Sauti ya Mtaa, a new online platform to reinvent citizen journalism

At the crossroads between citizen journalism, social innovation and sustainability

Sauti ya Mtaa (Swahili for “Voices of the Streets”) is a citizen journalism project that I started in one of Nairobi’s ghetto, a while back, in order to empower youths by giving them a voice, engaging them in the democratic discourse and empowering them by practicing journalism. After three years the project has a considerable network of citizen journalists, artists and also some young brilliant activists.

Sauti ya Mtaa was deliberately targeting a community of young people who are talented and somehow skilled, but was lacking access to any kind of platform where they can get information, discuss, take an active role in the society. Indeed, the ghetto of Kariobangi, where the project started, is quite known in Nairobi to be the home of some of the most talented and successful artists, but at the same time, it’s also hosting a large community of youths who are totally lost, with drugs and crime having swept away many of them.

When the project was funded, I personally insisted to have a space, a hub, where citizen journalists or artists could meet, share, having access to wifi and equipment, right there in the middle of the ghetto. This because, in places like Kariobangi people also lack a fiscal space to meet that is somehow professional, work-oriented, or art-oriented and end up meeting in the streets, so-called “base” where they end up doing drugs the whole day or if they are women, most probably they might end up staying in the house and therefore lacking access to opportunities.The HUB acted like a newsroom providing necessary equipment for journalists such as laptops, cameras, and free wifi. Furthermore, thanks to partnerships it was hosting events, masterclasses, screenings and any other idea related to social change.

Overall, Sauti Ya Mtaa is an online platform for publishing citizen journalists. We built a strong network of citizen journalists who are reporting for SYM on a weekly basis on matters concerning accountability, governance and corruption. Our online platform was launched on August 2014, while journalists started to report stories on a daily basis beginning in September 2015.

Our citizen journalists are community residents from Kibera, Kariobangi and nearby communities with di erent backgrounds. Some of them have been trained as journalists, other have University Degree in other elds, while some have a di erent professional pro le ( teachers, community leaders). Because of the high rate of unemployment most of them are doing side jobs, like electrician, collec ng garbage or carpenters. So we decided to allocate a certain amount for “journalism content” that we used to compensate our journalists based on publication. For some of them, reporting for Sauti Ya Mtaa represented a livelihood, a way of generating a small income while learning a noble profession of investigating and bringing to the light untold stories from their communities.

During our project we had around 50 stories submitted every month for a total of around 300 stories produced, edited and uploaded during the first circle of the activity plan. Stories were reported from the field, with interviews, verified data and sources. Most of the stories reported were focusing on corruption and governance accountability in different sectors affecting the community such as health care, education, lack of infrastructure but also police abuse, illegal arrests and detention, mob justice and forced eviction. In general also covering topics of social injustice such as poverty, youth unemployment, gender disparity and all the related consequences such as drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and crime.

CORRUPTION in allocation of government funds to youth groups…
“Another group, Jungle Africa, also sailed in the same boat; its chairman Samuel Njoroge tried to lead his members to apply for the fund encouraging them even further to a end training forums and engage the area’s Member of County Assembly to sensitize people about the grant but much has not come out of his efforts as they found out later that 20 groups had been chosen already, there was no informa on on why they were let out. This situation is replicated among youth groups in the greater Eastlands area as they resonate to their fate. But the questions that remains unanswered are whether these groups will ever receive the right informa on soon enough and get access to the funds as was intended.” By Desmond Ooko, “Uwezo Fund: No walk in the park for youth in the Slums”
LAND GRABBING in the slums as electoral reward…
“Mathare North was among the most affected areas in the post-election clashes and that is why she took advantage of the situation to undertake that action to gain political recognition from the ground. The land which lies opposite Dawanol Pharmaceu cal Company situated along Outer ring road was idle for long where the owner a tycoon of Indian origin is believed to have evacuated it and run away during president Moi`s rule. She allowed the youths who are very powerful in Mathare north area including Matakwei a group that comprises of most feared reformist from Ruaraka constituency based in Mathare north area to divide the land into plots and have a share. “She wanted to conquer the ground and that was the trick that she did to be seen as generous and caring knowing very well that if she had the youth, definitely she had the voice” implied Ken Odira who is among the youth in the area. He confess that Mathare north area two is the central base and a no go zone area in Mathare north where addressing the public by a political aspirant is not easy leave alone winning the election. The youth therefore raided the land, divided it and later sold the plots to potential buyers at very low price ranging from sh 100,000 to sh 400,000. Because most of them cannot afford to develop the plot due to lack of capacity and secondly they feared court cases that might arise they preferred to sell. The land has been undergoing development for all this me where very expensive houses and business premises have been erected including Naivas supermarket. The area has become the most expensive with residential houses ranging from house rent of 15,000 to 20,000 per month.” By Adika Adeya, “Politicians rewarding voters with public land in Mathare North”
GENDER DISCRIMINATION in manufacturing companies…
“At the gates of the Chandaria Industries along the Baba Dogo street is where we find a group of men and women waiting to be let into work. We meet Elizabeth Akoth and Emily Kemunto who inform us that they had arrived at six o’clock. They narrate how they go about every morning to the industries in an e ort to get work. “I’ve been coming here since March 2014!. Some days I get work, some days I don’t. I have to look for something else to do before I can go back home,” Elizabeth confided. Elizabeth who lives in Riverside and Emily who is from Dandora daily make the journey to the Baba Dogo Road area where they can secure a casual job for the day.
According to research done by the Kenya Household Labour Survey, the highest rate of unemployment is among the youth of between the ages of 15 and 35; roughly 40% of the whole population. Women are the largest group of the unemployed. This is partly explained by the fact that women make up a larger percent of the population than men. Thus the number of unemployed women in rural areas is large and in urban areas women have higher rates of unemployment.” By Gloria Sandra, “Via Dolorosa: when getting a job could also be determined by your gender”
“A series of shots ringing through the air is what woke up Mathare and Huruma residents on the third of September, 2014. Another round followed and then silence. That is probably big news to some sensationalists who would be trooping to the scene to glean anything they can find, but, in Mathare these incidents are all too common. It is more likely that some youths have swallowed bullets. Here, the youth mortality rate rises by the day given the increased numbers that join crime and fast life. The young man in question this me is a well known gangster going by the alias ‘Chebe’. He has been variously linked to a string of crimes in the area and is said to have recently just been released from the Ruaraka police cells with a warning not to be found in the area again. Indeed the residents feel relieved that the so called Chebe has bi en the bullet. Recounting the number of his friends who have lost their lives, limbs and freedom as a result of his perceived bad influence on them, many agree that he was a menace. Chebe was executed at dawn by Administration police officers on patrol a er he was reportedly accosted by the officers while in the company of his gang at Mathare North primary school. In their a empt to escape by jumping across the murky Mathare River he was shot as his friends escaped. The witnesses to the scene recollect a bloody a air with the thug’s head split, neck torn and head dangling on broken tendons, stomach burst open and spewing out intestines. Next to him was his crude home-made gun, black polythene bag of jaba/mogoka (khat leaves) and a big jiko (charcoal stove) that he had probably stolen from a food vendor’s kiosk.” By Julio Otieno, “Motherland Crime: Suspect Gunned Down in Mathare”
“A 13 year old boy was among four suspected thugs who were lynched by an angry mob a er their robbery a empt back red earlier morning today at Undugu village in Kibera. Morris, as he popularly known by area residents, was a student at Mashimoni Primary School and it was said to be terrorizing area residents in the morning hours and has been corning pupils at the school. Our a empt to reach school administration was unfruitful as we were told, that the school is not allowed to give any informa on on crime issues. Two of the four suspects who were on their early twenties died on spot a er being stoned by an angry crowd who accuses them of robbing people going to work early in the morning. The other two died in hospital while the h suspect who was saved by the police is still recuperating in hospital and would soon appear in court. “The police have failed to provide adequate security around here and several suspects whom we have handed over to them are released a few days later.” Said Joseph Munyau, an area resident who also said, he has been robbed and reported the incidents several times to the nearest police station and no any actions has been taken.” Brenda Akinyi, “A 7 year old pupil lynched among thugs in Laini Saba”


“Poor implementa on of the building regulations in Mukuru kwa Njenga ward continues to risk the lives of innocent residents as people con nue to occupy houses under construction despite a directive to Local Planning Authority in Nairobi County to stop such constructions. According to an official who works in the Building Permit Issuance o ce in Mukuru kwa Njenga/Pipeline ward, a half of the buildings in the area have no permit for construction. But despite this informa on being available at the local office charged with the responsibility of ensuring safety of the buildings, more story apartments continues to emerge under the nose of the authorities. In the recent released report by Questworks, many of the buildings within Nairobi and its environs where found to be unfit for human habitation and would not withstand any incident of earthquake. It indeed, noted that 80 percent of the building exceeded the design strength due to use of more concrete than recommended.” Sylvester Makato, “ Corruption puts Mukuru Kwa Njenga Residents Lives at Risk”

Our graffiti artists, in collaboration with Pawa254, also transformed some of the stories into data-murals to tell the story to the residents, as you can see in the photo below, the graffiti along one of the most populated areas of Mathare North, represents the number of youths loosing their lives through mobjustice and police killings.

The main challenge of SYM is currently to achieve sustainability, in particular, finding a business model that can allow our citizen journalists to generate an income from publishing, and the organization to offer support in terms of equipment and training. Due to the short life of the project, the online publication had not reached an audience that could allow partnerships with established brands or major marketing companies.

Therefore, our objective is to re-think a sustainable business model which could allow the platform to be completely self-sustainable and the journalists to receive compensation for their work. The innovation idea that I am currently working on is based on using crowdfunding to sustain citizen journalism. A kind of Indiegogo for journalism, using the crowd to empower the crowd.

The idea is to create an online platform that will allow citizen journalists to pitch a story and share it with the audience, while the readers can comment, share, follow by subscribing and fundraise for the development of that particular story.

Indeed, what citizen journalists lack to develop a story is editorial and financial support, even when they are in the proximity of the information, the might face some challenges to develop the story: will the story be published? Is there interest in this? Is it worth to invest time and resources in covering such news? How long does it take me to get a camera?

As Emily, one of our citizen journalists told us, reporting is also a matter of survival: “Others work part me, I depend on my work here. My rent is 3500, by my stories I manage that. Sometimes the editor returns the story for some corrections, but I try hard for my stories to be good and get published. Sometimes I write 2 stories, it was the first time last month and I was so happy.”

Thanks to the platform such questions could be answered by the crowd, once they have pitched the story to the public. In some way, we could say that the audience becomes the editor. It’s about citizens speaking to other citizens. Sauti ya Mtaa could be indeed the first crowdfunding platform for citizen journalism (and artistic content) coming from youths from underprivileged community, not only in Kenya but across the globe.

My two sources of inspirations are by David Cohn and his crowdfunding platform for investigative journalism and the BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choud with his citizen journalism project CGNet Swara in India that is using an open source technology to enable citizens to report news by submitting real time voice messages. Indeed, on one side, David’s project addresses well the challenge of supporting independent investigation, on the other side, the CGNet Swara is very interesting because it gives the possibility to anybody to submit information from anywhere.

In particular, I would like to build a platform that will enable citizen journalists to pitch a particular story, in a very simple way, from wherever they are. The platform is actually giving them opportunity to crowd-fund and develop the story in a professional way, with our editorial support. Definitely, the journalist will be paid out upon publication of the story, and Sauti ya Mtaa will have a percentage on the fund raised to be able to sustain the platform and the editorial team behind the story.

Sauti ya Mtaa is taking up the challenge of combining citizen journalism with a social purpose using crowdfunding for sustainability. If it’s true that citizen journalism is born with the digital era as a democratic tool to exercise freedom of speech and covering what media is not, it’s also true that most of the citizen journalism startups have a very short life, for the lack of a sustainability model. This challenge seems to be giving headaches to a lot of founders, but if we don’t try to experiment to find solutions, what is innovation?

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