New Zealand government funds joint project to launch digital literacy pilot program in Kenya’s Tana Delta; aims to provide youth with skills which will allow them to counter incendiary misinformation which contributes to unrest and violence


Tana River County is one of the poorest counties in Kenya with 62.2% of the population living in absolute poverty (Tana River Health Sector Plan 2018-2028). Historically, Tana Delta has experienced insecurity, mostly, as a result of competition for natural resources, injustices, political incitement, hate speech, misinformation, and lack of information resulting in inter-ethnic violence between farmers and pastoralists. The worst violent conflict was in 2012, prior to the 2013 general election, when hundreds of people were killed, villages burnt down, key service provision institutions like hospitals and schools were closed down, and thousands of people were displaced. In recent years, Tana Delta youth have comprised the vast proportion of victims of all forms of violence in the county. The area has experienced sporadic attacks by al-Shabaab, which poses a risk of radicalization due to low levels of education and literacy rates especially among women, significant declines in investment in the region which has reduced job prospects for young people, a lack of employable skills, and a lack of alternative job opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of connectivity, highlighting how it can provide citizens with access to numerous opportunities. These opportunities encompass access to online educational resources, crucial healthcare information, government services, and e-commerce. Additionally, connectivity has enabled the Kenyan government to deliver essential services and support thriving businesses, serving as a foundational element that has sustained activities in the country since the lockdown in March 2020. Indeed, digital connectivity has been touted as a solution to many persistent challenges. However, the varied attempts to address connectivity challenges in Kenya have shown limited effectiveness. These efforts have included initiatives such as the Universal Service Fund, private sector projects, and philanthropic endeavours. Yet, over time, the digital divide has continued to widen, creating a situation where individuals with affordable access and digital skills reap the benefits, while those without access and digital skills remain stagnant or fall further behind. In particular, gender-based digital exclusion is exacerbated due to hurdles to ownership of devices and access to the internet, affordability, education (or lack thereof) and lack of technological literacy, as well as inherent biases and socio-cultural norms found in Tana River County.

Most urgently, in the current context, the Sentinel Project and Amani CBO recognize how disinformation is a serious problem in the county and is used by malicious actors to incite violence and conflict between different groups of people, undermining social cohesion and trust between communities, while promoting inequality and silencing dissenting voices to create an environment of fear and intimidation. This is a threat to the gains already made by the Sentinel Project’s Una Hakika (Swahili for “Are you sure?”) initiative in promoting peace and development in Tana River County and other parts of Kenya. Una Hakika is a mobile-phone based information service that engages members of the public in monitoring, verifying, and countering the spread of harmful rumours and misinformation that contribute to conflict. There is an urgent need to continue addressing the issue by promoting critical thinking and digital literacy skills to help communities to evaluate the information they encounter online and to identify disinformation through digital literacy. For all of these reasons, the Kijiji Connect Project is a critical extension of Una Hakika. Kijiji Connect is a continuation of Una Hakika’s approach that leverages the innovative use of technology and community engagement to foster lasting peace. Kijiji Connect is aimed at bridging the digital divide between the global community and underserved marginalized communities in rural Kenya by setting up a highly equipped digital community learning centre, an Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) hub. The Sentinel Project, in partnership with Amani CBO (a local community-based organization), empowers young people in Tana River County, Kenya, by providing them with internet access and comprehensive training in information literacy.

This project is supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.