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Role of telecoms in promoting peaceful polls

By By Bob Collymore | November 24th 2012

By Bob Collymore

In about three months, Kenya will be going to the polls; an election that by any definition stands as a true test of the lessons Kenyans learned from the unfortunate events that occurred after the 2007 General Election. This election is not only critical in terms of its significance to the future of Kenya, but also in gauging the maturity of politicians and the electorate in light of the new Constitution.

As a country, we must ensure that all systems are in place for a smooth, free and fair election. It is worth noting that elections will come and go, and Kenyans must realise that their country is bigger than political processes. Rather than focus on politics, legislators and citizens must turn their focus towards development. Elections should not be used as an opportunity to measure numerical strengths pitting ethnic communities against each other, but as an opportunity to choose leaders whose ideals resonate with the development goals of this country.

In the last decade alone, Kenya has made significant gains in development, fashioning itself as eastern Africa’s investment destination of choice and grabbing the world’s attention for its innovations in sectors led by ICT. In a country where access to mobile phones is among the highest on the continent (penetration as of October stood at 74 per cent) and financial services are increasingly being driven by use of mobile money technology, the importance of the mobile phone cannot be understated.

Just like in any other sector, the telecommunications sector has become an important part in the electoral process. And while the developments made in the sector have changed the game for those aspiring to political office, the mobile phone remains a blessing and a curse to the electorate. The mobile phone is undeniably a very handy gadget. But it can either be employed to achieve positive ends, or abused with devastating repercussions.

During this electioneering period, leaders and aspirants will want to reach the populace through mobile communication in addition to their use of broadcast and digital media. Kenyans will also take their political discussions to the mobile phones, to communicate their views be they peaceful or divisive.

Monitoring communications of close to 30 million mobile phone subscribers is no easy task. However I support the Communications Commission of Kenya’s (CCK) effort to control the kind of messages propagated by politicians and their supporters. By doing this CCK is sending out an early warning that it will not tolerate the spread of hate messages, especially during this fragile period.

CCK has made it clear for instance that bulk political messages must be submitted for vetting 48 hours before being distributed, and that approved messages can only be shared between 8am and 6pm. Not only that, they can only be sent to those who subscribe to the ‘group texts.’

As a leading player in the industry, Safaricom welcomes this development as it is crucial to ensuring that telecommunications services are not abused to disseminate hate messages. I believe that we as the telecommunications sector have a very significant role to play in ensuring that this election is as peaceful as the American election we witnessed recently.

As a society, we all have a responsibility to ensure peaceful elections. We must guard against elements within us hell bent on disrupting the peace and tranquility that Kenya has been known for, because economic development can only thrive in an environment of peace and stability.

We believe communication should be used to create a cohesive, development-oriented society as opposed to being relegated to a tool for propaganda, ethnic bigotry and political intolerance across the country. This is what the CCK has set out to do and as industry operators, we must support these efforts.


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