Mobile Phones, the Internet and Kenya's 2007-08 Presidential Election Crisis

Yesterday, Harvard's Berkman Center published a case study I co-authored with Kenyan technologist and activist Juliana Rotich. The case, entitled "The Role of Digital Technology in Kenya's 2007-08 Presidential Election Crisis," is part of Harvard's Berkman Center Working Paper Series.


Written largely through the lens of rich nations, scholars have developed theories about how digital technology affects democracy. However, largely due to a paucity of evidence, these theories have excluded the experience of Sub-Saharan Africa, where meaningful access to digital tools is only beginning to emerge, but where the struggles between failed state and functioning democracy are profound. Using the lens of the 2007-2008 Kenyan Presidential Election Crisis, this case study illustrates how digitally networked technologies, specifically mobile phones and the Internet, were a catalyst to both predatory behavior such as ethnic-based mob violence and to civic behaviors such as citizen journalism and human rights campaigns. The paper concludes with the notion that while digital tools can help promote transparency and keep perpetrators from facing impunity, they can also increase the ease of promoting hate speech and ethnic divisions.



  • [I posted the below as a comment to a blog post on Kabissa about this article - and was encouraged to also share it here. Not a huge insight but perhaps useful. Thanks for addressing this important topic!]

    I woke up to this announcement in my inbox, forwarded through the incom (see mailing list, and was just about to post it on Kabissa where I saw that you had already posted it! I think this is an important topic that all of us interested in ICT in Africa should be paying attention to, and I'm glad the Berkman center has published this report.

    I question the phrase in the blurb you quoted about "meaningful access to digital tools only beginning to emerge" - that's simply not true. People and organisations have been using ICT meaningfully in Africa for decades. But it is true that, thanks to the spread of mobile telephony and the social web, more people than ever are using ICT on the popular level - everyday wananchi on the street - and this is causing exciting new things to happen. We definitely saw this in Kenya in January and it was exhilarating - and not a little scary - beyond belief.

    This is a different ballgame altogether from the way organisations use the Internet traditionally as an enhanced fax machine, research tool and online brochure for promoting their own work to potential donors, partners and other stakeholders around the world.

    Would welcome more reactions from others - what are the lessons from Kenya?



    By Blogger Tobias Eigen, at 9:57 AM  

  • Tobias:

    Thanks for the comment and for your good work. Point taken.

    By 'only emerging' I meant exactly what you say: that there will be interesting and new difference that result from mobiles and the Internet being a tool not just for the elite, but for wananchi as well.

    As I wrote in the paper, I don't think the current scholarship really takes into account these changes in the African context, and both the positive and negative side effects. Thanks for your continued good work, I follow your site closely


    By Blogger Joshua, at 3:00 PM  

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