NAIROBI – Politicians and political parties across Kenya have spent tens of millions on social media campaigns in recent weeks in a last effort to win over voters, as the East African country is going to the polls today.
Alongside hundreds of genuine statements and ads, fake and false online claims play a key role in the Kenyan elections.
Users across the country, but primarily in the capital Nairobi as well as the crucial Rift Valley and Central regions, have been targeted by hundreds of ads, clips, videos, statements and other online content by more than 16,000 candidates fighting for a local, regional or national seat.
All eyes are on the top job, with outgoing President Jomo Kenyatta leaving government after a decade at the helm. His most likely successors will either be current deputy president William Ruto or political veteran Raila Odinga.
Both candidates and their staunch followers are aggressively turning to the internet to reach millions of primarily young, uneducated and relatively easy-to-sway voters.
Hundreds of clips, videos, posts and pictures that circulate online make the wildest claims, with many of them containing inaccuracies, twisted facts or even false statement.
Odanga Madung, a fellow with non-profit Mozilla, conducted research into political disinformation in Kenya on TikTok, one of the country’s most popular platforms.
Madung stated TikTok is acting as “a forum for fast and far-spreading political disinformation.”
The Chinese video platform, now the most downloaded app in the country, has fed fake or tweaked news to over 4m Kenyans, he stated, as Madung called this “just the tip of the iceberg of what is on the platform.”
Kenya has more than 12 million Facebook users and in many parts of the country the platform is considered the number one source of information, particularly daily and breaking news.
Today more than 22m registered voters will be able to endorse their candidate across 46,232 polling stations across the country.
Ruto, representing the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), placed more than 535 ads on Facebook and Instagram, up to this month. The UDA Facebook page is leading the official social media campaign for Ruto,
Odinga, on the other hand, leads the so-called Azimio la Umoja coalition, running 130 ads up to last week, featuring in another 120, according to data published by the Kenyan newspaper The Standard this week.
Another high-profile candidate on Kenya’s social media networks is Nakuru governorship hopeful Susan Kihika, by far the leading politician in the country on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook data indicates Kihika’s team placed over 200 ads on the social media platform in the last 12 months, with most of them being paid for by Ms Kihika herself.
In total, Kenyan politicians have spent over 3.31m Kenyan shillings on Facebook ads, targeting Nairobi alone, between March 2021 and last month.
Over 1.23m Ksh was spent in the Rift Valley, 822,932 in Central Kenya, 738,745 in the Mombasa region called Coast and 562,919 in Eastern, according to the Standard.
Michiel Willems in Nairobi.