Mobilising Through Messaging: Democracy and the Digital Space in Kenya
ASAUK 2017 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture delivered by Dr Duncan Mainye Omanga, Moi University, Kenya
Date & Time: 19:00, Monday 23 October 2017
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London
The growth and penetration of the internet in Africa, coupled with the popularity and ubiquity of the mobile phone have positioned social media platforms as the new spaces through which Africans organize and imagine both political discourse and action.
This lecture highlights the role of WhatsApp groups in Kenya’s Nakuru County in convening citizens for political deliberation and civic action in County government affairs. In the context of political and economic devolution in Kenya following the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010, this lecture shows how social media plays a critical role in localizing both formal and informal political discourse and action.
The presentation narrows focus to (possibly) one of the most organized WhatsApp groups in Kenya, ‘the Nakuru Analysts’. The analysts, as they are popularly known, have used the affordances of WhatsApp such as the ability to carry text, picture and video at very low costs, and the possibility of the platform to convene groups for ‘talk’, to emerge as one of the most notable spaces for deliberation, agitation and for mobilizing for social, legislative and political action in the city of Nakuru.
Specifically, I historicize how The Nakuru analysts came into being, highlighting the specific contingencies that made it possible for ‘The analysts’ to become what they are today. Furthermore, the lecture offers an empirical insight into how WhatsApp groups are organized and the many ways through which they articulate their agenda.
In doing so, I will show why the Nakuru Analysts have emerged as the most effective ‘check’ of the County government and why they have succeeded in ‘modulating’ Nakuru County politics. The lecture will also reveal the various digital roles taken by the ‘administrators’ and selected participants of these platforms, and how these positions shape grassroots politics in Nakuru. More important, I will highlight the real and perceived achievements of the analysts, thereby giving insights into how members draw from this critical digital space to set the local political agendas.
Duncan Omanga is currently the Head, Department of Publishing and Media Studies, Moi University (Kenya). He is an alumnus of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of Graduate Studies (BIGSAS) at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany. Dr. Omanga is also a 2014 APN (Africa Peace Network-SSRC) alumni and was the 2015/6 African Visiting Fellow (Centre for African Studies) at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Omanga is the nominee for the 2017 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture (ASAUK).The lecture is based on his current research on ‘Social Media and public Participation in Kenya.’ He is a columnist with The Standard, a Kenyan daily.
This event is free and open to all. Please register on Eventbrite.