By IDIL ABSHIR
The Wall Street Journal
The growing influence of the Internet and social media in Kenya has played a crucial role in this year's elections, from allowing ordinary Kenyans to question candidates to spreading messages of peace to avert fresh bloodshed.
After millions of Kenyans cast their ballots, a platform that had been designed to help them locate polling stations assumed a new function: Circulating messages against the violence that marred election results five years ago, almost splitting the nation along ethnic lines. "Thank you for keeping the peace," the message read.
"Last elections we saw a lot of problems come up, so now we are doing our part to keep the peace and share positive messages," said 22-year-old developer David Lemayian, who built the website, called Got to Vote.
Mr. Lemayian is at the forefront of an industry that is changing Kenya's elections, as the tools of technology bring new scrutiny to the candidates and the votes that are cast for them.
Behind this surging interest in the nation's politics is the booming use of the Internet. According to Kenya's Communication Commission, last year 14 million people regularly used the Internet—more than a third of the population. That segment had jumped from 10.5 million at the end of 2011. Before the last election, fewer than 3 million Kenyans used the Internet.
With the electoral commission reporting about 42% of votes, Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is leading the presidential contest with 54% of the tally. Prime Minister Raila Odinga is second at 42%.
The winner must gain more than 50% of the vote, or the commission will declare a runoff to take place 30 days after the final result is announced. Any legal petitions challenging Monday's vote could delay the process.
The one clear result so far is the proliferation of groups keeping tabs on Kenyan politicians and the election contests.
The Code4Kenya team is building open technology platforms, such as Got to Vote, to enable citizens to get answers about elections, such as how to register to vote. The platform serves as an alternative to the government source, which requires viewers to wade through bulky documents.
One of the pioneers of Kenyan open data projects is Ushahidi. Swahili for "Testimony," Ushahidi was developed as an open-source platform to pinpoint trouble spots when rioting rocked the country in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. More than 1,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in the violence.
"We believe as Kenyans it is our duty to support the system as best as we can, and make that system as strong as it can be, so that people can't take the undemocratic way," said Daudi Were, one of Ushahidi's founders.
Ushahidi's platform has since gone global. It has been used in 159 countries and 30 languages, the company says.
For Monday's elections in Kenya, Ushahidi deployed a monitoring project called Uchaguzi, meaning "elections" in Swahili. A situation room was setup in the iHub, a Nairobi tech center, and volunteers collected reports on social media and SMS reports, mapped and verified them, and developed a report.
After gathering countless tweets about long lines and technical difficulties at polling stations, the social media monitoring team stumbled on a more striking story: A woman had given birth in the line outside her polling station.
Before long, another monitor started gathering tweets about women passing their babies down the line in order to jump the queue. Polling clerks started marking children with ink to keep track of where people stood in line.
The emergence of Kenya's Twitter generation comes as the government seeks to build Nairobi into an African technology hub. The Kenya ICT Board, a state corporation, has plans to a build a new tech city, Konza, the "Silicon Savannah" on Nairobi's outskirts, with global tech giants such as Google Inc., GOOG +2.17%Nokia Corp. NOK1V.HE +2.79%and International Business Machines Corp. IBM +0.88%having been drawn to Kenya recently.
For Mr. Lemayian, the tech craze isn't a fleeting trend—it is a sign of a culture that will keep powerful politicians in check. "Electricity was a powerful tool that enabled the small guys to rise up," he said. "We are using technology in the same way."