Kenya Broadcasting Corporation: “The SMS Network is a Dangerous Noise-Machine!”

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A high number of dead people are still in the [voter] register. The main reason for this being that the Department of Civil Registration is not computerized and often relies on the provincial administration (chiefs and assistant chiefs at the location and sub-location level) which often do not supply the department with information on deaths. In the media it was reported that this could be more than 1,000,000 dead people.Joint report of the EU observer mission and K-DOP on the 2002 elections (PDF)

The KNCHR is disturbed by the escalating use of SMS and email disseminating hate messages against particular candidates and other communities. The KNCHR has chosen not to publish, in this report, the numerous emails and SMS texts so as to avoid the unintended effect of further dissemination of hate speech. ––Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights report, December 2007 (PDF)

The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation announces:

The police have declared as illegal and advised members of the public not to attend a rally scheduled for Sunday in Nairobi by the ODM leaders. In a statement signed by police spokesman Eric Kiraithe the police said the conveners of the planned meeting had not followed the required procedure. The statement indicated that those attending the rally would be dealt with according to the law.

Beware alarmist SMS messages:

The police at the same time appealed to the public to beware of alarming messages being send through the short message service (SMS) to the effect that some ODM luminaries had been arrested. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua also added his comments saying the government has no intention of arresting the ODM leaders.

The SMS network, I have read, is also used to transmit results from the “constituencies” to the Elections Commission.

The allegation here is that those messages, too, got garbled in transmission, in such a way that x votes for Quimby became x+500 votes for Quimby.

There seem to be two principal SMS service providers in Kenya: Celtel Kenya and Safaricom.


Kibaki is sworn in. Source: NTV (The Nation media group, via YouTube)

In sum: The SMS network is a buzz-machine disease vector which (1) (allegedly) garbles election results and (2) (allegedly) spreads (allegedly) unsubstantiated (alleged) rumors that the guy who (allegedly) stole the election is going to throw the guy who (allegedly) won the election in jail.

Welcome to the e-democracy revolution.

Keep off the grass:

The police at the same time appealed to Kenyans to maintain peace and keep off acts of lawlessness

In the 2002 elections, K-DOPS, a domestic election observer organization, noted that, although

… the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act stipulates that KBC must give fair coverage to all political parties and their viewpoints and that it must provide free air time to all political parties contesting for the elections during the campaign period … [t]ogether with retired President Daniel arap Moi and the government, the former ruling party KANU received a total amount of 67% of [KBC]coverage.

And in this election? The EU EOM recommended trying to make KBC less of a gazillion-jigawatt megaphone in the service of a political spoils system.

They appear to have been politely ignored.

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Elections Commission of Kenya Web poll, December 30. To give you an idea of how meaningful this is as a measure of Kenyan public opinion, I myself was able to vote in the online survey. Twice. (I voted “Don’t know.” Honestly, I don’t. Disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Kenyan.)

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