John Hoffmire: Kenya, violence and mobile technology

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 6:35 a.m. MDT

Opportunities for Kenyans to peacefully engage in the political process have been less well-organized in the recent past. But since 2012, and by means of cellphones, SNA-K has informed citizens and gathered many people to attend more than 14 local political debates. Throughout various cities, they have enabled communities to engage in dialogue over what policies and issues citizens wish to discuss.

Brown and her company also provide groups with digital toolkits for free download. These toolkits instruct local groups on how to organize their own civic meetings or political debates.

SNA-K has established civic engagement programs in more than 14 major areas in Kenya and has been seen as a major reason for safer and more peaceful elections in 2013, Kenya’s presidential polling year. SNA-K is now recognized in Kenya as a trusted source of political information, and its method of sending SMS messages provides Kenyans with immediate and effective political information.

As SNA-K has grown in influence, it hopes to use cellphone technology to not only combat, but soon dwarf the negative and corrupt uses of this technology. Brown says, “If mobile phones can be a weapon for violence, why can’t we instead make them a medium for peace?” Pierskall and Hollenbach also express their belief that soon cellphones will be used predominantly as a power for good among communities throughout Africa.

After conducting their research they conclude, “We do not believe that the spread of cellphone technology has an overall negative effect on the African continent. The increase in violence induced by better communication might represent a short-term technological shock, while the positive effects of better communication … on growth and political behavior may mitigate root causes of conflict in the long run.”

John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford.

Tom Steele will finish his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and graduate with honors in April 2014.

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