Media plays its part in peaceful Kenyan elections

Radio has played a big part in Kenya’s peaceful election result, reports Steve Ahern from Nairobi.


Kenya’s new president Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in peacefully this week, putting to rest fears of post-election violence similar to what took place after the 2007 election.

On Kenyatta Avenue, the main street of of Nairobi (pictured below), citizens are generally happy with the election result, confident that the poll was honest, and relieved that all sides of politics have accepted the will of the people. 




After Kenya’s last election, the losing side whipped up a wave of violence that saw more than a thousand people killed after the result was announced. This time around, the nation learnt lessons from the previous poll and put policies in place during the campaign to ensure a peaceful transition, whatever the result. These messages of peace and the rule of law were communicated through media.

In the lead up to this election, the media, particularly radio, was a key player for peace. Kenya has dramatically increased the number of radio stations on air in the past decade and all these stations, both government and commercial broadcasters, communicated messages of tolerance and the importance of following the proper legal processes.

Media were trained to avoid ‘hate-speech’ and to concentrate on policies. In a country that is characterised by tribal ethnic divisions, this was particularly important. Media communicated the message that voters should make decisions in the best interests of their country, not for ‘my team’ to win at all costs.

There was some criticism of the ‘sanitised’ media coverage, with critics saying the election was too tame, but given the alternative, the policy seems to have been a success. Various international media training agencies played their part in educating journalists how to ask the hard questions without provoking sectarian violence and hate speech which were prevalent in the last election result.

The success wasn’t all due to media. Churches also played a big part in this deeply religious nation, with messages of tolerance and peace being preached from pulpits. The country has also adopted a constitution which enshrines the rights of the people to have strong control oner their politicians.

A carrot and stick approach was also employed. The carrot for successful elections was peace and further economic prosperity. The stick was that any politician promoting violence would be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for punishment.

It is a good week to be in Kenya. People are happy with the election result and are keen to continue the march to economic and social prosperity that began under the previous president. They also have confidence that the result is ‘honest’ and that they have chosen a president who is not a puppet of any foreign government, but one who will try to act in the best interests of his people.

International commentators such as the Brookings Institute and election observers such as UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon  have hailed the peaceful transition of power as a victory for all Kenyans.

If you are not aware of Kenyan politics, here is a potted recent history that may help to understand the importance of this week’s result.

Kenya was a British colony that achieved independence in 1963. The ‘father of the nation’ Jomo Kenyatta, formed the first elected government and ruled for more than a a decade in the interests of the people.

The next president, Daniel Moi, was vice president to Kenyatta and inherited the presidency after the founding father’s death in 1978. Initially a democratic president, Moi held on to power long past his democratic term and, after a failed military coup in 1982, became a dictator who enforced his rule with torture and oppression of any opposition voices. He held power until 2002 when elections, protests and international pressure finally led to his defeat.

Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 election and is considered to be a democrat who acted in the best interests of the Kenyan people. During his two political terms the country regained pride and reinstated law and order. The streets of Nairobi and clean and safe thanks to Kibaki and an increasingly educated populace who supported his forward thinking policies.

In Africa it is common for presidents to over stay their official term of office, eventually becoming undemocratic dictators. The Kenyan constitution decrees that presidents can only stay for ten year (2 electoral terms of office), and Kibaki adhered to the rule this year by stepping down from office and calling elections.

This week’s newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president. His origin in Kenya’s Kikuyu ethnic group has played a key role in his political life. His name, Uhuru, is a Swahili word for “freedom.” This week he has taken up the legacy of his father and the hopes of the nation now ride on him to continue Kenya’s prosperity and its adherence to the principles of democracy.



 Steve Ahern