Journalists gathered in Nairobi’s Sarova Stanley Hotel as Kenya’s largest mobile phone company, Safaricom, hosted a press conference for Sisi ni Amani to launch their partnership and highlight Safaricom’s donation of 50 million free text messages to SNA-K’s election activities. Also in attendance were election observers, NGOs, and executives from every major government institution in Kenya working to ensure peaceful elections on March 4th.
Opening the conference, Sisi ni Amani CEO Rachel Brown asked the audience the same question she asked herself before she started SNA-K. “If mobile phones can be a weapon for violence, why can’t we instead make them a medium for peace?” Rachel has worked tirelessly to help make mobile phones in Kenya a consistent and direct influence for peace since she started the organization in 2010.
Safaricom’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Nzioka Waita, stood up and told the group his story of the grief he and his colleagues felt when people told him, “Your network is being used to facilitate chaos. Your network is being used for political misinformation.” Those words resonated with Waita and his colleagues, so when Rachel came into his office in 2010 with a big idea, Waita’s boss told him “jump on it as quickly as you can. Does somebody have to remind you of what happened [in 2008]?” It’s in this spirit that the partnership became a reality, and to date Safaricom has helped build SNA-K’s platform, provided the software, and formed an advisory committee dedicated to helping SNA-K format its messages on top of their 50 million SMS donation. Waita called the donation an “extremely important milestone, not only for Safaricom, but for lovers of peace.”
Ahmed Biko, representing the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management, discussed NSC’s efforts to monitor conflict across the country as tensions heighten and Kenyans head to the polls. Biko gave an inclusive presentation on various hot spots around the country and the specific issues within each community. SNA-K enjoys a strong partnership with the NSC, and apart from its election activities, works to complement NSC’s efforts to address core causes of conflict. After the election, SNA-K foresees further cooperation between the two organizations, continuing to use mobile messaging to educate communities on contentious subjects and respond to acts of violence.
Kenya Police Spokesman Charles Owino spoke about the massive task ahead for his officers: keeping Kenyan’s safe on March 4th. The Police have identified hot spots in every one of Kenya’s 47 counties, and they will have to call in Park Police and Kenyan Defense Forces to cover the massive responsibility. Owino said the Police are proud to support SNA-K, especially because of the major reach mobile phones have. The police and SNA-K will be working hand in hand on Election Day to ensure there is an immediate response to any acts of violence that pop up.
Speaking on the rapid spread of hate speech, Chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Mzalendo Kibunjia, told the audience “We must…be alive to the fact that technology can work against us when misused.” The NCIC already identified several examples of hate speech in the current campaigns, but with SNA-K using those same phones to promote peace and unity, there’s a much better chance that hate speech will not escalate like it did before.
The final speaker, Director of Civic Education and Partnerships at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Joel Mabonga, spoke of the large task ahead for the IEBC: conducting civic education with a brand new constitution and overseeing the first post-violence election. Like Mr. Waita, he told the story of how a young woman came in to see him with a big idea.
He pointed her in the right direction and during the by-election in Kamukunji, marked with delays and confusion, she showed how mobile messaging could help keep the peace by giving people the facts and promoting peaceful means to settle disputes. The IEBC asked if she could go national and partner with the IEBC to assist with their civic education campaign, but SNA-K didn’t yet have the capacity. Now, with Safaricom’s support and the support of many others, SNA-K is poised to help the IEBC and other institutions ensure Kenyans across the country vote peacefully in their first elections since violence claimed over 1,000 mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, burning homes and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
As a final touch, two Sisi ni Amani team members, Sammy and Mary, went up on stage to give a brief presentation on how the subscription process works, and how SNA-K is able to target its messages based on age, gender and location.
After the speakers were finished, Safaricom aired a video it made about Sisi ni Amani specifically for the launch. The video showcases specific examples of SNA-K’s work, complete with testimony from both perpetrators and peace ambassadors.
This conference served as a great testament to the idea of Sisi ni Amani and the promise it has to ensure Kenya remains peaceful on March 4th and beyond. Safaricom’s Senior Manager for Digital Inclusion, Paul Mugambi, noted that his company is always looking for ways to have a socially positive impact. “Promoting peace,” he said, “is Safaricom’s number one obligation with the upcoming election.” Safaricom’s access to the largest method of communication in the nation makes this partnership with Sisi ni Amani the perfect tool to fulfill that promise. With the full support of Kenya’s largest mobile network, and with the full support of the Kenyan government, Sisi ni Amani is in full swing, poised to make a big impact in the March 4th elections.