Internet Election Wars Hit E-Mail Boxes in Kenya

Internet

Internet service providers in Nairobi have raised the red flag over abusive and unsolicited campaign material flooding the web as spam mail as the campaigns in Kenya head for the December 27 polls.

But what is worrying is the frequent virus attacks over the past month which have disabled computers and caused a scare among Internet service providers.

Africa Online sales manager George Njeru told The EastAfrican that there have been complaints from users mainly accessing the Internet at cyber cafes of invasion by this category of spam mail. "Much of it may not do any damage to the computers but it slows down the networks and at times customers cannot access some sites or even their inboxes," said Njeru refering to web-based e-mail accounts such as Yahoo and gmail.

He said the increase in spam has forced customers to waste time and money deleting the unwanted mail. Muchiri Kabogo, a manager at Nairobi Net, which runs a network of cyber cafes in Nairobi and also an Internet service provider said the viruses have hit most cyber cafes in Nairobi. "They are all lodged in the computer start-up folder and strike the moment the users power up their machines giving them no chance to avoid the damage," said Kabogo.

He said the viruses are eating up the desktop folders of the computers and besides possible damage to the equipment, have also destroyed vital information.

An official of Swift Global also confirmed the presence of the viruses. "A virus that is on the net remains in circulation for a long timeit is up to users to institute appropriate measures to shield their equipment," she said. Some cafes have been forced to close down for days at a time to clean up the damage, incurring unexpected costs.

Kenya's presidential election contest, especially between incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his ODM rival Raila Odinga, is becoming increasingly intense. The war of words in public forums is being mirrored on the web, where the propaganda war is being waged. So much so, that at the launch of his campaign website last week, President Kibaki cautioned the public against believing all that they read on the web.

"I'm sure you can make good judgment and ignore the malice in most of the material being bundled online," he said.

The top three presidential aspirants have set up websites for their election campaigns. The president also mentioned use of text messages as a medium of propaganda, but the sms system is limited and does not allow the dissemination of bulk graphics and details possible through the web.

Most Internet users have been looking out for the juicy campaign propaganda, usually scandals touching on the three candidates. These at first seemed readily available through the Kibaki Tena, Raila Tosha and Kalonzo Tayari sites, which all came disguised as election campaign material, but turned out to be viruses that did major damage to an unspecified number of computers.

Efforts to get comments from the two major political parties have been fruitless, but most fingers point at rogue PNU and ODM operatives trying to outdo one another in the propaganda war.

Most ISPs have advised their clients on ways of removing the viruses but are yet to trace their origins. Njeru said the bugs may have been sent from abroad, being fairly sophisticated and obviously created by people with high skills. But Kabogo said it was possible that they originated locally.

The East African