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Thanks to Social Media, Our Politics has never been the same again

By charles Juma Updated Tuesday, April 28th 2015 at 10:51 GMT +3
There was a time in Kenya’s history when news of any political happenings, be it harambees, rallies or when the big man was opening a cattle dip in some remote village of Kocholwa would only reach the shores of Nam Lowe (Lake Victoria) after two or three days, hell news from the rest of the country (Kenya as the Turkanas call it) would reach Garisa after one week, sometimes after one month! and it was only so if it happened that your uncle who went to fight on behalf of the Queen in Burma came back with that small transistor radio or some other uncle who was working for the kalasingha or Kericho tea farm had come back home with the Phillip or that wooden Sanyo radio. We would surround the little thing and listen keenly; woe unto you if you dare cough during news hour or death announcements: that was the time of VOK aka KBC! Then came the newspapers which were only a preserve of those who had seen the inside of a class room beyond klase tri (class3) as we used to call it. I remember this old mzee who had long retired from the civil service, really? No, he had worked as an aid to one the senior chiefs of East Kisumu. The old man had always bought Taifa Leo without fail from Monday to Monday. He would then proceed to lend you the paper on condition that you read it aloud if you asked for it and like he becomes the source of news from Nabori as the villagers call Nairobi in the village. He then would challenge anyone who dared  to question the authenticity of the information he was spreading to read the newspaper and you would read it loud for others present  to also confirm that he is well informed. It was not years later that I came to learn that old geezer never knew how to read nor would write thus by challenging you to read loud, you would be inadvertently giving him information of what he otherwise not have known! Then came the TV  but back then the only TV(VOK-KBC) signals available in the country had not gotten ways of navigating around and over the Nandi hills down to the slopes of our sleepy village  of Tamu. When in the 90 the Fm stations came and KTN became a house hold name, our eyes started opening up to the lies about bridges and dams the politicians kept telling us they were constructing, yet still most of the world politics and scandals could only sip in through some relatives who had read some old tabloids working as house boys in Muthaiga and of course there was the BBC Africa every evening at 6pm English and 6.30pm (East African time) Swahili with the likes of Vicky Ntetema. There was also VOA( Voice of America) and Deutsche Welle radio to boot!

Have you ever wondered why Kenya is still building Dams and sinking bore holes right into the 21st century government? What happened to the ones the politicians had built back then? Your guess is as good as mind. It was total hot air for votes.

Then kaboom! The social media and social air spAce was opened up thanks to the liberalization of the media and opening up of the political space after the multiparty elections of 1992 and the 2010 promulgation of the new constitution.  No politician today would sleep on his laurel for there are eyes everywhere led by the hawk eyed KOS(Kenyans on social media) and here  KOT(Kenyans on Twitter) battalion takes charge followed by the facebook brigade. Nothing goes unchallenged by this group: whether you were seen Just peeing behind your own granary or holding hands with someone in a  manner  they perceive that that other person is neither  your sister nor brother,  it will be news with hundred of comments and likes  before you could even say Referendum. Thanks to social media we now know who sleeps with who and is planning to sleep with who literally and metaphorically to the point some names like Open devolution have been given to some leaders who are said to be generous with their body resources than the national government with money for the counties. In fact in my opinion I   attributed the 2007/2008 post election violence, much to rumors without any avenue to counter it and nip the rumor in the bud. In 2013 up to date any rumor would be out and within a minute the social media would be awash with it either confirming or denying it. If anybody told you that Kenyans never went to war after the disputed election of 2013, because they feared ICC  and you believed it then you must be  the biggest fool  found South of Sahara. They lied to you, and if so Wajir would not always be in the news all for the wrong reason all the time .My simple mind put much of that peace to social media. Forget the baloney of 'We are one and Accept and move on. Human beings and the Kenyan ones in particular are a very curious animal and would want to get to know what is happening out there, that is why you would see people running towards the scene of a blast; tyre or bomb rather than run away from it. When the government in 2007/2008 banned all live media coverage they, opened the floodgate of rumor mill through mobile phones which prompted others to also go out and find out for themselves thus fueling the violence. Thanks to social media we just get updated on things even taking place inside state house from our sofa set without waiting for the main stream media edited versions. 

Because the current politicans are aware of the power of the social media, they are all out trying to out do each other by posting information about their movements and activities to show they are working. There are today at least 200 fb groups and pages run by and on behalf of politicians lead by President Uhuru himself! Be it a church service or a child naming ceremony, they are all there for the computer savvy electorates to see that their leader is working and is interacting with his/her people. When Dr. Alfred Mutua stripped his deputy governor of hid ministerial portfolio, it was already in the social media news even before Mutua sat back from the podium!

The electorate is keeping their elected leaders on toes by sharing news of development from other constituencies and counties and comparing progress with their own. Shoddy jobs are not tolerated either and Dr. Mutua has tasted both  the sweet and bitter part of it in social media what with the 33km road wonder. Party politics and loyalty have or those who are seen to be lukewarm are not spared either. You are either with us or against us. Days when politicians would visit state house at night for Ugali and then the next minute party particulars vanish are gone. You dare try one and the KOS will be breathing down your neck till you retreat and you will be trending on social media for days. They know all too well when paupers just got rich over night and are hoping from one political rally to the other with choppers. Now that is political suicide in every sense today.

Then there are blogs and bloggers. They may be sometimes openly annoying, full of lies exaggerations and oxymoron, but some of them are very first at leaking sensitive and vital secrets to the public that would otherwise have gone without notice. There is no gainsaying, some of the blogs can be very irritating and intrusive but the best way to handle them is do what Raila Odinga and Sonko have been doing: ignoring them for like someone once said you cannot defeat the media and more so the social media. There is need to regulate the social airspace to void the much hatred coming from the social media but the problem with social media registration is its engine: it would not know whether you are a toddler or an adult so long as you type the date of birth putting you age above 18 year old. Majority or the social media hatred and epithets are churned out by juveniles still in class 6! I think this is an area where the engineers at these companies will have to work hard such that for examples you only register with your National identity number for a particular country, which means the countries will have to cooperate with the administrators or say twitter and face book to achieve this.

Moving forward, the next battle frontier going into the 2017 General elections will be won or lost in the social media. Any politician who still thinks using funerals to spread lies of hot air development  is still smart will be  in for a rude shock.

 

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