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Alternative Media and Ethnic Politics in Kenya  

Susan M. Kilonzo and Catherine Muhoma

The history of the use of alternative media in Kenya’s politics shows evidence that it was in use in 2007, when the country came into the brink of a genocide; and, prominently in use, in the recent 2022 general elections. The development of fiber optic cable, and availability of Internet connection, with expanded use of mobile telephony in the country, is a direct link to the change in political dynamics, and increased use of social media. Subsequently, the availability of alternative media has revolutionized political engagements by enhancing participatory approach while connecting marginalized populations to the political elite. The new wave of alternative media also strengthens the arguments that politics and political processes are no longer for the elite. Further, the new wave of social media can also be used to explain changes seen in the use of ethnicity as a card for mobilization as well as demobilization in political processes surrounding elections. Campaigning and canvasing is no longer bounded by geographical spaces. Ethnic coalescing is not just a physical phenomenon. Mobile telephony and the Internet, which facilitate connection to alternative media platforms allows for virtual spaces for ethnic meetings and discussions. Anyone, even in remotest areas of the country, is able to participate in political debates and forums so long as they can afford a smart phone, and/or Internet connection. The former physical political processes and engagements, especially during campaigns, elections, tallying and acceptance or rejection of results, and which were perceived to be highly sensitive given the ethnic politics that has characterized the country for several decades, are now neutralized through virtual representation of facts as well as propaganda. The vibrancy of these activities present the research arena with a rich field of vignettes from alternative media accounts in the form of Twitter, Facebook and Blogs, to exemplify how ethnic groups align to their preferred candidates, specifically the Presidential contestants. This kind of approach allows for unveiling of an era of e-democracy and e-politics, developments that were otherwise impossible a few years back. Such platform allows for an exposé of a discourse that shows that, social media platforms may be possible tools for reducing physical violence and neutralizing extreme ethnicity as seen in the surprising calmness witnessed after the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld the contested 2022 election results.