Did I miss an important memo? Are all Kenyans online saved except me? It is either that or the big brother is curtailing freedom of expression. Until very recently Kenyans have been known to interact online mainly to showcase how talented they are in spewing hurting insults to those of the wrong tribal background. Insults have been the only way to comment on political and personality topics in news sites, blog sites and social media platforms. No Kenyan (if there was then the number was statistically insignificant) was capable to commenting on a political article without using terms such as “uncircumcised”, “jigger infested”, “brown teeth” and related debasing phrases – the level of which prompted me to write the article – I was wrong, education and technology can never save us.
By the time I was writing that article I was mad at Kenyans, especially Kenyans online, and extremely disappointed that I am one of them. I couldn’t understand how Kenyans who had undergone at least 16 years of schooling still thought that uncircumcised d…ks or unpolished teeth contributed to one’s reasoning ability, and I decided to do something about it, I decided to keep off our local gossip, showbiz and political topics… and that’s why when #OkoaKenya trended, I didn’t bother to check it out. It couldn’t be anything other than the usual verbal tribal garbage coming out of educated brains, I reasoned.
Then President Uhuru decided to appoint political cronies and their relatives to plum government jobs, and for the first time I saw a significant number of people in my Facebook friendship list that are supposed to offer unquestionable support to the President given their shared language talk loudly against the appointments. I couldn’t believe it so I visited a few Facebook Pages where the appointments were being discussed and the trend was the same – more than 70% Kenyans who speak the same language as the President were just as disappointed as the rest of Kenyans elsewhere. Actually, those in support of the President were from unlikely quarters – the President was getting support from CORD branded personalities like Carolyne Mutuku of Radio Africa.
That somehow Kenyans were united against “a misdeed” brought some level of optimism thus I updated my Facebook Status this way:
“I think President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed old age rejects to Parastatal positions to unite ordinary Kenyans. I am amazed how everyone, despite tribal inclination, has united against the appointments.”
The end, they say, justifies the means. “If the only thing that can unite Kenyans is to do an act that will anger all against me in equal measure, then let me do it even if it will cost me politically”, I imagined the President telling one of his advisers “After all, our PR machinery will water down the outrage a few days later and by the time the next elections knocks, Kenyans shall have forgotten”.
A day after the disappointments, that’s yesterday, #SendUhuruHome trended, and it is still the fourth trending topic in Kenya as I write this. Last night I decided to go through the entire hashtag to verify if indeed Kenyans were now united against this common enemy and were willing to show President Uhuru the door come next elections. The finding? No, they are not as united as the complains against the appointments indicate.
As much as Kenyans are still opposing or supporting the President tribally, there is something that has dramatically changed. Those who really want to #SendUhuruHome were not insulting those in the other camp but were/are expressing their thoughts with tweets such as these ones:
We will #SendUhuruHome for appointing political scavengers who had their time to eat, ignoring the youth, a bulk of whom voted for him.
— BORN HUMBLE™ (@Mikeobura305) April 30, 2015
I’m curious how many of you that want to #SendUhuruHome actually voted for him? Favourite this tweet if you are Jubilee and disgruntled.
— Ciku Muiruri (@MissCiku) April 29, 2015
Then those in the other camp were/are not spewing insults either. Their support for the President is to a large extent humorously expressed by tweets such as these:
— Consumers Fedn Kenya (@ConsumersKenya) April 29, 2015
— Lindah Oguttu (@lindahoguttu) April 29, 2015
Interesting right? There is no mention of uncircumcised d….ks? Jigger infested feet? No insults? Really? What happened? The answer is either Kenyans online miraculously got saved overnight or Francis Ole Kaparo took his work very seriously. Since salvation cannot happen to everyone simultaneously, the latter must be true.
Francis Ole Kaparo, the current chairman of National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was the guest of honour during the 2014 OLX SOMA awards that took place in October last year. In his speech, Mr. Kaparo singled out social media as a key medium Kenyans use to show one another how much they hate each other, and he strongly spoke against the use of social media to spew hatred and insults; a statement that most social media users disagreed with. According to many Kenyans online, the words expressed in social media has zero effect on those who carry pangas and stones to kill. A correlation normally used is that Kenyans online are not the ones killing each other, whereas those who do the killing hardly have access to the Internet. To these people therefore, it is a waste of time to fight online hate speech.
If indeed Mr. Kaparo had such a strong stand against the use of social media for spreading hatred, then it is logical to conclude that the lack of hatred in our political discussions in comments and Facebook/Twitter updates a few months after the SOMA awards is largely as a result of vigilant action Mr. Kaparo and his team have taken to monitor what Kenyans are saying online. Should this worry you? A quick analysis suggests that the only thing that has changed is the lack of insults based on tribal lines, so no, you shouldn’t be worried. What you need to do is keep insults off your comments and social media updates and everything will be okay.
Kudos for keeping political discussions a little bit mature. Sometimes a form of policing actually works for the good.
Big media outlets like CNN, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others have closed down their comments sections due to racial and other non-productive comments on their stories.
Immediately after publishing this, #ArrestKhalwale was trending – a rare unity Kenyans Online have against incitement and hate speech. It is important to note that there are many who are in support of Khalwale.