Dr Jörg Wiegratz co-authors article on narratives about fake news and corruption in Kenya amidst Covid-19 pandemic

Dr Jörg Wiegratz, Lecturer in Political Economy of Global Development, co-authors the article with Dr Constance Smith, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in Social Anthropology, University of Manchester.

The article ‘Making Sense of #FakeNews and #CovidBillionaires’, features in The Elephant, a Nairobi-based news outlet. The piece explores issues and debates surrounding fakes, fraud and corruption in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on the case of Kenya but also referring to relevant global dynamics including the establishment of anti-fake-news and fact-checking units and initiatives, run by International Organisations, state agencies and public broadcasters for example. Smith and Wiegratz are interested in how debates about corruption, fraud and fakes can have different meanings and effects in different socio-political contexts around the globe and what the root causes might be. While recognising that COVID-related graft and fakes, and respective debates, are a global phenomenon, they examine instances from Kenya given their research work in the country.

‘By looking at the claims of COVID-related fakery, fraud and corruption and the context from which they emerge, we can go beyond the utilitarian guidelines of international anti-fraud institutions and anti-fake news initiatives, whose statements tend to revert to simplistic binaries of truth/lies, genuine/fake, accountable/corrupt. Exhortations from agencies like the United Nations to “take care before you share’” do little to get to the root of why certain (mis)information goes viral and how it is embedded in particular moral and political-economic landscapes. Instead, we suggest, we should look to how such stories seek to challenge moral and political authority, revealing deeper anxieties about absence of trust, the conduct of the powerful, personal gain and what forms of misconduct a global pandemic might facilitate.’

The article contextualises COVID fakes and frauds as phenomena related to neoliberalism and offers a critical analysis of anti-fraud and anti-fake-news initiatives that are carried out by global and national authorities.  It concludes that respective debates and narratives in Kenya (as elsewhere) about for example COVID related malfeasance in state procurement reveal ‘public concerns not just about veracity, but more broadly about the agendas and operations of the powerful, self-enrichment and what is going on beneath the surface.’

Importantly, by bringing fake news and fraud/corruption into one analytical frame the analysis offers insight into the deep entanglement between the moral, economic and political climate of fraud and fakery.

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