Social Networking Websites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionised how Kenyans communicate and experience the world around them. Interactions on social networks and micro-blogging websites have spawned romantic relationships, businesses, provided platforms for the free exchange of ideas as well as brought like-minded Kenyans together around common sporting, political, social and cultural interests.
With the advent of social networks there has emerged an increasing trend towards ‘Citizen Journalism’. Armed with little more than a web-enabled camera phone, Kenyans have begun recording events that happen around them, and more crucially, providing commentary on the impact of those events on the personal or social level. Indeed, some bloggers have created very professional sites that provide an alternative world view very different from mainstream Kenyan journalism.
While some of these have chosen to pander to gutter-journalism, hate-speech and character assassination as a tool for extortion; most blogs in Kenya have served to enrich the journalistic landscape by showing that amateur or citizen journalists can offer as much invaluable insight into the world around us as their mainstream professional counterparts.
The information revolution that is taking place all around us is perhaps the only avenue where traditionally marginalised constituencies like women, the youth, the disabled and ethnic minorities can share their experiences and have their voices heard. The fascination of the mainstream media with politics has denied space for other areas to flourish in the public eye. The online world provides these neglected areas the chance to shine.
However we must be careful not to retreat into an online world to the exclusion of the real world we live in. Social Networks and blogging have created a breed of ‘online activists’ who utilise the Internet as a communications, political agitation and social-conscience creation medium. These online activists should not forget that no matter how far we progress in terms of Information Communication Technology, ultimately a ‘hashtag’ will not change the world. The problems of hunger, poverty, injustice and political intolerance cannot be done away with by simply ‘liking’ a Facebook post.
If you care about a particular cause, by all means get involved online and highlight it. Champion your favoured cause on Twitter, Facebook and on Online Petition websites. However, after that get involved in advancing your cause in the ‘real world’. There can be no substitute for knocking on doors and taking your message to the grassroots. To change the world requires more than a few tweets and posts. We must all roll up our sleeves and get involved.
I l look around Nairobi and I see a city that I love choking under a mountain of garbage, its arteries clogged by crippling traffic jams. Every day we complain about these and other ills on Facebook, Twitter and on blogs yet after venting our frustration through our keyboards we leave it at that; as if the electrons streaming through cyberspace will magically address the problems we have highlighted. Sure, complain about traffic jams on Twitter, but thereafter organize for carpooling at your place of work and encourage your friends to do so as well.
If there is a mountain of garbage in your neighbourhood you should take a picture and post it on the County Government’s Facebook page. However after that you should pick up the phone and call the relevant department; and if you don’t get a satisfactory commitment, you should go down to their offices in person. This is how we will really change the world we live in.
I remember sitting with a group of friends, discussing how unsatisfactory the Kenyan political environment was. We wrung our hands and shook our heads and thereafter did nothing practically about it. Except me. I resigned from a well paying job and plunged headlong into politics, committing myself to helping improve Kenyan politics by participating in party governance.
Whatever it is that you care about; commit yourself to practically and tangibly addressing it in the real world. Online action is good for raising awareness; but awareness must be followed by tangible action. We are fortunate that the new Constitution has expanded the democratic space to unprecedented levels. Legislation passed by the last Parliament has also contributed to creating more avenues through which you can get involved and make a difference.
Take advantage of these opportunities. Change your World for the better.
(Mr Mbiuki is TNA’s Secretary for Legal Affairs. firstname.lastname@example.org)