Kenyans use internet enabled phones and social media to expose vices in the society By BEDAH MENGO | Wednesday, January 4  2012 at  11:28

Increasingly cheap smartphones, such as the Huawei brand, are popular with Kenyan who are using them to tackle societal ills. PHOTO | FILE 

Riding on a motorbike on December 30 in Nairobi, Kenya, Reynolds Otiato saw a woman being mugged by two men along Uhuru highway.

Otiato stopped his bike, removed his mobile phone from his pocket and photographed the crime just before the muggers run away. After consoling the woman and advising her to report to the police, Otiato rode to the city centre as he posted the photos on his Facebook and Twitter pages, describing the place where the crime had taken place.

Soon, tens of his friends reacted to the photos with wrath asking the police to eliminate crime. "The highway is a crime spot especially around Bunyala roundabout. Criminals rob pedestrians and disappear into the graveyard. We need a police post around that area," wrote one of his Facebook friends last week.

Otiato is among Kenyans who are using their mobile phones and the social media to expose social ills in the society. The multifunctional mobile phones allow them to take photos and post them on the internet in real-time, thus stirring debate on various happenings in the society.

Kenya has registered a significant rise in the number of mobile phone and internet users with statistics from Communication Commission of Kenya showing that there are over 22 million mobile phone users.

Brisk demand

The rise in the number of mobile phone and internet subscribers in the country, which stand at over 7 million, has similarly seen demand for multi-functional handsets increase rapidly. Most of the mobile phones currently sold in Kenya have cameras and 3G internet features, which people use to access social media.

The two communication tools, mobile phones and social media platforms have therefore put power in the hands of ordinary Kenyans. "It is interesting that you can see something happening in your neighborhood, snap it and share it with the rest of the world in real-time," Otiato told Xinhua on Tuesday in an interview in Nairobi.

He recounted that while riding that morning, his mind was fixed on reaching his destination. "I had an appointment in town with a client, who I was rushing to meet. But seeing that woman being robbed made me feel that the world and city authorities should know how crime was rampant in Nairobi," he said.

Otiato recalled that the photo generated a lot of debate on social media catching the attention of authorities. "I was amazed how powerful the debate turned out with people sharing their experiences in the hands of criminals. I discovered through a post on Facebook that the woman was not the first person to be robbed that early morning, two other people had fallen prey to the muggers, but the photos enlivened the debate," he said.

Change society

The computer technician said that mobile phones, especially smart phones, can help change the Kenyan society. "Smartphones are quick and allow easy integration of various features, for instance, sharing of photos with friends on social media," said Otiato, who owns an IDEOS Android mobile phone. He noted that the phones take quality photos, which make them appropriate when snapping images to share with friends.

In the past one-year, the penetration of smart phones has increased in Kenya, with the cheapest, IDEOS, going for $95. According to manufacturers, China's Huawei, IDEOS is the best selling smart phone in the country. Since its launch about a year ago, Huawei has sold over 130,000 pieces in Kenya.

"In Kenya, we can use our mobile phones to fight social ills like crime, environmental degradation and lawlessness in the public transport sector. These are ills that are pervasive in the Kenyan society and we do not have to wait for the media to expose them because unlike the people, the media's reach is limited," he noted.

Mobile phones, according to Otiato, can be used to fight social ills in two ways. "First by taking photos and sharing them with people on social media and by calling and alerting the police or any other relevant authorities," he noted.

Share information

Gilbert Osoro, a civil servant in Nairobi said that with mobile phones, Kenyans can share incredible amount of information that can change the society in real-time.

"Mobile phones and social media put power in the hands of the people. Something happening in a certain place can be highlighted and debated as fast as possible. With social media, we longer need to wait for civil society organizations to fight for our rights," he noted.

Kenya's government in its Vision 2030 blue-print identifies communication technology as one of the ways of fighting crime and other vices in the East African nation.

"The mobile phone in Kenya has gone beyond its original purpose of making phone calls and text messages. It now serves as a bank, a computer, a radio, a television set, a tool to fight crime among other things. In a nutshell, it has penetrated every aspect of our lives," noted Kenya's Information and Communication Permanent Secretary, Bitange Ndemo, recently. (Xinhua)