A coalition of more than 280 organisations from 105 countries has written to President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya to guarantee that there will be no interference with the internet during the general elections.
The election on 9 August will seek to decide the country’s fifth president. Kenyatta, 60, has chosen to rally behind political journeyman Raila Amolo Odinga, 77, from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Odinga is Kenyatta’s chosen successor ahead of his deputy, William Ruto, from the ruling United Democratic Party.
Due to the high-stakes election and historical experiences, calls have been made for “communication channels [to] remain free, open, secure, inclusive and accessible before, during, and after the general election”.
“As the people of Kenya prepare to vote for their representatives across the country’s 290 constituencies and 47 counties, it is essential that your government adopts and prioritise[s] measures to ensure that the election process is inclusive, free, and fair by providing everyone with unfettered access to information and avenues for free expression, assembly, and association – both offline and online,” the group said in an address to Kenyatta.
Kenya’s August 2017 elections were marred by violence, including killings and beatings by police during protests and house-to-house operations in the country’s western regions.
At the time, Human Rights Watch said that at least 12 people were killed and more than 100 badly injured in one incident.
On 11 August 2017, following the announcement of Kenyatta’s election victory, opposition supporters of Odinga protested by chanting “Uhuru (Kenyatta) must go” in Nairobi, Coast Province, and the western counties of Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, and Homa Bay.
Police responded with excessive force in many areas, shooting and beating protesters in Nairobi and western Kenya, carrying out abusive house-to-house operations, and interfering with the internet.
The organisations have warned against a repeat of 2017.
“For example, during the 2007 elections, authorities gave themselves control over the flow of information by imposing a ban on live broadcasts, leading some broadcasters to suspend news coverage of the disputed elections.
“Again, following the highly contested 2017 general election, the government implemented a seven-day shutdown of most major television outlets, impeding the opposition’s plans to carry out a parallel presidential swearing-in ceremony. Also, the government ignored court orders to restore the affected media stations, claiming the blocking was necessary to facilitate investigations into subverting and overthrowing the lawfully elected government,” they said.
In a recent report on the internet as a factor in the Kenyan elections, the Mozilla Foundation said TikTok had turned “from dance [application] to political mercenary”, which has fuelled political tensions.
The report stated that while Twitter and Facebook had been monitored, politically inclined users on TikTok were operating largely unscrutinised.
“TikTok has largely gone under-scrutinised – despite hosting some of the most dramatic disinformation campaigns. Indeed, research by Mozilla fellow Odanga Madung reveals that the disinformation being spread on TikTok violates the platform’s very own policies.
“This disinformation is similar in tone and quality to the Cambridge Analytica and Harris Media content that spread on Kenyan Facebook in 2017,” the Mozilla Foundation report read.
The research found that “TikTok is acting as more than a forum for political speech – it is also a forum for fast and far-spreading political disinformation”.