Una Hakika (which means “Are you sure?” in Swahili) is a mobile-phone-based information service that helps to address false rumours contributing to intercommunal conflict in Kenya. Una Hakika began in the Tana Delta, an area with a history of violent conflict between the pastoralist Orma and the farming Pokomo tribes. Una Hakika has since grown to cover all of Tana River County, Lamu County, and the major slums of Nairobi, areas with a total population of more than one million people. The service enables local people to report rumours anonymously by SMS (text message), through a phone call, using social media, by signing up to the Una Hakika website, or by contacting a trained community ambassador. Rumour reports are investigated and verified before feedback is given to the community about whether the rumour is true or false. The goal is to prevent violence arising out of false rumours but also, in the long term, to encourage positive changes in people’s attitudes and behaviours towards rumours, engendering a more critical mindset that questions information before believing or acting upon it.
Launched in 2014, Una Hakika is being implemented by the Sentinel Project, a Canadian non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting communities threatened by mass violence, with funding provided by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), and Making All Voices Count (MAVC).
Before setting up the system, the Una Hakika team conducted a baseline survey throughout the Tana Delta during January-February 2014 in order to understand the spread of information in the region, what technologies people use to share that information, and to generally understand the potential users of Una Hakika in order to better design the system. One key finding from the survey was that 87.3% of the 249 respondents believed that rumours contributed to violence in the region, while 61.1% of respondents had heard information they believed to be untrue within the previous 12 months. Out of those 61.1%, only 50.6% took further action to verify if the information was true.
Una Hakika consists of the following stages:
- Rumour reporting - Users send information to the system, through SMS, phone calls, or the Una Hakika website, or by speaking to a trained community ambassador.
- Verification - Una Hakika team members prioritise and verify rumour reports by drawing upon a variety of information sources that may be able to provide the facts of the situation relating to a given rumour. These sources include the community ambassadors, community-based organisations (CBOs), community and religious leaders, local authorities (police and administration), other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the area, and the media (social media and mainstream media). As no two rumours are created equal, the project team has to prioritise which ones to address first, especially in emotionally-charged environments like the Tana Delta. Here the project makes use of WikiRumours, purpose-built software for managing the Una Hakika workflow developed by the Sentinel Project.
- Countermessaging - Once the Una Hakika team has verified reports of a rumour, they are then able to provide feedback to the community about the authenticity of the information. This response is responsive and targeted in order to ensure that the rumour management process does not inadvertently spread rumours. Rumour verifications are still only sent to subscribers in the villages from which those rumours were reported, since there is a risk of people who have not heard a given rumour focusing on the wrong parts of a counter message and disregarding the statement that the rumour is false.
Finally, the project does not just need to verify rumours and respond to the individuals who initially reported them, but also to consider strategies for containing and countering false information on a community level before it can spread and do harm. This is where community partners such as chiefs, elders, youth leaders, and women’s representatives are essential.
Community ambassadors play a key role in this process, as they serve as a bridge between people and technology. They help assist in reporting rumours, verifying the information, and providing feedback to the communities. Participants are briefed on methods of reporting information accurately, and ongoing training promotes keen observation and attention to detail when reporting. They are also given skills in intercultural communication, so that they are able to work with people from diverse cultural and geographical backgrounds, i.e., across the two conflicting communities. They are also encouraged to foster their interpersonal skills, tapping into their respective communities through their networks of family and friends and reaching out through local social functions to broaden their networks - all while maintaining strong and healthy relationships with community members.
Conflict, information and communication technologies (ICTs)
The Tana Delta region in eastern Kenya has been suffering violent conflicts between the nomadic Orma and the farming Pokomo tribes - conflicts that killed nearly 170 people during 2012 and 2013. Una Hakika researchers found that misinformation has played a significant role in causing fear, distrust, and hatred between these communities. Misinformation can be subdivided into “organic” rumours, which arise due to misunderstandings (but without malicious intent), and disinformation, which is intentionally created by someone to achieve a specific objective, such as encouraging conflict for political reasons.
Misinformation is significant in the Tana Delta because – despite high levels of mobile phone usage – it is an information-starved environment with no local media (e.g., radio station), and most people still rely on word-of-mouth to get news about the world around them. The project survey found that the majority of Tana Delta residents consider themselves to be well-informed about their own villages and national events in Kenya as a whole (thanks to national broadcasters) but not about events in neighbouring villages (which may be only a few hundred meters away or on the other side of a river) or their county. This gap is particularly dangerous when the residents of those neighbouring villages are members of another ethnic group that is seen as hostile. This situation is why rumours are a threat in the area, with 71% of survey respondents indicating that rumours have strongly contributed to violence in the Tana Delta. Early examples of such rumours that inspired Una Hakika included:
- An outside actor has armed the Orma community with 3,000 AK-47s to destroy the Pokomo.
- A Pokomo health worker tried to poison Orma children instead of vaccinating them.
- Orma attackers captured and raped a Pokomo boy who was gathering mangoes at the river.
- Pokomo thieves stole Orma goats (a serious offence against a livestock-focused community).
- Orma herders have intentionally grazed their cattle on Pokomo farms.
These accusations are rarely true, but the truth does not matter when enough people believe them. Without an alternate source of information about local events, rumours contribute to the atmosphere of fear, distrust, and hatred, which enables violence.
After two years, Una Hakika showed positive results. People’s mindsets have changed in the sense that now when a resident in the Tana Delta hears a rumour, their first reaction is increasingly likely to verify its validity before passing it on or taking any action. The number of survey respondents who would look into the accuracy of information they were not convinced was true has risen from 50.6% to 57.4%. Previously, information tended to be taken at face value, and some people would take drastic action upon hearing threatening rumours. Even more encouragingly, the inter-village information gap appeared to close, women reported higher levels of access to information, and respondents ranked Una Hakika as the most highly trusted locally-originating source of information.
Click here for a project report following Phase 1 of the project, which ended in 2015.
The Sentinel Project, with funding from International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), and Making All Voices Count (MAVC).
John and Elnora Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS) website, Social Tech website, Una Hakika website and the The Sentinal Project website on June 2 2017, and feedback received from Sealia Thévenau on June 6 2017.