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THE INTERNET, POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY: THE LESSONS TO LEARN FROM RAILA ODINGA’S ‘OFFICIAL BLOG’



KENYA FORUM EXCLUSIVE

It was nearly two years ago when one individual involved with the early development of the Kenya Forum site came across a blog that some 18 months after the election had left up comments posted during the immediate aftermath of the last election and the post-election violence that erupted at the time. The blog site purports to be ‘Raila Odinga’s official Blog – your agent for change’ and it is still available online.

The comments on the blog appeared to have been posted from as early as December 6, 2007, and to stop on June 12, 2008, but the Forum was most interested in the section containing 142 comments posted between January 11 and February 27, 2008.

The Kenya Forum wishes to stress at the outset that the vast majority of the comments posted on the site at the time (probably 130 out of the 142 comments posted) called for peaceful and democratic opposition to what the contributors saw as a stolen election.  They were reasonable in tone and reasoned in the arguments that they contained. However, some comments were published on the site that to say the least were inflammatory.

To maintain a proper perspective and to allow readers to judge for themselves we urge you to view the full text of the 142 comments at http://raila2007.wordpress.com/2008/01/11/which-way-forward/

The Kenya Forum has for a long time considered whether or not to publish this story. That we have done so now is because we believe it demonstrates vital lessons that must be learnt in time for the next election.

We urge visitors to the Forum (who now number many thousands) to read all the way through to the end of this posting not only so that they may considered the conclusions reached but also to in turn put this posting in its proper perspective and understand the spirit in which it has been written.

WHICH WAY FORWARD

Post - election violence cost Kenya dearly

First some extracts from the website posted on January 11 and 12, 2008, which although edited in places are reproduced below as they were posted, spelling errors, block capitals and all.

The sites operators began the debate headed ‘WHICH WAY FORWARD’ with the statement, “We came out in numbers for change, We were robbed of our victory, We called for peace as we dialogue. Now the talks have scrambled” and posed the question, “Dear ODM ers which way forward?”

The first response was posted at 10:15 on January 11, 2008, from ‘Celine’. The ‘name’ of each contributor and the time/date of their comment are given for each of the other extracts that follow thereafter.

‘Celine’ wrote, “The way forward is coming out and fighting for our rights. We voted for change. If it mean fighting and destroying property then be it”.

At 12:27 ‘Turncoat’ wrote, “THE TREE OF DEMOCRACY MUST BE WATERED BY BLOOD OF PATRIOTS KENYA I WILL BLEED FOR YOU… IT IS A STRUGGLE BETWEEN THE RICH AND THE POOR. THE MIDDLE CLASS ARE NOT HELPING HERE… the revolution will change things”.

‘BJ’ at 1:16 declared, “Nairobi needs to be paralysed. Paralysed and thoroughly paralysed.”

‘Mara Kapkatet’ wrote at 3:02, “It is totally unacceptable that Kikuyus are the exclusive rulers while the other Kenyan tribes are to remain ruled.”

At 5:23 ‘tnk’ wrote, “I suggest… to split the nation or secede and have central/eastern as one unit and the rest to be a new nation for united free and democratic people of Africa… lets work toward splitting the country in two and have those willing to be lead by central Kenya move into that country and those willing to work with other regions move out to the other”.

On January 12 at 6:08, ‘Tonnie Otieno wrote, “Lets not give them time we shd come out in large numbers demonstrate either peaceful or violent until we get our prezzy.”

“GIVE US THE GUNS AND THE BOMBS…”

It was a long comment written by an ‘ARTHUR AJWANG’ at 9:54 on the same day that perhaps most shocked the Forum. He wrote:

“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!… WE WON’T STAND-BY AND SEE POLICE, G.S.U. AND MUNGIKI KILL OUR BROTHERS, MOTHERS, SISTERS AND CHILDREN AS WE WATCH HOPELESSLY…

GIVE US THE GUNS AND THE BOMBS SO THAT WE CAN MATCH THIS FORCE AND FIGHT FOR OUR DEMOCRACY AND THE HONEST WIN THAT WE VOTED FOR.

BIG SUCCESSFUL DEMOCRATIC AND DEVELOPED STATES WENT THROUGH WAR AND ITS’ HIGH TIME WE WENT THAT WAY OR ELSE THE SELECTED ELITE OF AGIKUYU HEGEMONY WILL RULE UPON US WITH IMPUNITY FOREVER AND EVER.

THERE WILL BE COLLATERAL DAMAGES, BUTS THAT THE WAY IT GOES, KIMUNYA HAS TO BE PROVEN TO THAT INDEED WE ARE AT WAR, THE BIG BUSINESS KIKUYU MAGNATES MUST SEE THEIR NAIROBI BUILDINGS AND BUSINESSES GO DOWN IN RUINS, THERE MUST BE NO K.R.A. BUILDING, NO TREASURY BUILDING, NO CENTRAL BANK, NO PARLIAMENT…


WE CAN SECEDE.. THE SIX PROVINCES… SO LONG AS WE HAVE THE GUNS AND BOMBS… TELL THE O.D.M. AND THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS TO GIVE US GUNS AND BOMBS…

WE WILL EVEN BE SUICIDE BOMBERS, WE ARE READY…

WE WILL SUICIDE BOMB THESE INTRANSIGENT BASTARDS AND LET THE REST OF KENYA ENJOY THE FRUITS OF OUR BLOOD AND DEATHS.

WE PLEAD, GIVE US THE GUNS AND BOMBS, WE ARE READY.

THE COUNTRY SHALL KNOW PEACE AFTER A BLOODY WAR.”

At 11:41 on the same day one ‘OPADO’ warmed to Arthur Ajwang’s theme. ‘OPADO’ wrote:

“ITS NOW OUR TURN TO VOMIT MUNGIKI REGIME KILL THEM WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR… WE MUST ARREST SOME OF THEM INCLUDING KALONZO… BURN THEIR HOMES… KILL THE POLICE DON’T GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO TAKE YOUR PRECIOUS LIFE FOR THEY ARE ONLY ACTING AS MUNGIKI AGENTS. KILL THEM I SAY USE HOT PUR, BEES, ACID, FUEL, PUT OIL ON THE ROADS AND LIGHT THE FIRE…”

The above are perhaps most extreme of the comments made and the Forum wishes to reiterate that the overwhelming response of contributors was to urge a peaceful and democratic response to what they saw as an injustice. Readers will be able to judge for themselves.

Others warned of the dangers of what was happening on the ground. To give one example, ‘Nyarangi’ wrote on January 14 at 11:45: “A gentle CAUTION!!! At the last rally I tried to march peacefully to Uhuru Park (from Ngong Road) in a group of about 70, but shock on me!… 75% of my fellow ODM’ers were actually misguided Hooligans… From tribal overtones to ill-intention even BEFORE there was a sight of a single cop! As bloggers we might argue reasonably, but on the ground stuff is different. It’s the bitter truth, be careful.”

RAILA ODINGA

Raila Odinga - No evidence that he condoned or contributed to the site

The Kenya Forum would also like to stress that it does not believe that the now Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, would have been aware of the comments posted on the site, or that if they had been brought to his attention, would have condoned the sentiments expressed in the more extreme responses quoted above. There is no evidence that the Forum can see of Raila Odinga contributing in any way to this ‘official blog’ despite the title it was given.

It appears far more likely that blog was established by someone in the ODM campaign team and allowed to run without being monitored. Nor does the Forum believe that the ODM, or an ODM operative, are alone at fault for allowing this sort of inappropriate campaigning.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNT

The Kenya Forum does, however, draw certain conclusions from the content of the blog and the way it was managed (or not managed), and believes that there are vital lessons to be learnt to help ensure a more peaceful outcome to the next election. These lessons need to be understood now, not when it is too late. That is why we have published this posting today.

THE POWER OF THE INTERNET: WITH POWER COMES RESPONSIBILITY

Campaign groups must realise the power of the medium that much of modern political campaigns are conducted through – the Internet. A posting on a site can spread like a virus (indeed, it is often meant to) and be accessible for a long time as we have seen. That’s fine for legitimate debate and comment, and as a tool for organising a campaign, it has to, however, be handled responsibly. Allowing comments of the sort quoted above to be published without being monitored, and where appropriate removed, is irresponsible.

THE NEXT ELECTION

For the run up to the next election and during the post-election comment, the Kenya Forum urges all campaign groups to institute effective monitoring and editing of the campaign websites and blogs. It may even be wise, or necessary, for an independent body to be established that monitors campaign sites and warns editors when and if inappropriate postings have been published.

Finally, the authorities, the political parties and international election monitoring groups, must work together to ensure that the next election is free and fair and seen to be so. Meanwhile, the political campaign teams should hold back from running the, “We will win if the other side do not steal the election from us” message, that will only serve to stoke the anger of the supporters of the losing side.

With a fair election and responsible behaviour by the party campaign teams, we will all end up being the winners in the new democratic Kenya.

The late Christabel talks about Dr Ouko’s return from Washington.

Sam Okello talking about Mrs Ouko

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