IF you’re one of the over 8.5million internet users that have watched the video of Adele’s new single on YouTube, you’ll probably assume this article is entirely about that.
Sorry to disappoint.
Today is Day 5 of #UGBlogWeek – a week-long blogging challenge amongst Ugandan bloggers. It was encouraging to see a community of Ugandans, online, proactively stepping out of the shadows and letting their fingers do the talking.
In the past, the community more commonly referred to as #UOT has unfortunately been overshadowed by neighbors, especially those from the East, and have at times had to watch helplessly when badly losing international tweefs.
Here are my notes and observations about what’s been happening:
1. Finally, the authorities arrive. Even if belatedly.
It’s [supposed to be] the campaign season. And as is often the case in Uganda, the streets are too crowded, usually with representatives of various groups trying to negotiate ways in which they can co-exist. It doesn’t always end peacefully. Some encounters end with tears running down the cheeks of grown men and women, due to tear gas. Other cases end up with casualties needing immediate first aid. One recent case ended with the Police alleging that the woman who, as videos showed, was being lifted by her legs, arms and [some of her] clothes had – when she ended up naked – undressed herself.
It was the reaction to an incident in which one of the country’s leading opposition figures was brutally prevented from visiting his upcountry home town to address a public rally. The video that went viral that night aroused negative sentiment amongst the majority of social media users.
As we expressed our displeasure at the handling of a female official by the Police, government Spokesman Ofwono Opondo made an attempt to blame the incident on the woman involved.
I’ve been following Ofwono Opondo for a while now. His tweets are as disappointing as they’re often misspelt.
— Ofwono Opondo P’Odel (@OfwonoOpondo) October 11, 2015
His comments came hours after the Assistant Inspector of Police had appeared on Twitter, understandably suggesting that the official position of the Police Force would be communicated at a later stage after proper “investigations”.
The more Police and government-owned Uganda’s “Leading Daily”, the New Vision pushed the view that the woman had undressed herself to resist arrest, the more agitated the public became about the incident. [See story here]
Uganda. Woman undressed. No. Undressed self. Unedited video. Undressed. Edited. Undresses self. Impunity. No. Nude protests. Denial.
— Mark Keith Muhumuza (@mumakeith) October 12, 2015
Largely social media-driven, the story refused to “go away”. Ofwono Opondo, in a radio interview later, changed his stance on the matter, just six days after his tweets; this time blaming the Police for helping the opposition get international publicity. “…now they have succeeded. In the last 10 days they have been handed international publicity,” he said, as quoted by this website. “Twitter is becoming dangerous,” said one of my colleagues, also supporter of the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni. So dangerous that the Sunday Vision reported that the Inspector General of Police would [eventually, as a result] meet the woman said to have undressed herself in an attempt to resist arrest. The woman Police threatened to sue for, well, various charges.
I thought that’s the story the New Vision should have ran on Monday, not 7 days later. That’s the statement Mr. Ofwono Opondo should have tweeted on Sunday night, 24hours after the incident. He would probably not have had to misspell FDC as DDC in that hashtag. Or even better, he wouldn’t have had to struggle with too many capitalizations in one single hashtag, #FDCNudEWomeNSquad. I need to speak to his advisers!
On the bright side though, he – as well as most of our other leaders – are now online, visible, for all to see. We have the opportunity to engage them and see how they’ll cope.
2. The emergence of Politweecians.
They call them trolls. Internet trolls. Politweecians, more recently. You hope they’re on your side. Often they’re not; in which case, you have to hope you know how to respond when they get under your skin.
It would appear that mobile phones & internet access turn grown-ups into annoying/ irritating playground children … bullies #Politweecians
— Simon Kaheru (@skaheru) October 18, 2015
It’s a little over 3 months to the general elections in Uganda. Look out for those.
3 (a). You’re not as important as you think
As in real life, online profiles build reputations based on the quality of the content and whether people actually take what they say seriously. There’s a tool to measure that, actually. Klout gives you a percentage score based on your [social media] influence. Some people inherently have influence based on their positions in society. Others build their influence based on the perceived quality of what they say.
And that’s the point. Just because you own a Twitter account and can write multiples of 140-character posts doesn’t make you an influencer.
3 (b). You’re more important than you [may] think.
And that’s the reason why I said @OfwonoOpondo‘s tweets are disappointing. Even if not yet verified, an account whose bio reads “Spokesperson, Government of Uganda” should tweet in a way that makes citizens feel represented.
Just like an account that reads “…intellectual” (I know a few) should post intellectual stuff… whatever that means.
4. Hello! From this other side.
This new world empowers all of us to create and utilize platforms through which we can express ourselves. “It’s like owning a newspaper!” While I was thinking about the title for my only entry for #UGBlogWeek, news about MTN scooping exclusive “Caller Tunez” rights for a certain yet-to-be released song appeared on Twitter, moments before the singer’s name was #1 among Worldwide Trends. I watched the video that had just been posted on YouTube and the line in the lyrics made me realize that’s actually what I was going to use as my title. Game over!
These ends, we say what we want.
I love Twitter…. it’s like owning your own newspaper— without the losses.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2012