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All Eyes on Kenya — and Cameras, too

This post was written by Kim Howell, Online Communication Coordinator at WITNESS. An earlier version of the post appeared on the WITNESS Video For Change blog on March 4, 2013.

A week ago today, as Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new president, two questions burned in the minds of voters and onlookers throughout the world: Who would win the election? And would election day be peaceful?

The victory of Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kenyan politician who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in planning and funding ethnic violence around national elections in 2007, has generated much controversy that will unquestionably persist as Raila Odinga, his primary opponent, seeks to contest the vote count. But apart from a few exceptions, journalists and citizens throughout the country have reported that elections were peaceful.

Polling station, Kenya, 2007. Photo by Anthony Njenga. (CC BY 2.0)

Polling station in Kenya, 2007. Photo by Anthony Njenga. (CC BY 2.0)

Credit for this shift belongs in great part to citizens across the country, who mobilized to support peace. Among them are 120 human rights activists and citizen journalists who participated in WITNESS video trainings in February (read about what they learned). Several of them recently shared their thoughts, outlining their hopes and fears for the election, explaining what motivated them to learn how to film, and sharing filming tips they thought would be useful to others.

Training participants were well-prepared to use video to document the election, and to advocate for peace afterwards. They all felt that knowing how to film was critical. As Agatha Gichuki pointed out, videos “can give witness, evidence, and can also bring change where need be.” Amina Hamisi had already used these lessons before the election, filming campaign rallies, speeches, and mock elections in Mombasa. Leyla Dahir noted that she “used the skills acquired by talking to [her] friends about video advocacy and telling them of its importance during this election and how it can be used [as] evidence.”

Photo by Michael Kanyi, published with photographer's permission.

Participants in WITNESS’ Kenya training practice filming. Photo by Michael Kanyi, published with photographer's permission.

In the words of Anastasia Nabukenyaost, activists need “basic tips and techniques in developing human rights evidence.” This will “ensure effective video advocacy and documentation that will have an impact, pass the message, and achieve its goals.”

The most popular lessons centered on filming for human rights documentation and evidence. Leyla Dahir believes that these trainings “will help curb the problems faced in 2007/2008 post-election violence, as many perpetrators went unpunished due to lack of evidence.” Click here to learn how to film for human rights documentation and evidence [sw].

Along those lines, Kelvin Obalu touched on InformaCam, WITNESS’s new Android app, which embeds metadata to increase a video’s verifiability and its likelihood to stand as legal evidence. Participants also appreciated learning to film with few resources—some worked only with cell phones. Leyla Dahir pointed out that,

it might be challenging for me to shoot a video due to lack of equipment, but where an opportunity arises I’ll use my phone wherever there is violence or [if] I see someone taking bribes or campaigning on election day, as that is an offense.

Click here to learn how to film with a cell phone here [sw].

Agatha Gichuki and Yvonne Godia most appreciated learning how to “obtain informed consent and concealing of identity where need be.” WITNESS has posted guides on how to interview someone while maintaining their anonymity [sw] and ensure informed consent [sw].

Amina Bakari Hamisi particularly appreciated learning “different types of shots and their interpretations, reasons for using them, and how it makes…for better understanding.” This brief video describes the effects of different types of shots.

Leyla Dahir summed up the purpose of these lessons, saying that

We learnt about the video advocacy methodology and the filming technique…because in today’s technological world, anyone can learn about video shooting, but without you would not be in a position to get across your message.

Participants armed themselves with this knowledge to plan for the worst-case scenario, and some of their fears were prescient. Amina Hamisi’s greatest fear was the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which is allegedly responsible for the worst incident of election-related violence so far: an ambush of Kenyan security forces by armed militants. Kelvin Obalu and others feared a “costly” and “unsettling” run-off election. If Raila Odinga's challenge against the results holds water, Kenya will indeed head to a run-off election in April.

All participants reiterated hopes for “free, fair, and smooth general elections”  (Amina Hamisi), and that “Kenyans come out in large numbers to vote wisely [and] maintain peace” (Yvonne Godia). Isolated flare-ups notwithstanding, these hopes appear to have come true.

These activists had opinions about which candidate they supported, but they were also willing to question their own assumptions in a way that bodes very well for the country’s democracy. Sharon Adongo wondered,

How can one be said to be unbiased in their videos? I mean, obviously I’m human and support a candidate, so how should I ensure that I do not just cover one story but also the other person’s?

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