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kenya flagKenya presented a dynamic and important case for the study of the implications of new forms of public opinion formation through media interactivity for political participation and accountability in Africa. One common form of interactivity in Kenyan broadcasting has been basic opinion polling – which follows the advent of more serious public opinion survey polls that date back to 1993, with the opening of political space and multipartyism. As opinion polling has become increasingly mainstreamed in Kenyan electoral politics, as an evolving and controversial part of democratization process, media access has from mid 1990s broadened, especially from 2000s through private FM radio broadcasting – alongside liberalisation of the economy. The radio boom, together with increase in TV stations, came with a rise in interactive talk shows claiming to represent the ‘public opinion’. This presented a dynamic and diverse space to identify and represent public opinion in Kenya.

The March 2013 general and presidential elections offered an empirical opportunity to explore our research questions (see Project Summary). The 2007 elections raised controversies over public opinion polls and the media’s (especially talk show radio) role in post electoral violence, and the nature and scope of increased participation by citizenry in political debate through the use of new ICTs. However, what lays behind these processes has been little known, and the PiMA project was situated within a number of unanswered questions about who was taking part, and how these processes were affecting wider political accountability, governance and participation in Kenya. Kenya’s political history of challenges to equal citizenship and identity politics also made it a particularly relevant and interesting case for the study of mechanisms of accountability and political value formation processes.

Research Activities

The field research in Kenya involved a CGHR (University of Cambridge) post-doctoral Research Associate, Dr Fred Mudhai as well as Co-investigator, Professor Winnie Mitullah (University of Nairobi), Sammy Mwangi as full time Project Research Assistant and Moses Maina as part time Research Assistant. For profiles, see the Research Team page.

Going inside radio and TV stations:

To investigate how public opinion was collected and represented by African media, the Kenya research team is used ethnographic methods to investigate practices inside the media houses. This research was conducted across a diversity of broadcasters: public and private, community and national, and radio and TV, including:

  • Radio Citizen, a national private and commercial radio station established in 1999, and broadcasting in Kiswahili from the Nairobi suburb of Kilimani. Radio Citizen is one of the most listened to radio station in Kenya. The station’s philosophy is to provide shows and programmes fused with local content that appeal to the masses. Many of Radio Citizen’s shows are interactive, including the early morning show, Jambo Kenya, Chapa Kazi (let’s work), and Drive On.
  • Citizen TV, a television station commanding approximately 43% of the weekly reach of television viewership in Kenya. Citizen TV began to increasingly emphasise local content and interactivity in its programming in the mid-2000s. Popular interactive shows on Citizen TV include Power Breakfast, a morning political talk show with audience interaction through a text opinion poll, call-ins and text-ins, and Cheche, a special edition of Power Breakfast that is an in-depth political talk show focused on current affairs and issues.
  • Koch FM, a community radio station formed in 2006 by a group of Kenyans from Nairobi’s third largest slum, Korogocho. Inspired by similar projects abroad, such as Radio Favela in a Belo Horizonte slum in Brazil, the group aimed to provide a platform for the community to share information, education and debate. Resources remain a challenge; the station is mainly funded through donors, has low levels of advertising, and shares its frequency with other Nairobi-based community radio stations.
  • Radio Nam Lolwe is a private, regional, vernacular station focused on audiences within the Lake Victoria region in Western Kenya, broadcasting since 2007 from an old gated residential house in the western Kenyan city of Kisumu. Broadcasts are mainly in the local vernacular language, Luo. The station is owned by the Member of Parliament for Gem Constituency, Jakoyo Midiwo.

Audience surveys:

The Kenyan research team surveyed urban Ruaraka (Nairobi County) and rural Seme (Kisumu County, western Kenya) constituencies in May 2013 to investigate who participates in interactive radio and TV. The selected constituencies are dominated by low-income households, reflecting the project’s concern with political participation by poor and marginalised communities. A multi-stage randomised sampling method was employed at constituency, ward, enumeration area, household and individual levels. The total sample size was 760 respondents distributed in two survey sites, with 377 respondents in Seme Constituency and 383 respondents in Ruaraka Constituency.

Survey results and methodology are published as part of the PiMA Working Paper Series.