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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

FAKE NEWS FUELS ANTI-COUNTY WAR

Youth from Huruma slums exchange words with police after they were teargassed as they tried to cause trouble when Raila Odinga, Moses Wetangula, Kalonzo Musyoka and deputy governor Jonathan Mueke visited the scene of a collapsed building. photo/PATRICK VIDIJA
Youth from Huruma slums exchange words with police after they were teargassed as they tried to cause trouble when Raila Odinga, Moses Wetangula, Kalonzo Musyoka and deputy governor Jonathan Mueke visited the scene of a collapsed building. photo/PATRICK VIDIJA

Kenya's development landscape is changing as the national government and the patronage it exclusively provided in the past are disappearing in the age of devolution.

Yet Kenyans do not know this, going by the conversations on social media. That comes as no surprise.

To protect the devolution of power and resources, the counties must first fight fake news. A sound case for or against devolution reform must be based on real data — not a false narrative.

Devolution and its successes were celebrated in Nakuru last week. But the counties continue to grapple with 'alternative facts', peddled by card-carrying enemies of devolution and political opponents.

In Nyandarua, fake news is packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news. Ahead of the Christmas festivities last year, it was alleged on Facebook that we had spent Sh2 million on a Christmas tree.

Local bloggers advanced the idea with the naïveté with which it would subsequently be quoted. They forgot that accuracy is cherished in the media and academic circles, and did not respect the abstract notions of fairness and objectivity.

They would not report the county government’s version. The bloggers were all too glad to keep their mutating figures as the ultimate truth, even when they were invited to probe financial records.

When Governor Daniel Waithaka finally addressed the mainstream media, the bloggers moved on, as if the Christmas tree saga had never happened.

Fake news has been normalised through propaganda, where misleading or biased information is specifically designed to confirm or promote particular ideological viewpoints has been circulated.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in our health sector. Nyandarua stands head and shoulders above its peers in services, personnel and infrastructure in hospitals and dispensaries across our five subcounties: Ol Kalou, Kinangop, Kipipiri, Ol Joro Orok and Ndaragwa.

Theatre services are now available at Engineer Hospital, for instance, and two mothers recently underwent caesarean section within 24 hours, a first for Nyandarua.

The hospital will serve Kinangop and Kipipiri subcounties, with a combined population of 321,723, and reduce stress on North Kinangop Catholic Hospital, Naivasha Hospital and Kijabe AIC Hospital. JM Kariuki Memorial Hospital has been upgraded for Sh75 million.

The county administration has bought five ambulances and supplied them to Geta, Wanjohi, Heni, Boiman and JM Kariuki Memorial Hospital.

Five garbage collection trucks have been acquired and are operational, feeding five dumpsites established in major towns.

Key health centres and dispensaries have been refurbished and maternity units established, including at Mumui, Kiambogo, Kanjuiri, Mukindu, Ndaragwa, Kiriogo, New Mawingo, Leshau Pondo, Shauri and Njabini.

Further, new dispensaries have been constructed or operationalized, including at Mumui, Githabai and Rwanyambo.

Propaganda against these gains, however, has advanced the incredulous notion that the national government is the one driving the gains in the health sector, not the county government.

This would be a mere nuisance if health were not a devolved function.

We are, however, least offended by satire – communication that offers social commentary through imitation of real life events– and click baits – headlines designed to get people to click on links, often by presenting a warped sense of the real information.

The county government's response has been to develop a public communication policy, in anticipation of possible legislation around emerging concerns.

Further, our Directorate of communications and public relations, in conjunction with the Governor’s Press Service, continues to deliver relevant traditional media products, in addition to strategic engagements on new media platforms.

The West’s continued struggle to absorb the impact of internet-spread fake news on elections, however, invites us all to work towards a Kenya of media-literate citizens and counties intentionally committed to freedom of expression.

The writer is Nyandarua’s County Executive Committee member in charge of Communication, Legal, ICT and Intergovernmental Relations. (info@nyandarua.go.ke)


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