The role of media in igniting or ending crisis: #KenyaDecides

4 03 2013

Yesterday I went to the cinema with my friend Rosebell hoping to catch a good action or comedy movie. As soon as we got there we realized we had to choose between watching Django Unrated and Ni Sisi, a Kenyan movie.

It had never crossed my mind that I would go to the cinema to watch a Kenyan movie! We decided to watch Ni Sisi because we were aware that Kenya was barely 20 hours away from the hotly contested presidential polls.

Ni Sisi is a Swahili word that means, “It is us”. The movie features three women – a pastor, a market vendor and a hairdresser. It revolves around the life of these women, their children and an aspiring member of parliament – Mzito.

Jabali, the main character is a son of Nene, the pastor. Mzito is used Jebali’s mother to spread rumours and hate, and together they almost destroyed the village community.

One night Jebali had a dream, in the dream the election romours caused unrest in the village. Men with machetes killed people and burned houses. Jebali’s own cousin Roxana and aunt Zippy were among the dozens of victims.

Like in many superhero movies, Jebali was frightened as he shared the dream with his mother and relatives. His family did not take his dream seriously but with Roxana’s support the duo excavated the dream to end the rumours and calm the situation.

Jebali confronted Mzito on one of his campaign rallies in Nene’s church and accused him of spreading false rumours. This inspired other people to speak up against this politician.

Kenya-election

Ni Sisi is just one of the hundreds of civic education campaigns and its aim is to promote peace and a unified Kenyan identity in preparation for the 2013 elections.

In 2007 when the results of the presidential elections were announced, there was a rumour that the vote was rigged. A few days later violence engulfed Kenya; over 1,100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The biggest fear as the Kenyans went to vote today was that there would be a repeat of the 2007 events.

As the poll day drew closer tension started mounting again. The talk about the events that happened in 2007 started surfacing again. The New Vision’s cover page yesterday had a headline “Kenyans flee to Uganda ahead of the vote!”.

Today as the Kenyans went to vote there was a lot of uncertainty. The morning started off with sad news; men with machetes attacked and killed four police officers in the coastal town of Mombasa.

Kenyan citizens are using social media to tweet and retweet instant updates as the polls take course to keep the rest of the world updated. This morning I added my own voice to the millions of tweets to wish my Kenyan friends peace.

This is the major reason why some people urge that citizen journalism is killing traditional journalism. But the way new media works is it gives anyone freedom to take control of it and share their opinion fast and wide.

Media reports about the election process in Kenya can easily influence people’s reaction or even mislead them. I know that the media has the right to operate freely but it must operate in an ethical way. Understanding and respecting the aspect of culture is very important and it helps NOT to speak too fast.

Foreign media houses such as CNN have a record of making their stories “sexy” for their international audience. One of their stories in 2012 angered Kenyans when CNN interpreted grenade attacks in Nairobi as “Violence in Kenya”. Thanks to social media the Kenyans quickly hit back at CNN forcing CNN to take the story down and immediately apologize.

Ni Si Si got me thinking deeply about the people of Kenya, my friends who live and work there. It also got me thinking about what peace in Kenya means to countries like Uganda and Rwanda that depend on Kenya’s Mombasa port for most of their consignments.  In 2007 Uganda suffered the biggest fuel shortage ever. Fuel prices skyrocketed in a matter of hours and in a couple of days the transportation system was almost crippled.

My tweet of the day came from Calestous Juma ‏@calestous  “BREAKING NEWS: Foreign reporters clash in #Kenya amid growing scarcity of bad news. #kenyadecides

I believe that from the civic education campaigns Kenyans have learnt how to handle and validate information. One thing true, Kenyans have learnt how to use social media to tell their own stories. No wonder Nairobi is one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the world.

For now we do not know what will come out of the elections but we know that the election process has been by far too good. And I can tell you this because I know that in Uganda it doesn’t get better than this either.

I hope that the process ends peacefully and that the people of Kenya continue to stand together and pray for peace for their great nation.

Question remains, has the media learnt a lesson from the previous events?

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