Online Communities: The new frontier for presidential contest in Kenya
Raila Odinga’s launch of his website on Wednesday was perhaps the latest statement from politicians that the new online community cannot be ignored any longer. He has even dedicated a weekly session of livestream where he will be answering questions on Talk 2 Raila, a social media platform he intends to use to carry out this interaction.
So, the question arises as to why it is so important for presidential aspirants to start their own websites aside from their public pretext of connecting with the electorate. From my own assessment and experience in this field, I will identify a few of the prompting reasons using Raila Odinga’s website launch as a benchmark.
Let me also point out categorically, that I am not favoring him as such but the reason I am using his launch is mostly because he was the last among the serious presidential candidates to launch his website. He therefore automatically becomes the best subject since his move comes off as a contingency measure more than necessity.
The first and most potent reason is because in the internet phenomenon that is social networking, there are many impersonators who create profiles of presidential candidates with their names, regular updates of activities and pictures. They do this for varied reasons ranging from fanaticism to sabotage.
For instance, presidential contender William Ruto has at least three different profiles on facebook (WilliamSamoeiRuto with 83, 525 likes, WilliamRuto with1, 644 friends and Friendsofhonwilliamruto with 5, 118 likes.), making it impossible for new followers to recognize the legitimate platform.
The story is replicated for Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and the rest. Peter Kenneth for instance had a serious brush with these impersonators since one of them went to the extent of making serious allegations on his behalf on facebook. Here is part of what he posted in a recent facebook post:
“I’ve just learnt that an impostor has created a Facebook account with my name and image through which they claim that I’ll be seeking the position of governor for Murang’a County alongside the Presidency… I have already set in motion the necessary procedures including legal action to ensure that this impostor doesn’t continue spreading these malicious falsehoods,” said Peter Kenneth on his wall.
Raila Odinga too has more than one facebook profile and it is next to impossible to independently verify which ones are impersonators and which of them is his real identity. This is without doubt one of the major reasons Presidential candidates cannot ignore creating their own campaign websites complete with social media plugins which link to their legitimate accounts.
The second probable reason Raila chose to launch his website now is because other presidential contenders were quickly consolidating a huge following on their individual social websites. Most of them have more than 50, 000 likes on Facebook for instance, while Raila’s website has around 15, 711 likes. All in all, the most important thing was for him to catch up sooner rather than later.
The third and final reason is the obvious need to weigh his potency for the presidency by offering his manifestos for interrogation in the online community and as a source of information for offline debate. His rivals like Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and Musalia Mudavadi had already outlined their specific goals for their governments and how they could be achieved.
Peter Kenneth for instance responds to individual comments concerning his policies on his website while Uhuru Kenyatta offers a different solution where he presents a form for people to fill outlining their most pressing needs in what he calls the people’s manifesto which will come out of that process.
Talk 2 Raila is his innovation to match the competition in what is becoming a need for personalized communication between presidential candidates and individual voters. This might also be the reason why Raila changed his website from railaforpresident2012.com to Raila-Odinga.com. Ultimately, his launch might after all not be an invention per se but more of a reinvention to cope with the competition. Otherwise, he would have waited for the official launch of his campaigns to also launch his website.