Article written

  • on 30.09.2013
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Kenya: the #Westgate emergency, fundraising and twitter 0


“HEAVY Gunfire reported at @WestgateMallKe in Weslands #RedCross Ambulance @EMS_Kenya at scene ^PO“.  This was the first tweet written by Kenya’s Red Cross a few minutes after the first explosions at the Westgate Mall on September 21st.  These have been days in which Kenya is dealing with an emergency even on the social media level.


How did Kenya respond to this?

The emergency fundraising. More than 100.000 Kenyans, from all over the country, donated in less than 24 hours to Kenya’s Red Cross: over 30 million shillings (250.000 €) were collected in less than 24 hours for the rescue operation for the victims of the attack in Nairobi’s mall.

How was it possible to transfer such huge amount of money from all over Kenya in so few hours in a country with banks concentrated only in big cities and with little infrastructure and paved roads to reach them?

A transfer of money made with mobile phones through a service born in Kenya by Safaricom mobile network. It’s called M-Pesa (where M stands for Mobile and Pesa in Swahili means money), a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinance service born in 2007 and today has expanded into many African and Asian countries.

M-Pesa has been successful especially in rural areas of the countries that have adopted it and, in some cases, resulted in noticeable changes. For example, in 2008 in Afghanistan, where M-Pesa was used to give the salaries to policemen, the Afghan government has discovered a huge corruption activity (10% of salaries were going to police that existed only on paper). However, although the transaction has a cost (which is increasing in Kenya), M-Pesa is a service created for those who have no possibility of access to a bank or to bear the costs of a bank account: for example, with M-Pesa many farmers are able to maintain the children who go to school in villages or towns far away from their lands. According to the report “Mobile Money Transfer & Remittances” published by Juniper Research, a research and market analysis in the mobile and hi-tech industries, Nearly 400 million mobile phone users worldwide are expected to use their handsets for mobile money transfer by 2018. This year, we were (I have also benefited of it in Tanzania to prepay from a rural village in Iringa a bus ticket that I had to prune in Dar Es Salaam) 150 million users.

The emergency on twitter

From the profile of the Red Cross in Safaricom, through the official profile of the Kenyan’s interior Ministry up to bloggers, twitter has been the main amplifier of the fundraising, but also for the request of blood donations and psychosocial support to victims. According to BBC reports on the clash that there was also on twitter between Kenya and al-Shabaab, the most interesting use of social media by the authorities was to gather behind the Kenyan security forces responding to the attack with following hashtags: #WeAreOne and #WithOneAccord, referring to Kenya’s National Anthem. “Kids on skates urging people to donate blood. #WestgateAttack “is the image that the Kenyan blogger Robert Alai shared on twitter to support blood donations.

Birth of Twitter Alerts: In case of emergency or natural disaster twitter users will be notified with a push notification or text message, a warning coming from credible organizations. At this time the service is reserved to a few organizations in the United States, Japan and Korea, but the goal is to reach worldwide.

Westgate: goal 80 million

To support Kenya’s Red Cross in emergency Westgate, the goal of Safaricom is to collect 80 millions users without applying any percentage for the transaction. For this emergency, we are not going to say “it’s only a matter of sending a sms”: it is a real transfer of money that ranges from 10 to 50.000 shillings that users can transfer to the number 848484.

And around our areas?

The Observatory Fundraising 2012 estimated that 55% of Italians who say they have donated, have used SMS solidarity. In the last national emergency, the day after the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and Veneto, people raised  15,127,898 €  (the network, through projects such as Open Reconstruction is monitoring the situation and the state of reconstruction and donations). Today: where do we stand with emergency management? Organizations, institutions, associations, financial institutions, telephone companies, users of twitter and mobile phones, citizens … us?

By Andrea CardoniVITA/Afronline

Translated by: Irene Crivellini Eger 

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