Demystifying the Information Disorder on Matters Climate Change in Kenya

The phrase ‘Climate Change’ has steadily piqued the interest of many Kenyans. In fact, April 2023 is the month when the most number of Kenyans were interested in searching the phrase on Google in the past year according to Google Trends.

The Google Trend is an indication of increased awareness of climate change matters in the country. April 2023 is particularly significant as it is the month when Kenya had been experiencing floods, which began in March 2023. In this period, Piga Firimbi also flagged misinformation about the flood crisis. Most of the false information shared about the floods came from the use of unrelated images, either from previous floods or other countries.

For instance, a news platform posted a tweet reporting the death of a 12-year-old swept away by floods in Nairobi. While the text in the tweet is factual, the tweet also contained images that were misleading, as they were from floods that occurred at a different location in 2016. See the fact-check Here. The implication of the misinformation here being that the image used, showing a drowning car, may raise alarm and cause more panic than necessary because it is not a true representation of what is actually happening.

Another fact-check Here, debunks a TikTok post claiming to show floods in Northern Kenya in April 2023. However, the video is actually from Pakistan. Similarly, another post shared on a more popular Twitter account recently used images from floods in 2018 as debunked Here.

A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) on climate disinformation further highlights the harm caused by image-based climate disinformation in that; it removes the need to engage substantively with climate policies, bypasses critical thinking by lending itself to virality.

Alternatively, another form of climate change misinformation Piga Firimbi found is in the use of exaggerated figures to report the number of victims affected by climate crises. For instance, a fact-check published Here debunked the claim that the floods experienced in Pakistan displaced 50 million people. The actual number, as published by Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is 33 million people. In a similar case, a fact-check Here debunked a claim that exaggerated the number of victims affected by the drought experienced in Kenya in 2022. Another claim debunked Here used outdated data from 2019, to report the number of people at risk of starvation from the 2022 drought.

However, in more sinister cases of climate disinformation, con artists would create fake statements in the name of notable charity organizations such as the Red Cross and call out for donations. For instance, Piga Firimbi Here, debunked a Facebook post that published a fabricated letter containing the Red Cross logo and branding. The fake statements were titled “Donations Appeal for Starving Kenyans”. Another case debunked Here, looked into a Facebook page called ‘Red Cross Donation Kenya’. The page was created to con people. Fact-checking these scams was made easier by the Red Cross organization which issued press statements indicating their legitimate payment details.

According to research by the European Investment Bank, 88% of 6,000 Africans surveyed from ten African countries believed that climate change is already affecting their daily lives. This is especially evident in Kenya, where Agriculture is the biggest contributor to the economy, contributing 21.6% of the GDP according to the Economic Survey 2023. This is while 98% of Kenya’s agricultural activities are rain-fed and highly susceptible to climate change and climate variability according to the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Implementation Framework 2018-2027 (KCSAIF).

“A  large number of agriculturalists already perceive that the climate has become hotter and the rains less predictable and shorter in duration,” a 2007 report titled ‘The Perception of and Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa’ states.

Consequently, majority of Kenyans- 53%– are aware about climate change. Notably so, Google Trends show that Kenyans in rural areas showed the most interest in climate change in the past year. The highest interest recorded in the past year is from people based in Karagita area, Nakuru County. Most residents in these areas primarily rely on farming as a source of income.

Upon a search on CrowdTangle, Piga Firimbi also found that the term ‘Climate Change’ featured 11,490 times on Facebook page posts in the last 12 months. The most prevalent use of the phrase was in November 2022, when Kenya was experiencing a drought crisis.

The increase in climate change awareness in Kenya can be attributed to;

  1. The media- According to Civics Signal the phrase “Climate change” was published on Kenyan digital media platforms 11,874 times in the past year. This phrase also featured the most in November 2022, during the drought calamity.
  1. Civil Society and government official initiatives to train and educate farmers.
  2. Oral history- The younger generation would hear stories of older, bountiful days with more rain and more yields. Something that has become rare in recent days.

Meaningful Climate Debate as a Reserve for the Elite

Although more Kenyans are evidently interested in the climate debate, the last nine months of fact-checking climate change claims further prove that a more elaborate discussion on the subject is lacking locally. Social media analytics prove that the Kenyans who regularly post about climate change are climate change activists, the media and political leaders. Most of these posts too lack depth on the matter. They often feature posts of leaders mentioning a climate convention or conference they had been invited to. See screengrab below;

The level of understanding on the subject informs the kind of discussions that would be held online, as well as the depth of fact-checkable claims circulated. While local claims superficially fixated on the number of victims affected by climate crises and the use of misleading images. Fact-checkers at Piga Firimbi found that changing their Twitter setting from tweets shared locally to those shared around the world would bring up more claims.

These include debates on whether cold weather disproves global warming, as a fact-checked Here, is China’s carbon emission twice that of the E.U. and the U.S. combined? We verified this claim Here. After the 2022 droughts in Kenya and the heatwaves experienced in the E.U. within the same year, there had been false claims that 2022 was the hottest year on record as debunked Here. Additionally, a video claimed to show geo-engineering efforts to allegedly propagate the climate agenda as debunked Here. These are some of the discussions taking place online in the global south.

Notably, the level of education informs the level of understanding of the subject, besides the basic observation of shorter rainy seasons than before. A deeper understanding would then inform deeper debates on the climate change debacle in Kenya and Africa. Education at this level would also help farmers understand that while they are the hardest hit by climate change, statistics also show that the very agricultural activities are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the same agricultural activities that have led to increased deforestation in Kenya.

While Africa indeed contributes the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions globally, Africans are the hardest hit by climate change. Therefore creating awareness on the subject should go beyond weather changes, but also into factors that lead to climate change and possible action at an individual level.

This fact-check was produced by Africa Uncensored with support from Code for Africa’s PesaCheck, the International Fact-Checking Network, and the African Fact-Checking Alliance network.

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