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Kenya's Presidential Debate Ends on TV, Continues on Twitter

With only three weeks until the country's presidential elections, technology continues to shake up the electoral landscape in Kenya, changing how Kenyans engage with the many candidates grappling for their vote.

On February 11, 2013, millions watched and listened to the eight presidential candidates duke it out for nearly four hours during Kenya's first presidential debate. The debate generated more than 100,000 tweets under the hashtag #KeDebateaccording to social media strategist Philip Ogola. He estimated that the number of tweets would double if other hashtags about the election were also tracked.

Kenyans were invited to send in their questions via Twitter in the days leading up to the debate using the hashtags #Debate254 and #KeDebate13 as well as via the PresidentialDebate2013 Facebook page. In fact, the hashtag #Debate254 was tweeted so many times in the hours before the debate that it was one of the top trending topics worldwide on Twitter until news of the Pope's resignation took over the trends.

The Presidential Debate Poster

The Presidential Debate Poster

Twitter users continued to use those hashtags to comment and discuss during the debate as candidates weighed in on a range of topics, including security, education, healthcare, the mortality rate, and tribalism.

@mituriu: irony is discussing free education in a school that is the most expensive in the country… #KEDebate13

@rombokins: my take: martha karua [presidential candidate] handily won the first half. closely followed by linus kaikai [presidential candidate]. #kedebate13 #debate254

@mbuguanjihia: There is no difference btw a poor kikuyu, luo, kalenjin etc…tribe doesnt put food on your table – @MarthaKarua #Debate254 #KeDebate13

@RichardMugarura: The responses by all the candidates on National & Regional security, signal the need of a sound military background in a leader. #KEDebate13

@muthoniBM: Healthcare wasn't well addressed by any candidate..#KeDebate13

Within hours of the presidential debate, web users were already satirizing some of the candidates’ responses and creating memes. Kenyan entertainment blog Ghafla has collected some of them. 

Though a relative unknown before the debate, presidential candidate Mohammed Abuda Dida emerged as one of the most talked about candidates of the night. Dida, a 39-year-old former teacher, made waves with his punchy responses and quotes yet despite all the humour managed to ask very pertinent questions that many were afraid to ask. We sample some of his quotes which have gone on to appear in various Kenyan Blogs such as KenyanPost, NairobiWire and NairobiDigest

A teacher is like a lactating cow.

The society that chose Waititu [Ferdinand Waititu is former deputy mayor and an aspiring governor for Nairobi] over Jimnah [Jimnah Mbaru is also an aspiring governor for The City of Nairobi] is a problematic society.

I just expanded my class from 40 to a class of 40 million [Dida is a former teacher].

Its true, when Kanu [Kenya African National Union is a political party which ruled Kenya for nearly 40 years after its independence] … ate, we got the crumbs..these people
even lick the plates!

Twenty years ago, teachers were very important, but today every child has a lawyer.

We don’t dwell on the weaknesses of each one of us…I am not asking you to vote for me, vote for the best.

If your football team fails to score, you can't just change their kit and expect to score.

His responses spawned the hashtag #DidaQuotes on Twitter.

@YthesYaar: Years after being in Government we are still fighting jiggers and Learning to wash hands. #DidaQuotes

@gTownPsycho_: Its true,when Kanu ate, we got the crumbs, nowadays these ppl even lick the plates! #DidaQuotes

‏@iddsalim: Some of these politicians are devil worshipers. I am not asking you to vote for me, but vote for the best #didaQuotes

‏@blakaende1: #DidaQuotes Who brought this timetable? Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner If u want to be healthy, eat when you are hungry. @KenyaDebate2013

A second and final presidential debate is planned for February 25 just days before the March 4 elections.

The Uchaguzi logo (Image courtesy of www.uchaguzi.co.ke)

The Uchaguzi logo (Image courtesy of www.uchaguzi.co.ke)

Meanwhile, an online election monitoring and mapping platform meant to keep the upcoming elections free, fair, and transparent launched the same day as the presidential debate. Uchaguzi, a joint initiative between Ushahidi, Hivos, Creco, Umati and SODNET, will rely on citizen observations to shine sunlight on the electoral process in near-realtime, which has been marred by violence and fraud in the past.

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