Kenyans React to ICC Ruling via Social Media
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 25 -- Hours before the International Criminal Court announced the decision to charge four Kenyans for perpetrating post-election violence in 2008, Kenyans turned to social media to make their voices heard.
Messages of hope, solidarity and unity, besides sardonic status updates, tweets and pictures dotted social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“My land is Kenya,” Mercie Matu, a public relations intern, wrote on her Facebook page.
As the ICC decision drew near, mounting anticipation and fear could be felt in cyberspace, with many calling it the “hour of truth.” Others labeled the occasion “Ekaterina Day,” a reference to Ekaterina Trendafilova, the judge in The Hague who delivered the verdict.
The ICC’s website, swarmed by Kenyans eagerly awaiting the ruling, crashed hours before the announcement. “And Kenyans inadvertently crash the ICC website,” Soud Hyder, a Kenyan who works for Al Jazeera, wrote on Twitter.
Some commentators lamented that local media stations dedicated so much air time to the decisions, saying that there were more important national issues to focus on.
“How many Kenyans really care about the ICC ruling or are most concerned on how to tackle inflation and the consequences of corrupt leaders,” Celestine Karoney, who anchors a sports show on the China Central Television's Africa channel, wrote in her Twitter handle.
Julie Gichuru, an anchor with Kenya’s Citizen Television, disagreed. “The ICC website crash due to high traffic just shows that while there may be some ICC fatigue, many are still following this process keenly.”
When the verdict was read at 1:30 p.m. local time, the online conversation, with a touch of Hollywood flair, shifted towards speculation about the future.
On Facebook, accountant Zaki Al Yamani joked about would happen to the extensive land holdings of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the man whom Forbes magazine listed as the richest man in Kenya, following the ICC ruling. “Overheard: So if they freeze Uhuru’s assets (mainly land), Kenya will turn into Iceland.”
Brian Outa, a journalist and filmmaker, called the accused on Twitter: “Three and a half men #ICCconfirmation,” the half referring to Joshua arap Sang, who unlike the other suspects, all politicians, is a radio host.
Officials and government institutions struck a different chord, using social media to warn against violence while urging citizens to stay calm.
“Kenyans must remain aware of politicians who would want to stir ethnic emotions after ICC rulings,” read the Kenya Police Twitter account.
The police also sought to assure citizens that they were keeping close tabs on the situation on the ground.
“Information remains the single most effective tool in fighting crime. We will not wait until the situation gets out of hand,” another tweet read.
In the days since the ruling, the online debate has been dominated by calls for the suspects to resign from public life.
A petition calling for the resignations of the head of civil service, Francis Muthaura, and finance Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta has circulated around the blogosphere. The appeal has received close to 2,000 signatures in less than two days.
“ICC: Those for whom charges were confirmed, now is the time to leave public office. Out of respect for victims and the spirit our katiba [constitution],” tweeted John Githongo, an anti-corruption czar, who was also the secretary for governance and ethics in the Kenyan government from 2003 to 2005.