Social Media And Peace: Lessons From Kenya

The words of former United States President Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people for the people and by the people,” have become the go-to definition of democracy by many. The majority make decisions that bind not only themselves but also the minority. In 2017, Kenyans once again go to the polls and vote and all around are countdowns of days, hours, minutes and seconds to August 4. Politicians once again are on the campaign trail to promise heaven to their electorate; with the opposition urging the citizenry to refuse to let the reign of the current government continue. The government, on the other hand, continues to make its case for a second 5-year term reminding the electorate of the work they have done, mainly in the form of infrastructure development and promising even more, should they be allowed another opportunity at governance.

One of the opposition’s main arguments for their own government and against the current one is that in the years that the government has been in power, prices of commodities have risen dramatically and have continued to skyrocket. The average Kenyan’s basket of daily necessities comprises maize flour, bread, milk and sometimes wheat flour. Maize meal is the country’s staple food and the bedrock of the nation. Farmers across the country grow maize whether for sale or for their own consumption. So crucial is maize to the country, as is fufu to West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria, that whether or not the country is food secure or is facing starvation is determined by the number of sacks of maize harvested and in the government’s warehouses.

Kenyans on social media, especially those on Twitter, are known to be ungovernable when it comes to voicing their opinions on different issues. Sometimes it goes overboard when it gets very personal and insults start flying around. A perfect example is the reaction to former Finance Minister David Mwiraria’s death when tweets were sent out saying that death does not spare anyone, even those that have enriched themselves using stolen funds. Mr. Mwiraria was allegedly a party to the Anglo–Leasing scandal that saw the country lose billions of dollars.

As a reaction to the rising prices of basic commodities,  Kenyans have taken to making memes about the situation; some memes depict that now the way to capture the attention of a woman is not to buy her roses and fancy dinners, rather it is to get her a packet of milk and maize flour. Another idea has been the idea that now wealth is not defined by the car that one drives, but rather whether or not they can buy a packet of milk and maize flour, and how many packets they can buy. Other memes show Kenyans storing maize flour in safes as is done with valuables such as jewellery and money.

It is indeed a sad situation that life is only becoming more expensive but it is heart-warming to see humour being used to deal with the challenges life keeps hurling in people’s direction. Social media is definitely a double edged sword. Sometimes, it is a source of pain, especially when used to propagate hate and spread messages of violence as is the norm particularly with issues of religion, race and gender. Other times, it keeps us glued to our smartphones, tablets, computers, and other devices because of the humour shared among different people from all parts of the globe, such as messages of peace, love, unity and hope.

It is little things like these that remind us that there are other ways of dealing with different are more peaceful situations do not involve bloodshed, instead, it ingrains a tolerance within us for differences and the importance of learning to agree to disagree.

Hawa Gaya