Those who can, do; those who can’t, Tweet
Events in recent days have again focused attention on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to deactivate his social media accounts and withdraw from the social media space.
The decision was particularly notable as Uhuru had previously been an extremely active social media user, described by the BBC as Africa’s first ‘digital president’.
He boasted over 3.5 million followers on Facebook and a similar number on Twitter, making him the most followed leader in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, he seemed to enjoy using these platforms to engage with young, social media savvy Kenyans.
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Yet little over two months ago, Uhuru abruptly withdrew from this space, with speculation as to the reasons ongoing.
Soon after his departure, his Chief Of Staff Nzioka Waita explained that “On account of unauthorised access... All official social media handles for the President have been temporarily suspended to give room for necessary remedial measures to be undertaken.”
Over the weekend, the president made his first comment on the subject, seemingly implying that he no longer saw the platform as relevant.
“Just because you are making headlines, don’t think you will bother me,” he told the assembled crowd at Kasarani Stadium. “And that is why I stopped concentrating on newspapers or those Facebooks of theirs.”
An alternative view was put forward the next day by Winnie Odinga, the youngest daughter of Raila, who tweeted that, “Kenya is the only country to successfully cyber bully a head of state off social media. These KOT [Kenyans on Twitter] streets are not to be taken lightly.”
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The likelihood is that the cause for Uhuru’s withdrawal was a combination of the three.
From a technical standpoint, clearly if there has been unauthorised access, security measures must be taken.
This is, after all, an official communication platform of a head of state.
At the same time, anyone who has been active on social media will have witnessed the cyber bullying that Winnie Odinga was referring to.
In fact, it is difficult not to be appalled by the language, vitriol and cynicism that these platforms seem to produce. All of the worst sides of our society – racism, misogyny and hatred – seem to have found space on Twitter and other platforms.
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While Kenya is not alone in this, our not too distant experiences of communal violence should give us all cause for concern.
All Kenyans, youth and parents alike, need to look closely at themselves and consider if this is really the discourse we want.
Within this context, it is easy to identify with Uhuru’s explanation.
He initially opened his accounts to enable him dialogue with the people he serves, helping him to become a listening servant leader.
However, now that the platforms are no longer fit for this purpose, and instead have become a place for tribalism and hat speech, he is best off focusing his energies elsewhere.
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Essentially, Uhuru is simply too busy with real work to concern himself with the cesspit that Kenya’s social media has become.
The evidence of Uhuru’s real focus is all around us.
High economic growth, double the regional and global average; the Big Four agenda; an aggressive anti-corruption push; record education investment; a new environmental policy; returning Kenya to a leadership position in the region, and more.
Uhuru is committed to turning Kenya into a middle income economy by 2030, and has no time to waste. Everywhere we look, he is doing and delivering. Walking the talk. Actions, not words.
For some people, this is not enough. They will ridicule the president for ‘disappearing’ (or in normal terms, simply working hard from his office!).
They will celebrate and gloat that they managed to force the president off social media.
Meanwhile, Uhuru will continue working. One day he may return to social media, or perhaps he won’t. While it is a shame for the ‘silent majority’ who enjoy hearing from the president on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it really is his choice.
Leave the social media to the talkers and pretenders, to those whose only focus is 2022.
In the meantime, Uhuru will get on with governing and delivering.
To deliberately misquote the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, Tweet”
Mr Maore is the Igembe North Member of Parliament
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President Uhuru KenyattaChief Of Staff Nzioka Waita