#DigitalActivism: a study of socio-political movements in Kenya

Mwaura, Job
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Kenya is regarded as one of the technological hubs in Africa, and the increased use of internet technologies have become part of the everyday life of most citizens, especially in urban areas. Internet technologies have become essential in political participation in Kenya, particularly among the marginalised communities such as the youth and women. This research explores the place of social media in socio-political movements, the dynamics of protests and the socio-political issues that shape socio-political movements. Empirical research on digital activism in Kenyan context is scarce and the few studies that exist which explore social media as a tool for political change are not based on empirical evidence and they offer less understanding on the dynamics of political led and grassroots-led protests in Kenya and the role different media play in the outcome of the protests. This research study aims to fill this gap. This research draws inspiration from the theories of social movements such as Castell’s network theory, resource mobilisation theory, and the theory of collective identity and collective action. This research adopts a qualitative research design and a multiple case study research approach. Three socio-political movements (also referred to as forms of digital activisms in this study) that happened in Kenya between 2013 and 2016 were selected to study the phenomenon. These included two grassroots movements -#OccupyParliament and #OccupyPlayground and one political led movement #IEBCMustGo. This research analysed both the actors and the contents of the protest. Firstly, interviews were conducted with individuals who shaped or took part in those movements, as well as with individuals who were touched by them, as targets or active observers from the civil society organisations, the media, religious leaders, and politicians. Secondly, this research analysed the content of the three movements from social media sites, blogs, and newspaper articles. The use of these sources of data made it possible to understand the dynamics of protests in digital activism in grassroots-led and political led protests. The findings of this research indicated that, firstly, there had been a trajectory of using the media for activism since the pre-independence period in Kenya. Using the media for activism in the pre-independence and post-independence eras have continuously been shaped by various political environments and leadership –from a more restricted media environment in the colonial period to a free media in the current post-independence era. Although the current political environment has allowed grassroots and political led activism to thrive, government restrictions still exist during socio-political movements. Secondly, the findings indicated that grassroots-led protests and politically led protests use various media differently for activism, mostly due to the existing socio-political factors. Thirdly, the findings of this research indicated that offline activities during protest such as street protests, meetings, and court processes and which are complemented by online protests are all critical in realising socio-political change. This applies to both grassroots and political led protests
A dissertation submitted to the Department of Media Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2021