The main political parties in Kenya’s repeat presidential polls scheduled for Oct. 17 have stepped up a war of publicity that is bordering on propaganda, with each coming up with messages to sway voters.
Jubilee Party headed by the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, and National Super Alliance (NASA) by Raila Odinga are leaving nothing to chance, especially on social media where millions of young voters spend plenty of their time.
With over half of 48 million East African nation’s population comprising of the youth, who are the main voters and most likely to be Internet users, social media provides the perfect platform for the publicity war.
According to estimates by Social Bakers, Kenya has about 7 million social media users both on Facebook and Twitter, the Majority of whom are aged between 18 and 34, with 64 percent being male and 36 percent female.
In addition, internet penetration mainly through the mobile phone stands at close to 25 million, according to the Communication Authority, which means therefore the publicity or propaganda spreads faster.
However, unlike in the past elections, fake news and disinformation were among the methods being used in the ongoing online war in the East African nation.
A fake statement appeared Wednesday on social media alleging that “NASA co-principal Musalia Mudavadi resigns from the coalition.”
NASA supporters countered it by posting pictures of Mudavadi, a key figure in the coalition, attending a meeting with his partners in the coalition Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula.
The message was later reinforced by Mudavadi himself who wrote, “Signs of a desperate party. Treat this with the contempt it deserves.”
A day earlier, NASA had had their time by unleashing a fake memo allegedly from Jubilee Party’s Secretary General calling on Kenyatta’s supporters to back electoral commission chief executive Ezra Chiloba and commissioners, who are under siege for Aug. 8 polls.
No pollster has released an opinion poll in the lead up to the repeat polls, but in the Aug. 8 electioneering period, the surveys were part of political propaganda.
NASA, through a proxy, released an opinion poll showing Odinga would win the election by 54 percent of the votes. Similarly, Jubilee released its own poll showing Kenyatta would win by the same margin.
Analysts have labelled the ongoing propaganda war as political terrorism, noting that it has become pronounced because of the high stakes in the polls.
“Propaganda is usually part of elections but in Kenya, the parties have taken the game higher because of the stakes. Social media has made it vile and viral. The problem in Kenya is that the propaganda has the capability of igniting violence. The war would get nasty as Oct. 17 polls approach,” said Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT solutions in Nairobi.
Last week, 12 Western envoys warned against fake news and other forms of misinformation that are likely to raise political tensions and even trigger violence. Enditem