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Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Spring 2013

   
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Citizen Reporter/Call-in Center
David Zarembka, AGLI Coordinator

After a successful pilot project for the 2010 Burundian elections, AGLI decided to implement a more ambitious project for the 2013 Kenyan elections. The concept is to train citizens to become “citizen reporters” and connect them with a Call-in Center where they can text any information they gather in their community. The whole election cycle is observed and not just election day itself since much of the fraud and intimidation occurs before the election, and post-election violence is possible as occurred on a massive scale in Kenya after the December 2007 election. We conducted thirty-four trainings and enrolled 1,204 citizen reporters in our network. One aspect of this is that many of these citizen reporters are in remote places where the media never goes.

I attended the citizen reporter training at Lumakanda Friends Church. There were thirty-eight participants with two facilitators. The five hours of training were filled with discussion, role play, guidelines for citizen reporters, and security concerns. To give an example, one topic was “indicators” of potential violence. The analogy was made with the turn signal on a motorcycle which only indicates what the driver intends to do rather than actually doing it. So the citizen reporter needs to be aware of indicators of violence such as hate speech or development of youth gangs. These are what are needed to report to the Call-in Center so that remedial action can quickly be taken.

December 18 was the last day to register to vote and the Kenyan custom is to wait to act to the last moment before a deadline. For the last two days of the month-long registration, Peter Serete, the Coordinator for the Call-in Center, texted the 900 citizen reporters we had at that time and asked them to go to their polling stations and see if the ending process was orderly and proper — for example, that those who were in line at 5:00 PM were allowed to register. Over 200 of the citizen reporters sent in text messages and there were no significant reports of major problems.

On January 17 most political parties in Kenya had their nominations for the various elective positions. We texted our citizen reporters and asked them to observe these nominations in their community. We got many messages of late delivery of ballot papers, anger at the waiting, and bribery during the nominations. Then the major political campaigning began and the citizen reporters mostly reported numerous cases of bribery by the local politicians and their agents.
There is no point in receiving good accurate information if nothing is done about negative situations that are reported. As we developed this program, I was worried about how we might respond to incidents of intimidation and violence. Our time and energy concentrated on reacting to the information we received.

The most serious reports we received were from Mt. Elgon. From 2006 to 2008 this area had an armed conflict between two clans of the Sabaot in which about 600 people were killed and another 100,000 displaced. We have responded with five citizen reporter trainings on Mt. Elgon for 189 citizen reporters. We had just finished our first workshop there on August 15, when the Call-in Center received a report that one of our original HROC participants had been assassinated in his home. The next morning, a few of our HROC facilitators/citizen reporters visited with the grieving wife and asked her if one of them could speak at the funeral. She agreed. We texted our local contacts and about forty of them attended this funeral. Erastus Chesondi, our lead HROC facilitator and citizen reporter on Mt. Elgon, gave a strong peace message at the funeral. We also attended a chief’s meeting to discuss this situation and the FCPT/AGLI participants gave their feedback. Soon thereafter four more people were killed, a school was burned down, and hate leaflets were distributed ordering all those who were not born on Mt. Elgon to return to where they came from. This led us to increase our response. We conducted civic education seminars. Before these incidents, FCPT/AGLI had held four HROC workshops for about 80 individuals. In January, we trained eighteen healing companions (eight women and ten men) from Mt. Elgon at the Peace House at Lugari Yearly Meeting. We brought Theoneste Bizimana from Rwanda and Florence Ntakarutimana from Burundi to lead this training — this shows the interaction of the work we do in the region. Just before the election these apprentice facilitators together with lead facilitators conducted 8 basic HROC workshops on Mt. Elgon for about 160 people.

Kathy and Joe Ossmann, Benter Obonyo, and Ezra Kigonbu will now do an assessment of the work on Mt. Elgon by interviewing 60 to 80 people including facilitators, participants, and government officials to determine how effective our work there was in minimizing the violence. Their results will be in the next issue of PeaceWays-AGLI.

One of our guidelines is to work with all sides in any conflict. This includes the government officials who have little guidance or training on how to resolve the contentious issues that are arising in their communities. In one of our HROC workshops on Mt. Elgon, two chiefs and three sub-chiefs (these are the community level-government officials in Kenya) attended. In another example, Getry Agizah, the FCPT coordinator, was asked by a local police commissioner to meet with her police officers. Getry met with 45 officers and could feel the fear inside them. They told her that they wanted the public to understand that they are also human and have feelings.