The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Jude Mwenda: Politics and Volunteered Geographic Information: Reflections on the 2007 and 2013 Kenyan Elections

Jude Ntabathia, MIT Center for Civic Media


The mobile phone has indeed reduced the barriers to entry within the digital space. No other technology has been in the hands of so many people in so many countries in such a short period of time (World Bank, 2008). Accompanied with global positioning systems (GPS), mobile phones embedded with GPS chips are increasingly making it easier for the public to share geographic information and contribute to user generated cartographic content. Such technologies are indeed introducing a new form of public participation and new forms of digital citizenship.

Despite such advances in technology, employing such technologies has certain political and social implications. Challenges such as the digital divide and digital inequality as illustrated by Esther Hargittai continue to bedevil the use of such technologies. Moreover the shift of power from traditional geographic information producers to citizens is causing conflict largely over the quality and credibility of such user generated information. Through this paper, I seek to highlight how user generated geographic content (using mobile phone) could bring about more public participation while at the same reducing the effects of some of the challenges posed by the digital divide and digital inequality. As a study, data crowdsourced during Kenya’s 2007 election and 2013 election through various channels is used to show different aspects such as credibility of user generated cartographic information and how such forms of participation affect political processes. In conclusion, the paper delves into how volunteer geographic information could lead to new forms of engagement between the political class and the public.

Jude Ntabathia