The 2017 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture
Dr. DUNCAN MAINYE OMANGA
Moi university, Kenya
Social Media and Democracy in Africa: ‘The Nakuru Analysts’ WhatsApp group and the Evolution of Participation in County Governance in Kenya”
This took place on Monday 23 October, 2017 in Khalili Lecture theatre, SOAS. Univ of London
Find the audio recording of the talk here: https://www.mixcloud.com/royafrisoc/asauk-2017-mobilising-through-messaging-democracy-and-the-digital-space-in-kenya/
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.