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ANALYSIS: Busting the enduring myth of ‘million people’ rallies in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park

Visiting the United Kingdom for a round of lectures, Kenyan opposition figure Miguna Miguna repeatedly claimed one million people had attended the mock swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as “people’s president”.

When he spoke at the University of Oxford on 23 March 2018, Miguna said: “We organised the swearing in of the people’s president on the 30th of January [and] more than a million people showed up.”

A day later in London, he said: “My role on that day was limited to mobilising a million people and swearing Raila in. I did that.”

‘Estimated at not less than 15,000’

 Recreationers are seen in the dais area of Kenya's Uhuru Park on 2 April 2018 where rallies are mainly held. Steeped in history, the park is popular with large groups, especially political parties and religious gatherings. Photo: AFRICA CHECK / LEE MWITI Recreationers are seen in the dais area of Kenya's Uhuru Park - where rallies are mainly held - in April 2018. Photo: AFRICA CHECK/LEE MWITI" />

Africa Check asked Miguna how he determined that a million people had attended Odinga’s ceremony. He promised to respond, but has not yet done so, despite a reminder. (Note: We will update this report if he does.)

Footage from Reuters news agency show people seated on the stage, with a large crowd packed in the triangle between Processional way, the footpath next to the Milimani law courts and Cathedral road.

According to a Reuters report “more than 15,000 people” attended the event, while their accompanying video report had it at “more than 10,000 people”.

Newspapers reported figures in this region, too: The Star said the crowd was “estimated at not less than 15,000”, while the Standard and Daily Nation put the figure at “thousands of supporters”.

Surface area & crowd density required

Academics Clark McPhail and John McCarthy provided “rules of thumb” for judging how credible a crowd estimate is in an article for the American Sociological Society.

First off, you need to know the surface area of the space where people gathered. Then you need to make a call on the density of the crowd.

French developer Anthony Catel has created a tool called MapChecking which allows you to plot an area and select the density of the crowd filling it. (Note: It’s in French, so right click on the page and select “Translate to English”.)

“It would be normal to evaluate at 2 to 2.5 people per square metre for a political rally,” Prof Keith Still, who teaches crowd safety and risk analysis at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, told Africa Check.

Ignoring the trees in the area and assuming the grounds were occupied uniformly by 2.5 people per square metre, MapChecking provides an estimate of 113,761 people - about a tenth of the million Miguna claimed.

Idea a wild exaggeration

But Miguna is far from the only one to have overestimated Uhuru Park’s capacity.

In 2002 international media reported that "close to a million people" thronged the park to witness the swearing in of Mwai Kibaki as the country's third president.

Before the 2007 elections, a Kenyan commentator wrote in Uganda’s New Vision newspaper that “it was a marvel to see over a million people behaving so peacefully” during an Odinga rally at Uhuru Park.

And when Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Kenya in 2015, State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu told journalists that “at least a million” people would attend the papal mass held in Uhuru Park.

Can the iconic park fit that big a crowd?

When it was declared a national monument in 1995, the size of Uhuru Park was put at 21.43 ha (214,300 m²). At a uniform density of 2.5 people per square meter, just over 500,000 people would fill the park. However, that ignores the presence of man-made lakes, trees, monuments, fenced-off buildings and hedges.

The idea that Uhuru Park can fit a million people is a wild exaggeration.


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