"Committed to accessibility and accountability"

KAS E-Lection Bridge Interview with Michelle Fondo

Also available in Deutsch

Michelle Fondo sits in the first row at the KAS Media Africa seminar in Nairobi. There could be no better metaphor for the communication specialist’s work. The Kenyan belongs to the leading members of Team Martha Karua 2012. Fondo works day and night with a group of young and passionate supporters to help the former Minister of Justice, Karua, win the presidential candidacy for her party, NARC-Kenya, and ‘make a difference’ in the 2012 Kenyan elections. The campaign serves as a shining example in the field of social media – a good reason to invite Michelle Fondo to a KAS E-lection Bridge interview.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: As a member of the team driving the campaign, how has the fact that Ms Karua is yet to receive the nomination of her party affected the way in which you have conducted your communication strategy?

MICHELLE FONDO: The fact that she is yet to receive the nomination has not affected her communication as she is known to be an advocate for good governance – the rule of law and justice for all. Food security, youth empowerment, education and health are her other pillars and these issues resonate with the electorate, and Martha has been able to educate that good governance is key towards achieving these and much more in order to secure the future of our country.

Biography Michelle Fondo and Martha Karua
Michelle Fondo is a member of Team Martha Karua 2012, who has represented NARC-Kenya at a number of KAS E-lection Bridge events, including Accra 2011.

Martha Karua is the National Chairperson of NARC-Kenya and is seeking to be their Presidential candidate for 2012. She is currently a Member of Parliament and Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and until April 2009 was Minister of Justice. A leading e-campaigner in Africa, Ms. Karua has made full use of applications such as Facebook and Twitter to reach her audience.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What are the biggest challenges, unique to Kenya, that you face in today’s digital age?

MICHELLE FONDO: Kenya has advanced immensely in the use of ICT. Given the cost of home computers, internet access is more popular through the cellular phone. However, while there are millions of people who have cell phones, very few are WAP-enabled and thus most have minimal or no access to the internet. Out of 15 million subscribers, only about 10% have WAP–enabled phones. Understanding the social media age, the opportunities it presents and how to exploit these opportunities for whatever advocacy or campaigning benefit is also limited to few people. The social media is more popular amongst young people and therefore only specific sections of the population use social media for communication.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Kenya has one of the highest internet usage rates in sub-Saharan Africa, something you have managed to utilise to great benefit for your candidate’s profile (specifically your Facebook presence), how has the use of social media platforms made your life easier, and also more difficult?

MICHELLE FONDO: Social media allows information to reach the audience faster and at much lower costs than traditional media. This presents an opportunity to share with Kenyans information about Martha, the party and the campaign faster and with no limit as to how much information can be sent out, thereby ensuring that there is constant communication with the Kenyans who have online access. The youth are primarily the largest segment of the population that use social media, particularly Facebook, to interact with their friends. A poll conducted in 2011 indicates that the youth will inform the next presidential elections. Accordingly, engaging the youth on social media platforms such as Facebook ensures that Martha and her campaign team can interact with the youth. And while it is true that our internet usage may be comparatively high across sub-Saharan Africa, the reality is that the majority of voters will not be able to access the internet. Therefore, you cannot totally rely on social media; a mix with traditional media is being employed.

About NARC-Kenya
NARC-Kenya was formed in 2006 in response to the polarization that occurred during the referendum on the 2005 Constitution. With a vision of One Kenya, One nation, One People they seek a Kenya that is free of the tribalism that has often been its downfall. Their aim is to make Kenya a stable, prosperous, democratic and civilized modern nation within the framework of rule of law, encouraging pluralistic democracy, regional, ethnic and gender inclusiveness with emphasis on principles of good governance, transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: The Daily Nation poll you mention has suggested that Ms Karua has a relatively large support base amongst Kenya’s youth and that one of the reasons behind this is your “aggressive use of social sites”. How do you think you can develop this usage to further improve Ms Karua’s standing amongst the Kenyan youth?

MICHELLE FONDO: Martha has attracted the youth on Facebook and Twitter through her appeal. She personally engages her “tweets” on Twitter. Her genuine appeal to connect with this demographic, the youth, has played a big role in the success we have had in social media. From our Facebook insights, activity on her Facebook and Twitter increases when she is active or vocal on an issue; for instance in Parliament or when interacting with the followers. It is the opinion drivers on social media who engage her and then create conversations on other social sites. Social media is being used to target opinion drivers and shapers who can take conversations “offline” and get them to initiate and drive conversations that then spill out onto the youth at the grassroots, the wider stage.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What can Germans take away from political communication in Kenya? After all, Martha Karua has more “likes” on Facebook than the German Chancellor. How have you achieved this?

MICHELLE FONDO: Martha is committed to accessibility and accountability and that is why people are drawn to the social media sites. These are platforms for people to connect with her and the campaign allows for comments as well as criticism from the people so long as they adhere to polite and proper language. Martha Karua is using these platforms herself and she is aware of the feedback and comments she receives. Kenyan voters have not had a chance to speak directly to a Presidential Candidate. Politics has been about exclusion, so this is a deliberate attempt at inclusion and getting the common mwananchi (citizen) to participate on the political scene, just as our clarion call says, Jitokeze- that means, step up, for a greater Kenya.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: The final question in all E-Lection Bridge interviews is always one and the same. What is the next big thing in political communication?

MICHELLE FONDO: Social media and mobile telephony.