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Keeping a check on politicians
– von Isaac Sagala
Kenyans are creative and make funny, hilarious, cynical, serious and even plain ruthless statements on social media, calling to attention to politicians’ failures. To some extent, that keeps the leaders in check. The micro-blogging site Twitter is especially useful in this context.
Many Kenyans are unhappy about corruption and other public matters. They create hash-tags around issues. They are vocal and have a way of coining stinging barbs. Many tweets use satire.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was recently lambasted because of his frequent overseas trips on social media. The Daily Nation, a leading newspaper, reported that he had made 43 such foreign visits since assuming power in 2013, compared with his predecessor who made 33 trips in 10 years. Immediately, the hashtag #UhuruInKenya was coined and went viral. It made fun of the president:
- gathara (@gathara) wrote on 6 December: "@UKenyatta's made 43 trips in the 971 days he's been president. Assuming each average 3 days, he's been away 1 day each week."
- Hassan Mohammed (@mohaz254) wrote: "Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya for 3 day visit. He will then hold a bilateral talk with the opposition at 4PM today."
- Boniface Mwangi (@bonifacemwangi) wrote: "In 1999, Uhuru Kenyatta was appointed Kenya Tourism Board chairman by his political father MOI. Travelling became his hobby."
- Fiona (@fiona_theartist) wrote: "Uhuru making a stop over in Kenya before proceeding with his world tour."
Recently, Anne Waiguru, the cabinet secretary in charge of devolution was forced to resign after sustained pressure over alleged corruption in her ministry. Nearly $ 7 million were spent that could not be accounted for. The issue gained traction online. She eventually resigned, citing health reasons. She complained on twitter about the online pressure she felt:
- Anne Waiguru (@AnneWaiguru) wrote on 3 November: " Why all these personal attacks against me? Read: tl.gd/n_1snpp0r
Earlier, the cabinet secretary in charge of security took the heat from the online community and had to set free a journalist who was arrested after refusing to disclose the sources of a story according to which the country spent nearly $ 40 million on internal security per day. Kenyans used a hashtag to demanding his release.
Blogger Shitemi Khamadi summarises the trend: “Social media is open. People can highlight and discuss specific issues. The government is able to read these things and will want to react and explain, to answer all these questions.” Indeed, Kenyan politicians are increasingly hiring public relations companies to manage their online presence and respond in the event of online public backlash.
Isaac Sagala is a journalist and trainer and lives in Nairobi, Kenya.