Kenyans came out to vote this August during one of the most competitive elections in the country’s history. The presidential election results were contentious, with Deputy President William Ruto’s narrow victory over former Prime Minister Raila Odinga eventually confirmed by the country’s Supreme Court. Throughout the election cycle, the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media —such as statements stoking ethnic tensions, manipulated photos, and false endorsements of candidates—increased mistrust in the electoral process. To address this problem, Kenya’s civil society and media organizations, including several partners of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), developed innovative ways to verify information, help reduce tensions, and contribute to a smooth election process across the country.
“In Kenya, false information about the election is not a small problem, as the country has seen violence around elections in the past which led to bloodshed and displacement of people,” said Mary Kagunyi-Levasseur, senior manager for the Africa program at NED. “Curbing disinformation is complex and requires a coordinated multi-sectoral and stakeholder approach that includes government agencies, social media and IT platforms, civil society, media, and others. Tackling this growing trend is of utmost importance to build citizen trust in elections and democratic governance.”
To combat false information, one of the first strategies used was real time fact-checking. NED partner Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), a network of human rights, governance, and democracy civil society organizations in Kenya, ran a campaign named #uchaguzibilauongo, which means “Election without lies” in Swahili. They published videos and infographics to help voters identify misinformation, and circulated a WhatsApp number where Kenyans could share cases of disinformation and misinformation, which CRECO worked to quickly verify. When citizens were voting, CRECO ran an Elections Situation Room in partnership with other civil society organizations.
“During the party primaries, as members of civil society organizations, we monitored a lot of unverified and doctored information mainly circulated on social media with the intention to dis-inform the public and members of political parties,” said Joshua Changwony, CRECO executive director.
NED’s media partners in Kenya focused on reaching younger voters to raise awareness about credible information. Debunk Media, founded in 2020 to inform young African audiences about how issues in the news affect their daily lives, produced a series of articles explaining electoral processes and profiling candidates, as well as a video series on disinformation and misinformation. And NED grantees Pilot Media Initiatives (PMI) and Buni Media took an innovative approach to address disinformation and misinformation–satirical comedy. PMI and Buni co-produced Kenya’s dynamic weekly satirical news TV show, Too Much Information with Ty Ngachira (TMI), which pointed out the absurd in Kenya’s political campaigns and news coverage. The show’s first season was a hit, with a weekly audience of over 1.1 million, and the producers hope to raise more funding for a second season.
“Satirical comedy has a unique ability to disarm viewers through humor, prompt them to consider different points of view, and strengthen their critical thinking skills when it comes to the news and information they consume, all while reaching wide youth audiences,” said Dillon Case, PMI CEO.
As the country moves forward after the election, NED partners in Kenya will continue to combat disinformation. CRECO plans to hold a national symposium for policymakers to develop policy recommendations, including an online code of conduct. Debunk will continue to generate creative content that will reach more young people through their social media platforms.
‘‘The general environment around elections in Kenya is often times antagonistic, with misinformation, disinformation and propaganda flying around from all quarters,’’ said Isaac Otidi Amuke, Debunk Media’s print editor-in-chief. ‘‘It was therefore important to rise above the fray and reclaim the civic space for meaningful voter engagement, which went a long way in enabling Kenyans to follow and engage with political and electoral processes before, during and after the election. It is work that must continue.’’