By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 15 June 2014
Kenyans on social media are a loud and boisterous bunch. Over
the past few years they have distinguished themselves as a most
combative collection of citizens, and nowadays it is not uncommon to
learn of social media wars against other countries or individuals who
are perceived to have slighted the motherland. National issues
discussed on social media often take on the crimson hues of a violent
confrontation, and ethnic organisation is never far from the picture.
have argued that the anonymity afforded by social media provides people
with the perfect cover to slip into fantasy personae and role-play
behaviours they would otherwise not engage in outside of the social
media environment. Examples are cited of many otherwise timid
people morphing into violent bullies online, driving young people to
attempt such harmful acts as suicides and violence.
My view is a
little different, though. I would argue that the anonymity of the
Internet unmasks one’s real motivations, and allows them to act out
their real impulses with little fear of immediate embarrassment or
punishment. The result, therefore, is that one feels free to act
without the constraints of social conventions and mores, and studying
one’s online behaviour can often reveal more about their personality
than the traditional assessment methods.
Of course this is a
highly generalised view, and it would take a highly experienced analyst
to uncover these issues, especially in cases where some people use the
Internet to attempt to cover up what they consider to be their real
selves. They open multiple proxy accounts and often have social
media “conversations” with themselves in order to convince their
audience that they are in fact separate individuals.
The long and
short of it is that studying the behaviour of Kenyans online may
actually be key in unravelling the mystery behind the interesting
phenomenon in which most Kenyans openly profess love for their
motherland while engaging in the most egregious war-mongering activity
Almost every open Kenyan discussion one comes across on
many social media platforms degenerates into ethnic sparring and
name-calling whenever the subject veers towards politics or social
conduct. People known to be socially progressive and public-spirited
often expose their tribal warrior blood when push comes to shove on the
And there is a pattern to these eruptions. In the
run-up to the 2007 elections, social media chatter rose to a crescendo
with tribal slurs and threats of annihilation, with plenty of mention of
ethnic practices that were deemed to disqualify or qualify some
candidates for national leadership. As the post-election violence
escalated, the buzz on social media reached deafening heights, and it
became impossible for any sane Kenyan to get in a word edgewise at any
My engagement on social media today convinces me that
we are approaching that point again. False and exaggerated accusations
are being made against politicians on each side of the divide, aimed at
casting them almost in the same light as wild animals. These
accusations are then being transferred wholesale to their ethnic
communities, and explanations are made based on tribal stereotypes. Eventually nothing can be heard but war cries and insults.
how nations burn. That is how genocides incubate. Social media is the
spark that will eventually ignite the restive tinder-box that goes by
the name Kenya.
We cannot say we were not warned this time.
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. firstname.lastname@example.org