As polling stations close their doors today after huge voter turnout in, everyone is wondering: will this election remain peaceful, or will it follow in the path of the turbulent 2007 election? Kenyan citizen journalists, trained by WITNESS, weigh in.
If this election goes well—and signs are generally positive—it will be largely because citizens across the country mobilized to support peace and to document violations. 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 this election, explaining what motivated them to learn how to film, and sharing which filming tips they thought would be most useful.
These citizen journalists are 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.” In fact, Amina Hamisi had already used these lessons before the election, filming campaign rallies, speeches, and mock elections in Mombasa. Leyla Dahir also “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 in evidence.”
So what did they learn?
Most activists needed “basic tips and techniques in developing human rights evidence,” those that “ensure effective video advocacy and documentation that will have an impact, pass the message, and achieve its goals,” in the words of Anastasia Nabukenya.
Which topics did they think were worth greater depth?
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.” Learn how to film for human rights documentation and evidence (in Swahili). 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.
The Kenyan activists also appreciated learning to film with few resources—even just a cell phone. Leyla Dahir points 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.” Learn how to film with a cell phone here (in Swahili).
Agatha Gichuki and Yvonne Godia most appreciated learning how to “obtain informed consent and concealing of identity where need be.” Learn how to interview someone while maintaining their anonymity (in Swahili) and ensure informed consent (in Swahili).
Amina Bakari Hamisi particularly appreciated learning “different types of shots and their interpretations, reasons for using them, and how it makes…for better understanding.” Learn about different types of shots in this brief video (especially after 1:30, in English).
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.”
Our 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 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 the razor-thin margin between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga holds, Kenya will indeed head to a run-off election in April.
Their hopes may be prescient as well. They all 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 may 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?
Stay tuned to the WITNESS blog for more thoughts from these Kenyan advocates on how the election is progressing, and how they used video to document this historic process.