Friday, March 22, 2013

Africa's first Twitter War : the good, the bad and the ugly

Thursday, March 21st will be a day to remember. No, there was no earthquake, no Tsunami and no extraordinary bomb blast in the "bomb nations" part of the world. But there was huge violence. No, not just violence, it was war. The kind of war that strikes you with a boom. First because you never saw it coming, and second, by the time you realized what is happening.. things have really gone bad. Very bad.

It happened on Twitter.

The background is the reported « not so nice » welcome and hospitality that the Kenyan Soccer team received in Nigeria, in preparation for a match. News got back to Kenya and Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) decide to give Nigerians a piece of their KOT mind. And there was a return from Nigerians on Twitter (NOT). There was fire for fire.. The war is still on, and may not subside any time soon.

The Good

Can anything good come out of a war ? This time, I will answer "Yes, Social Media has made it possible".

For one thing, both countries were Twitter Trending Topics almost the whole day. It will be good to see the exact number that the tweets that had #SomeoneTellNigeria, #SomeoneTellKenya, #SomeoneTellNigerians and #SomeonetellKenyans or their close likes actually generated on Twitter. Some tweets received retweets in the thousands.

The other good thing is that for once, we can have a different kind of war. This digital or social media war has gone on with an arsenal made up of computers, tablets, mobile phones, and Internet connection. Make no mistake, there is a financial cost to it : hours of data package, bandwidth, electricity, phone credits and human energy were expended.

This is the kind of war for which the Security Council of the African Union will not have to meet. No Mediator will need to be appointed, no negotiation meetings will have to hold and no  MIS* or UNM* peace-keeping force will be needed. No world power will have to « take its responsibilities » and impose itself on the warring countries. All of that wont happen.

Yes, I was amazed at the mobilisation. At the speed at which tweets arrived and the intensity in the posts. Unbelievable !! Kenyans on Twitter, Nigerians on Twitter !! Irrespective of what they were saying, this was a clear demonstration of AOT – Africans on Twitter !! We followed.. from Cape to Cairo, Dakar to Djibouti. Ghanaians and Tanzanians did not want to miss it. And yes, Global Twittosphere, Social and tradition media cashed in !!

You know what I really found « good » ? The possibility that people have to bring out all the violence in them.. to out it.. without needing to purchase arms, shoot bullets or launch grenades. The violence was intense, and I was personally surprised at how much of it is latent …. seething underneath.. while we do emails that end with « best regards », post Bible passages, and exchange niceties.. all of that.. just waiting to explode.

The Bad

Did the people who launched into the war take time to find out what exactly the problem was? Did Nigerians and Kenyans get the full story ? Why will any African engage in trading insults on a sister country? Do people realise that the  "Internet never forgets? Twitter may have given people the opportunity to out their violent thoughts, but did they really weigh their tweets ? I got the impression, in reading some of the tweets, that some just saw the war, saw in it an opportunity to be a Twitter mercenary and got "Twirecruted". No matter the perspective from which we look at it, heaping insults on the Internet is a no-no. There may be boomerangs.

The bad here is that people are engaging in a war whose every bullet is seen, calculated, and recorded. These tweets may hunt people later, in ways and places that they will least expect.

The bad is also that football, instead of being the opportunity for  the consolidation of ties, of friendship and of humanity  is now being used to fuel violence.

The Ugly

The hate speech. Photos that should never have been online, characterising human beings as animals. I was scandalised to see people use skin colour as a weapon. These tweets, of Africans by Africans will fuel the wheels of racism. Even in war conditions, there is something called the International Humanitarian Law, something called crime against humanity. In this Twitter war, I saw Twitter-genocide, or should I say Twittercide.

There are criminal minds out there. There are individuals looking for the slightest provocation to go a rampage. There are extremists waiting for tweets like these to instigate physical violence.. Someone somewhere is looking for a valid reason for a violent retaliation. I have begun to ask myself if very soon we will not be having Twiterrorism.

Imagine if Nigeria and Kenya shared borders ?

Quo vadis...

I am asking myself questions. Is this current (Twitter) generation better than the one before? What has this generation learned about African Unity? With all the wars in Africa, have we not lost enough to be wiser? How come our use of technology, instead of being constructive, is increasingly becoming destructive; self destructive?

Moving forward

I have taken a line from the Kenyan, the Nigerian and African Union anthems and this what I see :

« The Labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain. Let all with one accord, in common bond united, dedicate ourselves to rise together to defend our liberty and unity »


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