A few weeks back, our Prime Minister kicked off a storm in not only the media but the social media scene as well when he called for the arrest of gays and lesbians in the country. Given how conservative Kenya usually is, I was surprised at how Kenyans reacted because this attack did not go well with most Kenyans, especially those on social networks. And they did not hesitate to make their opinions known. On an even greater scale, a search for Raila on Twitter revealed just how far reaching his comments were as most of the tweets casted him as a homophobe who had called for the arrest of gays and lesbians in Kenya.
Most Kenyan politicians have loose tongues and Raila’s call for the arrest of our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters symbolized that. Definition Of best defines Loose Tongue as “(Expression) a tactless, undiplomatic and insensitive manner of speaking, often thoughtlessly carried out, and likely to cause offense, indignation, embarrassment or emotional hurt in others.” During the post election scuffles, it was loose tongues that instigated the violence. But for some reason, it never seems that those among our political class with lose tongues can ever be brought to account. No more. And I love social media’s role in all this. When Raila made this statement, the reactions in social media were fast and with resolve.
Even without an official hashtag, Raila was almost trending with the largest chunk of discourse not just on Twitter but across social networks and online media focussing on his anti-gay remarks. Most of the remarks were negative and I hardly saw one that supported his statement. I saw quite a number which said “Raila has just lost my vote.” In fact, the number of tweets and Facebook statues updates and even comments on blogs that asserted Raila had lost their votes led me to ask whether Raila has a digital strategist. The amount of negative reactions to his statement was simply overwhelming that only an idiot would ignore it.
Raila has always been referred to a reformist who fought for Human Rights for so many years. His statement against the gay community marginalised the gay and that in itself made people question his tag as Human Rights Defender. After taking the heat both online and offline for his stance, the Prime Minister made an about-turn by claiming that the media misquoted him. I really liked this part. There was a video already on YouTube, with translations that hang on his every word – proving with certainty that he was not misquoted. Both on Twitter and on Facebook, anyone tempted to take the Prime Minister side in claiming he was misquoted was suddenly faced with a link to the evidence. And not once was I asked for the link to the articles and YouTube video and which I gladly shared.
One of the best pieces of advice my mum ever gave me was to “watch your tongue and guide your mouth.” It is about time as well that through social media and other online platforms that we ensure our politicians know that no “loose tongue” shall go unpunished. Our political class will need to understand that the evidence is documented online, the courses of action discussed, and votes are won and lost based on the discourse online. Already, Our President and Prime Minister have Twitter parody accounts created in honour of their gaffes with the Prime Minister’s account having come about following his anti-gay remarks. I believe that this trend will continue down to Governors and MP’s as people take aim not just at their gaffes but corruption allegations, evidence, and even the good work that they are doing.
So word to Kenyan Politicians… The war on perception will increasingly have to be fought online especially on social networks. And the first rule of the game is not to give people the ammunition to shoot you. Be civil. What you say will spread and will have the potential to cost you your election. And one last thing, Raila and Ruto have already made it to the Global Trending Topics on Twitter for different reasons. You could be next? The #hashtag used to get you there will depend on what you say and do. It could be #PromFriday or #RutoPlaylist. Choose wisely.