brands such as the 64-storeyed Hilton Upper Hill among others across the country show Kenya’s tourism projections are positive.

Last year Kenya received 1.1 million tourists mainly entering Kenya for business and leisure, with 2017’s projects currently set at 1.4 million.

About 937,000 tourists were hosted on holiday, 78,000 were business travellers and a further 136,000 tourists visiting for other reasons.

Online travel marketer Jumia Country Manager Cyrus Onyiego urged passenger airlines and tourist hotels to introduce special rates to cater for local travellers.

Mr Onyiego said Kenyans were keen to travel locally but were discouraged by exorbitant fees charged by the hotels.

“It is cheaper to fly from Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam to Kigali in Rwanda than it is to fly from Nairobi to Mombasa. Hotels also need to come up with an innovative pricing model that embraces cheaper pricing for advance family bookings for locals,” he said.

Ms Odemba said Kenya continues to record high tourism arrivals due to the relative peace that has continued to prevail even after the Supreme Court annulled the August 8 presidential election results.

Tourism expert Carmen Nibigira reiterated her call to African governments to open up borders for intra-Africa travel, saying affordable air fares could be realised if governments eased all charges levied on incoming airlines as well as zero-rating of visa charges like Europe and America had done.


Credit: Nation Media Group

It’s been nearly four years since Kenya won the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN). Yet it is now clear to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that the country is not, and will not, be ready to host the event in January 2018.

This failure to get ready in time is bad for the tournament’s reputation, the Confederation of African Football and Kenya. It also undermines the domestic leagues that it’s intended to boost – particularly those in the host nation.

The Confederation of African Football’s decision to strip Kenya of the right to host the tournament is a terrible indictment of the country. Given the political turmoil over the presidential election impasse, Kenya needed an image makeover that a successful international sports event would have brought. The loss of hosting rights hurts Kenya’s national economy, the football development agenda, the country’s hospitality industry and even national morale at a time when confidence is badly needed.

Strengthening African football

The African Nations Championship is a tournament for players who play in Africa. It’s different from the Africa Cup of Nations, which is dominated by those who play in overseas leagues. The two tournaments are played in alternate years.

The idea is to strengthen national competitions, which were weakened by the exodus of top class players to more lucrative leagues abroad. The African Nations Championship is an opportunity for home based players to show their talent.

Next year’s event is the fifth edition of the championships. Sixteen countries are scheduled to compete between January 4 and February 8 next year. This will have to change, given that a new host – probably Morocco or South Africa – must prepare at such short notice.

Kenya’s lack of preparedness and the loss of hosting rights are worrying because the championship is still growing in reputation. The country stood to gain a great deal by successfully hosting the event. It’s going to take a major public relations push for Kenya to repair this damage.

The whole spectacle is reminiscent of 1996 when Kenya lost the right to host the Africa Cup of Nations because it wasn’t ready. Playing facilities were found to be below standard. This failure hurt the country and its football activities. Allowing this to happen twice is a disaster.

So much undone

Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa had insisted the country was ready. He was obviously wrong.

Work has been ongoing at four of the event’s five stadiums. There are three venues in and around the capital, Nairobi, and one each to the east and west of the capital. Apart from the Moi International Sports centre, which was upgraded to host the World Athletics Under-18 Championship this year, the stadiums are far from ready.

Each must meet Confederation of African Football requirements: specialised lighting systems for live TV coverage, at least four changing rooms, media facilities, a referees’ room and a room for anti-doping tests.

The preparedness of Kenya’s own national team is another concern. If the facilities are not in place, how was the team getting ready to play in the tournament? How could promotion and marketing of the event begin when the country was even not sure the Confederation was going to give them the final nod?

This debacle has been a study in poor planning and execution.

Distracted by elections

Kenya’s last minute rush could not have come at a worse time. The country has been in election mode for most of the past year. It has been caught up in political uncertainty after the Supreme Court annulled the outcome of the August poll and set a date for new presidential elections. County governors and management responsible for upgrading stadiums have been more focused on re-election.

It was no surprise, then, when the Confederation of African Football postponed a scheduled inspection tour of Kenya. This was a signal that all was not well.

Building a brand

Kenya has built a strong brand in sport on the field and track. The country hosted the 4th All Africa Games in 1987. More recently, Nairobi was praised for hosting the World Under-18 Athletics Championships.

Successful hosts gain useful advantages: increased investment in facilities, increased media visibility, more tourists and improved transportation networks. Public enthusiasm for the sport can also get a boost. And if the host team succeeds, there can be a feeling of enhanced national excitement, patriotism and identity.

The championship was a perfect opportunity to elevate the brand of the national football team, the Harambee Stars. Prior to 1996, Kenya qualified for AFCON three times in a row (1988, 1990 and 1992). Since the 1996 suspension, it has qualified only once. This was in 2004 in Tunisia. Hosting would have given Kenya a shot at an African Football Championship without having to qualify on the field of play. It would also have laid the foundation for qualifying for AFCON and even the now expanded World Cup in the foreseeable future.

This second cancellation is a huge disappointment to the sporting fraternity across the the East African region and the whole world that has always looked at Kenya as Africa’s trailblazing superpower in sporting matters.



Wycliffe W. Njororai Simiyu, Professor, Health and Kinesiology, University of Texas at Tyler

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

After a Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Kenya’s August 8 presidential election, the country now finds itself in a moral predicament between political stability and electoral credibility.

On one hand, the ruling that ordered a fresh presidential election was a win for the democratic process the world over. The court found that Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was in violation of constitutional procedure. It also found that the commission had violated election law and in so doing impugned the credibility of the election.

On the other hand, the court’s decision has ushered the country into a period of political instability. Where it would have closed the chapter on the 2017 election cycle, it is now gearing up for a repeat poll slated for October 26.

Kenyans now find themselves in a tight spot made even more uncomfortable by demands being made by Raila Odinga and his National Super Alliance. The opposition is insisting that certain conditions, including reconstituting the election commission and reprinting key election documents, must be met before the October 26 election can be held.

The opposition’s hard stance could result in a delayed election. This could also happen if OT-Morpho, the French biometrics firm which supplied the electoral commission with its electronic voting system fails to have a new system ready in time. It’s indicated that it won’t. If indeed the key issue with the last election was that the voting system was not “simple and verifiable” as demanded by law, then any delays could be interpreted as being in the interests of a free, fair, credible and transparent election.

But for those who argue that no electoral process can be perfect, and that the August 8th poll was merely dogged by minor and inadvertent errors, then it begs the question: what is more important, electoral credibility or political stability?

Electoral credibility

The Supreme Court prioritised electoral credibility by invalidating the presidential election result on grounds that the election commission had committed illegalities and irregularities.

In doing so, it broke ranks with foreign election observer missions which had concluded that the presidential election was credible. By and large the Supreme Court ruling was a win for Kenyans and the rule of law. The court took the opportunity to audit the electoral process for transparency and to define the parameters of a credible election.

But its ruling raised questions of its own. For instance, the court ruled that the electoral commission didn’t strictly adhere to election procedure as set out in law. It also held that there had been tampering with the commission’s electronic voter management system. But it mandated the same commission to carry out a fresh election within 60 days.

Because the court gave no direction on the reconstitution of the commission, the petitioner Odinga and the respondent President Uhuru Kenyatta are now at an impasse over who should remain at the commission.

Political stability

Those who disagree with the Supreme Court ruling see the court’s decision as a subversion of the will of the Kenyan people. For them, the ruling was a destabilising force which didnt’ reflect the people’s decision.

Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Kenya is viewed as the economic hub of East Africa. If the country does not return to normalcy as quickly as possible there will be a ripple effects, including economic, across the region.

On top of this, Kenya finds itself in a precarious situation because the executive is at odds with the judiciary. Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has the majority in both houses of Parliament. It is therefore within its capacity to limit the independence of the judiciary should it continue to feel aggrieved by the Supreme Court decision. This could happen through a parliamentary referendum as per Article 256 of the Constitution and would involve members of parliament deciding to amend the constitution without a popular vote.

But by far the most pressing threat to Kenya’s continued political stability is the possibility that the Supreme Court may have created a situation in which Kenya could remain in election mode ad infinitum. Nothing stops a new petition from being filed should one of the candidates contest the next poll results.

If we look at Kenya’s neighbour Rwanda we see an example of a head of state that’s arguably prioritised a semblance of political stability over election credibility. Paul Kagame was recently reelected for the third time. Some argue that his rule has benefited Rwandans because the country has shown better socio-economic outcomes than most African countries.

But there tensions simmer and in the absence of electoral credibility, Rwanda’s political stability may be skin deep.

Rethinking Kenya’s election system

The Kenya case raises questions about elections in Africa and whether they are a force for political stability or instability. I would posit that Kenya has made great strides to improve electoral credibility since its catastrophic 2007 election.

In conclusion, election credibility and political stability aren’t mutually exclusive.

There should be a positive correlation between democracy and the improved well being of a state and its people. But in a country like Kenya with 40-plus tribes, the more populous tribes will always take advantage of their voting might, while the less populous ones struggle to compete. The system just does not work in their favour. It would seem therefore that they are locked out – not by choice but by circumstance.

So, does a majoritarian, “winner-takes-all” system suit an ethnically diverse society like Kenya’s?

Perhaps, not. I’m persuaded that there needs to be a re-imagination of electoral democratic practices in Africa. Kenya should take recent events as an opportunity to clean up its institutions and electoral system. If it doesn’t, future polls will continue to offer up a point of diversion between electoral credibility and a tenuous political stability.


Faith Kiboro, PhD Candidate in Political Economy, SMC University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China is transforming its sources of energy domestically in a bid to reverse decades of environmental pollution. But the switch to renewable energy has brought about a conundrum: what to do with the jobs and industries that have no future in this new system?

Export them. Several African countries are accepting the poisoned chalice of China’s subsidised development through the construction of outdated, dirty coal plants.

Kenya is one. Its coastline is a national asset for fisheries, tourism, a growing population and economic development. But Amu Coal – a consortium of Kenyan and Chinese energy and investment firms – is set to start building a coal plant on the only part that is untouched by industrial development. The plant is planned to be some 20 kilometres from the town of Lamu on the mainland coast, at the mouth of Dodori Creek.

Lamu Town - A Unesco World Heritage Site. Shutterstock

Quite apart from the unfavourable economic and financing aspects for generating energy from coal, the plant may be Kenya’s single largest pollution source.

The problems should be set out in the Environment and Social Impact Assessment study required by Kenya’s Environment Act and vetted through the National Environment Management Authority. But three key issues are omitted or glossed over by the study. Any one of them should be cause for the environment authority, other arms of the Kenyan government and certainly the public to oppose the coal plant.

Thankfully, opposition is growing.

Key issues against plant

The first is a classic Industrial Revolution, Victorian issue. Toxic pollution. Coal releases a range of toxic substances into the environment. These go into the atmosphere, rain, groundwater, and seawater – and then to flora, fauna and people. These substances are barely mentioned in the assessment study. There are also no detailed estimates on the amounts that could be released and how they could be reduced by mitigating actions. The coal intended for use – initially to be imported from South Africa, and classified as “bituminous”, releases large amounts of toxins, particularly if improperly burned.

The impact study also doesn’t clearly state the full size of the mountain of coal residue left behind after burning –- almost 4km long by 1km wide and 25 metres high. No credible plan for disposing of the waste is presented.

Second is Kenya’s contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions. Under the Paris Agreement on climate change the Jubilee government committed to reduce these by 30% by 2030. The impact study dismisses the carbon emissions from the plant as negligible on a global scale, at only 0.024% of global emissions. But what it attempts to hide is that the emissions of the coal plant alone will double Kenya’s energy sector’s entire CO2 emissions. This at the same time that citizens, businesses and the government are investing in efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, through – for example through wind, solar and geothermal power generation.

Cars parked under solar panels at Africa’s largest solar carport in Nairobi’s Garden City shopping mall. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The third reason is a chimera of the above –- climate change and toxic pollution combined. It is reasonably certain that sea levels will rise due to climate change. Estimates suggest this could be in the order of half to one metre by the end of this century, and very possibly more. The toxic waste mountain left by the plant will be on Kenya’s flattest shoreline, built on sand. Its base will be maybe 2-3 metres above sea level, and tens to 100m from the shoreline. This is the most vulnerable part of Kenya’s coast where sea level rises, and yet the massive toxic dump is to be placed there.

Part of the impact assessment argues that “the area is remote” so few people will be affected by pollution. Quite apart from the flawed logic that it’s okay to pollute natural wilderness areas, if plans for a major urban development under the LAPSSET project – Eastern Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure project bringing together Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan – are concluded, there will be a city of over one million people in the area by 2050.

The report contains nothing about exposure of this number of people to toxic waste. Even the Strategic Environment Assessment for the LAPSSET project, conducted in the last few years, doesn’t include the coal plant in its assessment. The logic is that the plant is “not part of LAPSSET” yet even the simplest understanding of the purpose of both impact assessments and strategic environment assessments is to consider all interacting threats, and particularly the biggest ones, to the environment and people.

Improved standards are undoubtedly needed in Kenya’s Environment Impact Assessment sector. The country will develop, by hook or by crook, with or without a vision for 2030. Strengthening environment and social impact assessment as a tool to facilitate the right sort of development – where currently it’s viewed by business and most government authorities as a pesky bureaucratic step at best – will be one of the single most significant steps the government can take to protect and grow the natural and social assets that secure, healthy and equitable development is founded on.


David Obura, Adjunct Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Kenyan government is waging a war against online hate mongers with what would appear to be a zero-tolerance policy. In an unprecedented move two chat group administrators have been arrested. They were charged with sharing hate messages on WhatsApp that threatened national security and face an additional charge of spreading alarming propaganda on social media.

Like many other countries, Kenya has charged people with hate speech before. Recently in the UK, a Facebook user was charged with spreading hate messages against Muslims. Rwanda has also successfully charged various people with hate speech.

The difference in this particular case is that WhatsApp administrators have been charged. However, this is not the first time a chat group administrator has been prosecuted for hate speech. In a similar case in India, the government arrested WhatsApp administrators for offensive posts about the prime minister.

As Kenya geared up for its general election in August it was already grappling with hate speech. This reached a crescendo in the post-election period as supporters of the two opposing political groupings – the ruling Jubilee party and The National Super Alliance – engaged in digital warfare.

Fearful of a rerun of previous post election violence, police were well prepared this time.

Under Kenyan law hate speech is a criminal offence that carries a five-year jail term and a million shilling fine. One of the suspects allegedly shared a hate message that threatened to slaughter members of a certain community.

The arrests have proved controversial on two grounds.

The first is that the government has been criticised for violating the constitutional freedoms of expression and the media. The second is that the WhatsApp users felt safe because of the anonymity provided by the platform. Moreover, the Kenyan authorities have shown reluctance to prosecute hate speech cases. Earlier in the year, politicians accused of hate speech were released due to lack of evidence and the absence of asupporting legal framework.

But I believe there are grounds for a successful prosecution under Kenyan law.

What the law says

On the issue of freedom of expression, Kenya’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of speech. But this doesn’t include allowing propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, advocacy of hatred, discrimination, ethnic incitement, vilification of others, and incitement to cause harm. This is in line with international law which protects freedom of expression, but has limitations.

During the election period thousands of Kenyans used social media to express their opinions. Many of the conversations pitted members of different ethnic communities against each other. This type of hostile communication was a spillover from the 2013 general election period when online hate speech first reared its ugly head.

This year many Kenyans retreated to the privacy of their WhatsApp groups to speak freely about their political affiliations. Again, a good number of these conversations were inflammatory. It’s understandable that Kenyan authorities felt they needed to act. But what happens next is unclear given that the law hasn’t caught up with the implications of people using various social media platforms to ventilate.

There have been a number of cases in which individuals have been charged with hate speech. And on their part, newspapers, radio stations and media enterprises can also be held criminally liable for publicising threatening, abusive or insulting material intended to stir up ethnic hatred.

The law applies to audio, visual and written hate messages, all of which are common on social media platforms. Therefore, it can be argued that Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act includes online hate speech. This would make it a crime for digital perpetrators - including those in WhatsApp groups - to spread hate through private messages.

The government has also published guidelines specifically aimed at preventing the dissemination of undesirable political text messages and social media content. According to the guidelines, WhatsApp group administrators are responsible for the content disseminated through their groups and therefore they are criminally liable for any harm that results.

I believe that these guidelines, when read together with Section 62, empower the police to arrest WhatsApp group administrators. This is because the guidelines create legal responsibilities and liabilities in the social media environment that can be applied to content service providers, including WhatsApp group administrators.

And the activities governed by the guidelines include social media use and networking, online publishing and discussion, media sharing, blogging, micro blogging, and document and data sharing. As such, even WhatsApp group members can be accused of spreading hate speech.

The impact of these rules has been that online group administrators and content creators such as bloggers must now actively monitor their members so that they are well aware of the information that is being shared on their platforms.

Therefore one will have to watch and see whether the charges will be successful or whether the Constitutional Court will be faced with a question of interpretation. The salient point of contention will be whether the WhatsApp guidelines violate the right to freedom of media and speech or if they are a necessary limitation, taking into account Kenyan’s online environment and the people’s propensity to post inflammatory or dangerous speech.


Mercy Muendo, Lecturer, Information Technology and the Law, Mount Kenya University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya faces an extended period of political and economic uncertainty after the Supreme Court tossed out the results of last month’s presidential election in a stunning decision that’s unprecedented in Africa.

The judges ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days, opening an intense campaign at risk of being marred by violence. The news sparked celebrations in the capital, Nairobi, and in Kisumu, stronghold of opposition Kenya Mappresidential candidate Raila Odinga, who said the ruling marked “a historic day” for the people of Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta, winner of the annulled vote, said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it.

With its decision that the electoral commission failed to conduct a fair vote, the six-judge court demonstrated its enduring independence from the government of the day. It came at a time when demands for political change are spreading across Africa. Opposition parties won power in the past five years in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal. The ruling also clouds the outlook for the country’s slowing economy.

“The historic Supreme Court ruling pours uncertainty on the Kenyan economy,” said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. “Investors will be concerned about the financial implications and the high risk of violence. With the possibility of the new election going to a second round and the result being contested again, political uncertainty could easily last the rest of the year.”

Damning Rebuke

The ruling Chief Justice David Maraga read out Friday to a packed Nairobi courtroom was a damning rebuke to the electoral commission, which repeatedly denied opposition claims that hackers rigged the vote results on its computer systems. The decision helps entrench the rule of law in Kenya, one of the key pillars of the country’s long-term development plan, said Jibran Qureishi, East Africa economist at Stanbic Holdings Ltd.

“This is an extraordinary ruling,” Qureishi said in a research note. “It affirms our narrative regarding institutional strength and maturity.”

The outcome of the new vote is too close to call, with the same officials who ran the last one probably remaining in charge of the rerun, said Phillip O. Nying’uro, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Nairobi.

“It is going to be very tricky; we may end up with the same outcomes,” he said.

Criminal Prosecution

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission is awaiting the court’s written judgment before making any decisions about what action it will take. Odinga called for six electoral commission officials to face criminal prosecution.

“Clear evidence shows that the commission was taken over by criminals who ran the general elections using the technology system and inserted a computer-generated leadership,” he told reporters on Friday.

Kenya, the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Coca Cola Co., faces an increased chance of violence, said John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

“The ruling leaves the authorities with little time to improve or reform the scandal-plagued election commission, which may throw doubt on the result,” he said. “Opposition supporters –- whose distrust in the voting system appears to have been validated –- may see another win for president Kenyatta as proof that the authorities are conspiring against them.”

Kenyatta rejected the opposition’s demands that electoral officials vacate office and asked the body to announce a date for fresh elections, his office said in an emailed statement Saturday. The current commission will supervise the new vote, Kenyatta said.

Security Forces

Clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters claimed 24 lives after the result was declared on Aug. 11, according to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The opposition put the death toll at more than 100 people, while police confirmed 10 deaths in Nairobi and didn’t release tolls from other areas. The deaths evoked memories of two months of ethnic conflict after a disputed 2007 vote that left more than 1,100 people dead.

Kenyan shares tumbled and the currency dropped after the court ruling, reflecting perceptions that prolonged elections mean more uncertainty, said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London. The benchmark stock index closed down 3.7 percent, while the shilling weakened 0.1 percent against the dollar. Safaricom Ltd., the country’s largest company, dropped as much as 10 percent, the biggest decline in a year.

East Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of its worst drought in three decades that’s curbed output of corn, a staple, and driven up consumer prices. Gross domestic product expanded at the slowest pace since 2014 in the first quarter as farming output shrank. The government expects growth to slow to 5.5 percent this year, from 5.8 percent in 2016.

“A re-run of the election will contribute to more uncertainty and prolong any return to business-as-usual,” Khan said. “The continuation of sub-par economic performance, and its implications for fiscal revenue, is of course a negative for bonds.”

Odinga, a former prime minister, waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1997, 2007 and 2013. The Supreme Court threw out his allegations of rigging in the 2013 vote that propelled Kenyatta to power, a ruling Odinga has previously described as a “travesty of justice.”


Credit: Bloomberg 

The recent Kenyan elections firmly demonstrated the incursion and perhaps even gradual institutionalisation of fake news as an actor in modern politics, particularly during elections. Although the term fake news is now so liberally used to the extent it eludes precise definition, many agree it’s the deliberate dissemination of false information expressly intended to misinform.

The presidential election, which pitted the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta against his political nemesis, opposition leader Raila Odinga, was fiercely fought on many fronts. One of these fronts, arguably the most significant, was the unprecedented investment in political messaging.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) invested heavily in media and public relations consultants, communication experts and political advertising. The Jubilee Party even enlisted the services of Cambridge Analytica, the data mining and analysis company credited with playing an influential role in the election of US President Donald Trump. The company also had a hand in the UK’s Brexit campaign.

Added to this heady mix was clandestine messaging through fake news on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Numerous fake news stories were widely circulated on social media as unsubstantiated allegations were posted against both parties, some even through paid adverts on Google.

This was a step up from previous elections where politicians would pay backstreet newspaper publishers to tarnish the names of their opponents. Kenya has always had publishers for hire, a particularly thriving industry at election time. These publishers quite often have no known addresses, are defined by their impermanence and therefore impossible to sue even when one is legitimately aggrieved by their publications.

In 2017 the mudslinging migrated online and become much more nuanced and sophisticated. Stories that featured fake opinion polls and others that directly attacked the characters of both Kenyatta and Odinga were widely circulated online and in print. Some of these were slickly produced videos that were passed off as originating from CNN and the BBC.

In one fake CNN video Kenyatta’s popularity rating was shown to be well ahead of Odinga’s. Another fake video, this time purportedly an outtake from the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, also featured an opinion poll showing Kenyatta beating Odinga.

And fake newspapers bearing the plagiarised mastheads of widely circulating dailies including the Daily Nation and The Star were sold to unsuspecting readers.

This proliferation of fake news in Kenya can be explained on two grounds. The first relates to the history of the country’s media, and the second to the increasing importance of online platforms in shaping the African news agenda.

The Kenyan media

The Kenyan media has become a prisoner of its history. It remains shackled to the consequences of its role in the country’s 2007 disputed presidential elections. A section of the press were accused of actively promoting the violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the polls. At least 1,000 people died and more than 500,000 thousand were displaced.

This legacy has turned the media into a bystander in the political process, especially at election time. In 2013 it hardly raised any objections to electoral malpractices that led to the disputed presidential election. Instead, media houses promoted “peace” to preempt a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

It was a decision that was supported financially by a number of local and international agencies who spent months training the local press in “peace journalism”. This peace narrative has now became normalised in election coverage in the country. The consequence has been the creation of an information vacuum which has now been filled by fake news.

Rise of social media

The circulation of fake news also seems to have benefited from the changing profile of the Kenyan voter. Nearly half of about 20 million registered voters in Kenya are aged between 18 and 35. A significant number source their news from social media where fake news circulates the most.

According to a recent consumer survey only 28% of young Kenyans read newspapers regularly. Social media is slowly but surely becoming their platform of choice for news.

And the audience for fake news is growing given that two out of three young Kenyans now either own a mobile device or have access to one, and Internet connectivity costs go down annually.

This election revealed the fact that fake news has not only become commonplace, it’s become mainstream and is evolving into a distinct news genre.

Fake news thrives on the modern news consumer’s insatiable appetite for speedy information. We are living in a news ecosystem where urgency trumps the core values of journalism such as accuracy, fact checking and objectivity.

Traditional news media, with brands built on the back of their ability to fact check or investigate stories before publication, are struggling to do so when they are simultaneously expected to publish with speed. While gate keeping is key to ensure that news outlets remain trustworthy, the speed at which audiences now expect information has seen media houses haemorrhage audiences.

That lag in providing speedy information has created a vacuum which fake news producers are exploiting. They don’t have brands or reputations to protect. Fake news is positively sustained by an online economy which prioritises sensationalism over quality. Sensational ‘news’ very quickly goes viral and this is its most effective weapon.

Fake news is slowly intruding on virtually every aspect of life. We must first understand its appeal and then make every effort to counter it. This is especially the case because it is now a genre sustained by a much larger social, economic and political infrastructure that the news media alone is incapable of dealing with.


George Ogola, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Central Lancashire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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