Kenya: Declaring War via Twitter

Somali refugees travel to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

by Ginnie Seger

All that is needed to announce an eminent attack are 140 characters. This is the case for Kenya, which announced via Twitter, its intent to attack Somalia. On November 1, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, an official in the Kenyan Army announced via Twitter:


The tweet was in reference to on-going attacks by the Kenyan Army on Somali outposts, which the Kenyan Army says house al-Shabab militants. Al-Shabab, which literally translates to “ the youth” in Arabic, is a large armed organization that has waged war against the current Somali government.  The group has been linked to al-Qaeda, and is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S.

Recently, al-Shabab has kidnapped several foreigners within Kenya’s borders, including tourists, and aid workers. Kenya’s tourism industry accounts for 12 percent of its gross domestic product; even hints of insecurity in the region could result in huge economic losses for Kenya. The Kenyan Army began launching attacks on October 23 to drive out al-Shabab militants, and discourage further kidnappings and attacks.

So why use Twitter to warn Somalia of attacks?  Kenya is in a unique position with its relations with Somalia; while it engages in attacks, it also accepts Somali refugees suffering from drought-induced famine. The Dadaab refugee camp, located in Northern Kenya, has swelled to more than 400,000 inhabitants.   Also Somalis make up about eight percent of Kenya’s population and have long-standing roots in the country. Many Kenyans have personal ties to people in Somalia, in fact the tweet immediately following stated:

MajorEChirchir #OperationLindaNchi The Kenya Defence Forces urges anyone with relatives and friends in the 10 towns to advise them accordingly.

Although, with only one percent of Somalia’s population using the Internet, it is hard to believe they are tweeting only for the benefit of the residents in Somalia. Another reason for Kenya’s use of Twitter could be to demonstrate to the world its emergence onto the world of social media.

Kenya has been called the Silicon Savannah, for it’s unprecedented explosion of mobile phone technology, partly due to the government’s liberal policies on technology. Measures include eliminating sales tax on mobile phones; this caused a 200 percent increase in mobile phone sales.   The World Bank reports that 11.5 million Kenyans use the Internet, and 63 percent use mobile phones to access it. Drawing attention to Kenya’s social media savvy could attract investors to the growing technology market.

Kenya is also making strides to become the most open data country in Africa. They have created Kenya Open Data, a website that released more than one million documents (often internal government documents), for access to everyone from web and software developers, students, and the general public.

Despite these efforts Transparency International ranks Kenya as the 154th least corrupt country out of 178 countries. Encouraging government officials to use Twitter and other forms of social media adds credibility to their open data initiative and their growing adoption of new technology. One hundred-forty characters have never been more powerful.

(For more on the Silicon Savannah and the Dadaab refugee camp, please see:  “Africa & Technology: From Famine to Facebook.” For more background on the history of tensions between Kenya and Somalia, please go here, for a story from NPR.)

(The photo is by Internews via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see a short interview from Major Emmanuel Chirchir, the official spokesperson of the Kenyan Defence Forces from Kenya’s NTV, please check below.)

About gseger

Ginnie Seger is a Masters Candidate in the International Media program at American University. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in broadcast journalism. During her undergraduate education, she studied abroad in both Ghana and China. Ginnie worked for WCVE PBS Richmond, as a production technician in the Virginia House of Representatives. After completing her degree in 2008, she joined the Peace Corps where she served in Kenya as a deaf education volunteer until 2011. While in the Peace Corps, she worked to create a strategic health campaign for the Kenyan deaf population. In the future she hopes to work for a non-profit organization, and is interested in the use of social media and technology in the developing world.
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