The Tana Delta region in Kenya has seen waves of ethnic violence that has claimed
hundreds of lives. Conflict between the Pokomo, primarily subsistence farmers,
and the Orma, traditional pastoralists, is the fruit of longstanding tension and
widespread distrust between these two ethic groups. Since more than 80% of
Kenyans own and use cell phones, The Sentinel Project, a Toronto-based
organization working to prevent human atrocities, has initiated a humanitarian
communication network called Una Hakika? – Swahili for “Are You Sure?” – as a
method of preventing violence in the area.
In rural Kenya most people own mobile phones to communicate and their use has become an integral part of everyday life.
Information and misinformation has played a pivotal role in fueling the conflict
between the Orma and Pokomo. From our fieldwork in the area, we recognize that
misinformation has fostered fear, distrust, and hatred between these communities.
Such misinformation can be divided in two categories. Organic rumors arise due to
misconceptions, but without malicious intent, while disinformation is deliberately
created and circulated to achieve a specific goal, like encouraging conflict for
political reasons. For example, one rumor purports that a Pokomo health worker
tried to poison Orma children under the cover of a vaccination program, while
another stated that an outside actor had armed the Orma community with 3,000 AK-
47s to enable them to destroy the Pokomo. Widespread cell phone use increases the
speed at which these rumors spread.
The Tana River, Kenya
Tana Delta is an information-starved environment where the majority of people rely
on word of mouth to receive news. Our baseline survey has shown that most area
residents do not consider themselves well informed about events occurring in
neighbouring villages and around their county. This gap in information often leads
to harmful misinformation, especially when another ethnic group is viewed as
antagonistic. This is why we at The Sentinel Project view rumor mongering as a
significant threat in the area.
In addition to communications technology, Una Hakika will incorporate cultural elements such as the baraza (community meeting) in order to counter rumours more effectively.
The Una Hakika project aims to provide subscribers with accurate and neutral
information in response to rumors that are being spread in the area. The system
will rely on SMS (short messaging service, or text messaging) and calls, as well as
community outreach through the involvement of volunteer community
The Sentinel Project recently conducted a baseline survey in the Tana Delta area to find out what type of technology residents have access to, and what their preferred sources of information are.
Community members are able to report potentially dangerous rumors via toll-free
SMS to our shortcode. Sentinel Project team members will then check the accuracy
of the information, and report back to the subscriber with reliable information.
From there the Sentinel Project will work with key community members such as
chiefs, elders, youth leaders, and women’s representatives to devise strategies for
containing and countering false information before it does harm.
Sentinel Project team members pay their respects at a mass grave on the outskirts of the village of Kipao, within which lie the remains of 31 victims of a 2012 massacre.
As Una Hakika is put into practice and refined, we hope that it will become a
practical model for other areas around Kenya, and potentially around the region.
Latest posts by Adrian Gregorich (see all)
- Mobile Phones Used for Violence Prevention in Kenya - May 23, 2014