As Kenyans gear up for the presidential elections in less than 90 days, technology is proving to be a friend and foe to the many politicians embroiled in political musical chairs by changing alliances faster than ordinary Kenyans can comprehend.
It started with establishing a presence online for the presidential contenders. Indeed many were caught flat footed when statistics available on Social Bakers website revealed that Kenya has more than 2 million registered users on Facebook alone. Many Kenyans are now using the internet for entertainment as well as for alternative news and information.
The race thus began and many presidential contenders started opening Facebook and Twitter accounts, with no strategy or understanding of how to effectively use new media.
The Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in collaboration with the Registrar of Political parties published lists of party members registered in each political party on the IEBC website complete with a page where Kenyans could query the database of registered members for each political party.
It has now emerged that many political parties stole National Identification details of unsuspecting Kenyans and went ahead to register them as their party members. This was in a bid for them to meet the mandatory number of registered members per county before the given deadline.
News of this fraud broke on Twitter on Thursday 3 January, 2013 when Larry Madowo, a journalist working with one of Kenya’s leading media houses Nation Media Group tweeted that he had been illegally registered as a party member. Larry, a victim of this fraud by The National Alliance Party (TNA) whose presidential candidate is the son of Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta confronted Uhuru Kenyatta on Twitter seeking an explanation.
@LarryMadowo: I've never joined any party yet @TNAParty STOLE my details & ILLEGALLY registered me to their party. Disgusting cheats! pic.twitter.com/AK1ybcdp
@LarryMadowo: Dear @UKenyatta, how am I registered member of your party when I never did so? Is that the integrity we should expect from your presidency?
@LarryMadowo: Enter your ID number here http://iebc.or.ke/rpp/ to check if any party (I'm looking at you @TNAParty) has registered you fraudulently
A Twitter hashtag #FakePartyMembersKe was quickly created as it emerged that Larry was not the only victim. Many more Kenyans online proceeded to the IEBC link to verify if they have been registered under any party without their consent with those who had fallen victim revealing details of the parties that had registered them fraudulently.
@WandiriK: #FakePartyMembersKE my passport number and Id number have not been registered to any party. I advice you check both.
In a bid to respond to the allegations that the TNA party had engaged in fraud while registering its party members, the party's chairman Sakaja Johnson responded on Twitter with the following comments:
@SakajaJohnson: @KumekuchaPhil This is a useless ploy by parties that have not been able to capture the imagination of Kenyans. #fakepartymemberske
The Chairman then proceeded to accuse the electoral body of being behind the fraud. It has emerged that other political parties have been involved as well but none of the other parties have made any comment.
@SakajaJohnson: @LarryMadowo why don't you ask the @iebcpage how many ways one can get registered into a party. It is a system that is open to many
The story was picked up by Kenya's media houses and now it has boiled down to the TNA party trading accusations with IEBC over the stability and security of the software that was used in the membership registration exercise. This is despite the electoral body revealing that each party was provided with unique logon details and that data can only be input by the party officials. The IEBC went on to reveal that it had obtained details of IP addresses in cases where fake members were registered. The matter is yet to be resolved as the IEBC has not confirmed how it will deal with the parties.
Kenyans have been vigorously engaging political aspirants online especially through Twitter seeking to know their stand on issues affecting constituencies the politicians are vying for.
@RailaOdinga Happy new year bwana PM. What is your specific plan for the public transport system … will you kill matatus?
Online media will most definitely play a huge part in informing many Kenyans and allowing them to challenge politicians in ways that have never been seen before. The onus is now on the electoral body to answer the Kenyan voter, who more informed than ever before and is demanding answers.