Don’t believe everything you read on social media – especially in the recent Kenyan tirades against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
International Twitter wars (“Twars”) have become something of a sport among African countries in recent years – with Kenyans often the most vociferous participants. But this time they seem to have called it wrong.
On Wednesday, a Kenyan news outlet, The Spectator, published an article about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. It said he had made defamatory comments towards the Kenyan public – although the report has now been discredited.
But here is what Mugabe is meant to have said: “Those people of East Africa shock me with their wizardry in stealing. Sometimes I tend to believe that stealing is in every Kenyan’s blood….You can even think that there is a subject in their universities called Bachelor of Stealing”.
In fact, there’s no actual evidence President Mugabe said any such thing. Nevertheless, offended and outraged, the active community of Kenyans on Twitter – or KOT, as they often abbreviate themselves – led a barrage of verbal attacks against Zimbaweans using the tag “Kenyans vs Zimbabwe”. It was tweeted over 9,000 times accompanied by memes and tongue- in-cheek jibes at Zimbabwe’s financial straits.
One Twitter user said: “When Mugabe call Kenyans thieves he forget she has robbed Zimbabweans”. Another said “You are laughing at each other but the irony is your problems mirror each other.”
The tag seems to have been used first by Josiah Mutai, a user who has been involved in previous online feuds. Just a week earlier he had been engaged in another Twitter war, “Kenyans vs Nigerians”.
But Zimbabweans themselves didn’t really engage with the trend – very few of the tweets came from there, and indeed more seemed to come from expat communities in the UK.
And then came the twist: it appears there is now significant doubt that President Robert Mugabe made these remarks at all.
An article in Kenyan newspaper The Star claims to debunk the statement, saying their Zimbabwean sources confirm Mugabe made no such address. BBC reporters covering the region have also not found evidence of the speech. Reports of the falsified article have not held back the tide of KOT fury, however – and the tag has continued to be used in Kenya.
Peter Mwai of BBC Swahili says an abrasive Twitter culture is “part of the national pride” in Kenya.
“They normally understand it’s for fun,” he says. “The only problem is that sometimes it goes too far”.