The 2017 General elections held in Kenya were met with a lot of opposition regarding Freedom of expression on the online space. With a growth in the number of internet users, the online space was a highlight used for political mobilization, whether good or deemed unlawful.
Political WhatsApp group admins were put under the radar for allowing members to post content that may result in incitement to violence. There were also fears of an imminent internet shut down. Fortunately, this did not happen, unlike many other African countries that have had election-related disruptions in the last three years. Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo are recent victims of an internet shutdown imposed by their government. Alternative news was also on high during this electioneering period. This kept many people online to counter, discount and discuss social problems in the country.
A report done by Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET) regarding Kenya’s 2017 elections explores the intersection of the internet and elections. It highlights some of the events that took place during Kenya’s election season and their effects on freedom online. Access to the internet; freedom of expression and access to information; freedom of assembly and association; and security online are the main points discussed within. The report aims to create awareness of freedom online in line with Kenya’s new constitutional dispensation that envisages a plural society.
The government through Information, Communication and Technology sector has incorporated the internet to delivering public services for its 25 million citizens who have subscribed to mobile internet. This is in a bid to improve and promote governance. When the government uses the internet to relay sensitive information such as voter registration, there needs to be data protection framework or digitalisation policy to guarantee public benefit.
This indicates why the internet has shaped Kenya and a lack of it would result in an impending damage to the lives of Kenyans. Access to the internet is, therefore, an important factor to be considered. However, citizens will not trust the government when mishaps begin occurring. For example, lack of information from IEBC, and litigation were among the challenges that eroded public trust in the system. These challenges were discussed on social media. Some of them became subject of a petition at the Supreme Court that led to the invalidation of the presidential results.
The report discusses why access to the internet is crucial for political rights and conducting elections. This is in the part where political parties start Social Media accounts and campaigns to champion for votes. In the election process, about 27% polling stations in rural and underserved areas did not have access to 3G networks. This provided a challenge in relaying results. Also, some places experienced power blackouts to stall protest in hot spot areas.
The report notes that the election process was rushed resulting in many challenges observed during this period. Open dialogue among stakeholders on issues such as the different types of content published, their producers, intentions, and the effect is very crucial to prevent future challenges. Online data protection is also important in protecting the right of persons in the online space.
Read the full report here.