Kenya on the Go: Rapid Smartphone Adoption in Kenya Provides Youth with Unprecedented Self-Expression and Civic Participation

White Ribbon Alliance's Angel Katusia on digital revolution by young people on behalf of moms and babies.

I come from a country that was ranked 103 in the list of inequality out of the total 169 countries surveyed – making it the 66th most unequal country in the world. According to the 2017 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, 60 per cent of Kenyans live in poor conditions with no access to quality education and health services, while a further 23 per cent are on the borderline of poverty.

Fortunately, there’s a paradigm shift underway in Kenya. The digital revolution is disrupting ‘business as usual’ and we’re seeing a historic transformation. Rapid smartphone adoption in Kenya, and the access it provides to digital social networks, has given the youth a platform for self-expression and civic participation in ways that having a real impact on elections, governance and accountability.

The impact of internet access via mobile devices in the country has been a game changer. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya in the 2016/2017 Third Quarter Sector Statistics Report, Kenya has over 90% mobile penetration. According to Google’s Consumer Barometer, smartphone uptake in Kenya is now at an estimated 44%. This suggests that inexpensive smartphones, which are now going for as little as Kes. 3,000.00, are the dominant mobile device in Kenya –a massive shift away from the former dominant mobile device: feature phones. Additionally, Kenya has about 22 million internet users, which means almost 50% of Kenya’s population is now online. Young people are empowering themselves by self-organizing into influential youth online communities and demanding better accountability from leaders.

White Ribbon Alliance Kenya (WRA Kenya) is tapping into the social media revolution to turn the country’s health-related political commitments into sustainable results, by harnessing the strengths of citizens and community organizations to promote accountability, and to reach the most marginalized in our society. During the 2017 General Election, WRA Kenya partnered with other stake holders to push political leaders to include and implement maternal and infant health promises in their manifestos.

Partner organizations, WRA Kenya, MamaYe and OAYouth, launched a digital campaign dubbed “Whatever your Political Colours,” to urge political leaders of all stripes to prioritize maternal and newborn health and be steadfast in that commitment even after the elections were over. The three-week campaign had more than 15 million impressions, dominated by young people pushing their leaders to be accountable.

WRA Kenya believes that citizen-led advocacy plays a vital role in improving maternal, newborn and adolescent health and development by ensuring that leaders support and implement the changes that its citizens prioritize for themselves and their families. WRA Kenya wants to utilize the digital revolution to engage citizens and empower them to hold leaders accountable in the same platforms.

Mobile phones and internet penetration are birthing revolutions in critical sectors of the economy, such as: education, healthcare and agriculture.

The world is on the go and Kenya is making the best out of the digital revolution!


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