The international media has often been accused of taking advantage of elections and political upheaval in Africa to perpetuate stereotypes of the continent as violent and lawless.
Their election coverage this time lends some truth to this perception, with its explicit focus on hot spots where police lobbied tear gas to disperse mobs protesting the ballots.
The alarming headlines came in thick and fast, with outlet after outlet echoing each other’s coverage of riots in Kisumu and violence-prone informal settlements in Nairobi.
A sampling of headlines across the board all told the same story; the ballot was marred by violence and protests, and there had been deaths.
CNN: Kenya election: Police clash with opposition supporters, 1 killed
Reuters: Shooting, tear gas, bonfires mar Kenya election re-run
BBC: Kenya election: Voting amid tightened security and unrest
Washington Post: Kenya election re-run sees clashes and low turnout at the polls
AFP: One killed as Kenya’s disputed election re-run turns violent
And although The New York Time’s headline was a more tempered “Kenya’s Presidential Elections: The Rerun”, its lead pictures were of protesters being teargassed, while menacing police men in anti-riot crouched near a kiosk.
It is a fact that there was violence during this election, and it should be covered by both local and international media. There was no distortion of facts and outright lies called out on social media via angry hashtags, as happened during the #someonetellCNN incident of 2015 when the network referred to Kenya as a “hotbed of terror”.
Today’s problem is that international media’s sole focus on the violence eclipses other facts of the election, perpetuating what renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie terms “the danger of the single story”.
Kisumu resident, upon hearing repeat attempt to re-run presidential election to be held on Saturday: “I don’t think that will happen.”
— Maggie Fick (@MaggieFick) October 26, 2017
One man shot dead by police in Nairobi’s Mathare slum. Ppl back out in streets, as police continue to use teargas to disperse crowds pic.twitter.com/2TCLXYEJnq
— Julia Steers (@JCSteers) October 26, 2017
Utterly depressing situation in Mathare. Three dozen officers, tons of security, no voters. Teargas being fired nearby. pic.twitter.com/7Lfuy7egzS
— Matina Stevis (@MatinaStevis) October 26, 2017
In a famous TEDtalk delivered in 2009, Adichie decries the common practice of simplifying complex occurrences and people into a single narrative, often one that easily plays out the stereotypes that exist about a place.
So other than the single story of violence in this election, there are other stories too: that there was peaceful voting in most of the polling stations, and that a majority of the Kenyans that did not vote sat out the election at home, and were not on the streets demonstrating and fighting the police.
It is not clear whether those who chose not to vote were supporters of Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s boycott call, or they were expressing frustration and dissatisfaction with the politicking and fear-mongering that has coloured the landscape since the August 8 vote.
Perhaps teasing out the reasons for voters staying at home would have made much more interesting, informative and nuanced reporting for the journalists, rather than the old, tired story of teargas.