From Kenya to Zimbabwe: A new fact-checking collaboration using Check

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As we all know the best part of every conference is the connections made and ideas hatched in the hallways. So it was at last month’s IFCN Global Fact 5 summit (#globalfactV) in Italy where I had the chance to meet Eric Mugendi from Pesa Check. This meeting happened to coincide with plans in motion for monitoring the Zimbabwe Elections using Check, so it was a great chance for me to speak with Eric about how his team used Check in Kenya and how he is thinking about our upcoming partnership to cover Zimbabwe’s first post-Mugabe era vote on July 30th.

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Background: Meedan’s Partnership with Pesa Check

In September 2017 Check arrived in East Africa as Meedan and PesaCheck launched a new partnership. PesaCheck is integrating Meedan’s open source Check toolkit in their work, verifying statements of public figures across the countries where they’re operating: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.The cooperation comes through support from innovateAFRICA and funders including the Omidyar Network, Knight Foundation, MDIF, and the Gates Foundation.

Wafaa Heikal: Let’s start with an introduction of Pesa Check, When did you become interested in fact checking? And how would you describe your work with Pesa Check?

Eric Mugendi: I joined PesaCheck in July of 2017, so it’s almost a year now. Pesa Check started in 2016 as an initiative to look into Kenyan media publishing about Budget and public finance. Also we fact-check what politicians and public figures say about matters of national importance. 
We noticed especially when you talk about big numbers and budgets, the media wasn’t really looking into some of this figures or the claims. They just keep publishing what officials say, word by word, without doing any investigation by themselves.

So what we do, we look into public data, documents that been published by governments, and then we look to claims, everytime a politician say something about figures or the national government. We look to the data and we try to correct any misinformation by publishing an article about it. We also have media partners in Kenya that they cross publish our findings too.

PesaCheck is an innovateAFRICA fund grantee, and receives additional support from the International Budget Partnership, Code for Africa and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

WH: What can you tell me about your audience? And is there any African countries that you cover similar topics like Kenya?

EM: Right now, we are mainly based in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Our readers tend to be middle-class, working people, ages 25 to 35, and are primarily from Kenya and Tanzania. We are trying to build a bigger profile in Uganda and are setting up a partnership with a media company there and will be placing a fellow to lead the fact-checking work in Uganda.

WH: Pesa Check used Meedan’s verification tool Check by the Kenyan Elections last year, can you describe this experience, and how did it change your fact-checking workflow?

EM: We have been using Check before the Kenyan elections, but we found it really useful during the election because it’s a fast moving and fast changing situation. We worked with a team of 6 university students to do verification and fact-checking. They collected claims, and used Check as a guideline to find out what questions they need to ask/resolve to follow up on claims, until it comes to an end of investigation to find out if a claim was false or true. Check gave a whole structured process to everything and it was so easy to follow for editors.

Verifying Claims: In a review of 100 social media posts during Kenya’s election, PesaCheck found 27 were patently false. (PesaCheck)

“Over 72 hours, we fact-checked 100 social media posts. We found 27 of these to be patently false. We notified the Elections Observation Group (ELOG), who publicized our findings at press conferences. We also identified cases of election malpractice, voter bribery and outbreaks of violence, which ELOG then brought to the attention of the electoral commission for further action.” PesaCheck Partners with Zimbabweans to Monitor Coverage of Historic Presidential Election

WH: I am interested in how we continue doing fact-checking after the elections. Can you refer to an example that your team fact-checked after the elections using Check?

EM: A claim by a governor in Kenya that he claimed that the informal sector contribute 70% of Kenya’s GDP. PesaCheck has investigated this claim by Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria and finds it to be FALSE. To fact-check this claim we needed to we collaborate with our team of International Budget Partnership who are using the platform too, it was easy to assign a specific task to another team member using Check, who did investigation and came back with source document. The team is so spread out, so Check make us updated of what everyone is doing and what need to be done to fact-check a story.

I can look to any claim and see the status and other indicators, who is working on it? What questions still need an answer? Who is assigned to answer? The fact-checking process takes a long term, when you find a claim until publish an article. Check is useful to keep track during this long process and keep updated of what’s happening.

What we are looking for in the collaboration in Zimbabwe?

Basically what we are trying to do in Zimbabwe, is to replicate the successful workflows we used during the Kenyan Elections. We are bringing journalists and civil society together to do verification and fact-checking during the elections itself. So we are sharing the tools that we used, and the methods of verification that we applied. The main project itself is a part of larger project that Code for Africa is doing with Jigsaw in terms of giving Zimbabwe’s civil society and media tools to help them protect their election like Project Shield. We want to share the lessons we learned trying to fach-check the Kenyan elections and also giving them a way to carry this exercise themselves. So we talked with CITE (Centre For Innovation & Technology) to identify the main challenges they are facing and to co-develop workflows and processes that will help address those challenges. And we also identified another organization, Zim Fact, which has been working with Africa Check, and we expect they will be collaborating on this project.

It’s quiet a significant time in Zimbabwe, as it will be the first elections since Mugabe was removed from power, and civil society has the opportunity to help address the quality of the information on which Zimbabweans are grounding their electoral decisions. We hope we can contribute to the larger project of local civil society’s efforts to establish a culture of fact-checking in the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.

To request early access to Check, get in touch here.