Online war erupts in Kenya after peaceful vote
By Tom Odula, AP, Mar 14, 2013
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP)—Tribal lines are being drawn over who won Kenya’s presidential election. But unlike the bloody violence that scarred the country five years ago, this time the only fighting is online.
Machete strikes and bows and arrows are being replaced by bitter Tweets and angry status updates.
The exchange of barbs between supporters of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta—who was named the winner of the March 4 election with 50.07 percent of the vote—and his closest competitor, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, has degenerated into expletive-filled fights in social media that have the government worried.
The Ministry of Information and Communications said this week that it has been unable to contain “the ugly messages of hate and negative ethnicity” online. It said many of the messages qualify as hate speech.
Some officials worry that the virtual feuding could trigger real-life fighting.
“The outrage is becoming wider and the tension is palpable. It’s going to erode all our efforts of building national cohesion,” Milly Lwanga, vice chair of the government-funded National Cohesion and Integration Commission, told The Associated Press on Thursday. “The buildup of tension, it’s like a room where gas is leaking slowly and then eventually there will be something small to ignite it and people will wonder where the explosion came from.”
After Kenya’s disputed presidential vote in late 2007, Odinga’s supporters took to the streets. Tribal violence erupted, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 people.
No major violence has been reported, but the interactions are ugly online. Ethnic allegiances are exposed and ridiculed. Kenyatta’s tribe—the Kikuyus—and Odinga’s tribe—the Luos—clashed violently five years ago.
“Mmm! Kikuyus r thieves by default. There is nowhere on the planet earth, where a kikuyu works without stealing. Its embedded in their DNA. Kill all of them n Kenya will be a pleasant country to live in,” a post on Facebook by one user, Phil Miser, read.
A user named Susan Karanja replied to the tribal taunt from Miser: “We may be thieves but we are also enterprising. No wonder we employ u to use (your) brains in our jobs coz u dont use (yours) to better (your) lives n that’s the way it is. We run u not vice versa so swallow it.”
The 2007-08 postelection violence following a disputed election and the declaration that President Mwai Kibaki—a Kikuyu—had won a second term exposed deep tribal animosity that had built up for generations. Problems between the Luo and Kikuyu community started soon after independence from Britain in 1963, when Odinga’s father—the first vice president of the country—had a falling out with Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru Kenyatta’s father and the country’s first president.
That set off decades of bad blood between the Kikuyus and Luos. Inter-tribal marriage became taboo.