On 15th January 2019, at around 3pm local time in East Africa, four assailants have attacked Dusit2 a hotel complex in the heart of Nairobi, killing 21 people (16 Kenyans and 5 foreigners) as have been confirmed by the government of Kenya ,while 700 others have been safely evacuated.
In a press conference, the President of Kenya. Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta said: “We are grieving as a country this morning and my heart – and that of every Kenyan – goes out to the innocent men and women violated by senseless violence. We wish the injured quick recovery and as a nation, we will continue to pray for them,”
CCTV footage broadcast on local media captured four black-clad, heavily armed men entering the complex. Later, the government of Kenya has confirmed that all the attackers have been neutralized. The information regarding the identity of the perpetrators of the attack has been developing ever since with the Kenyan security agencies working around the clock to gather enough information about this criminal syndicate.
Impact of the attack
Kenya has experienced this kind of terrorist attacks since their foray to Somalia back in 2011. The major attacks that have been carried out in the country included Westgate mall attack in 2013 which killed 67 people, the 2014 attack in Mpeketoni which killed 60 people, and the Garissa University massacre which engulfed the lives of 148 persons, mostly students.
These terror attacks have regularly claimed innocent lives from all walks of life, destructed properties worth millions of dollars and discouraged or rather turned away thousands of tourists which of course crippled the tourism industry of Kenya- one of the biggest sources of income to the nation.
The recent Dusit hotel attack was a painful one and a shocking experience for Kenya, This kind of attacks is un-Islamic, inhumane and has no place in any religion. The moment of grief and pain was shared with Kenya by its neighbors the world and the whole humanity.
How the Social Media helped for the Victims of the Attack
Immediately after the news of the attack surfaced online, many Kenyans (informally known as Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) made good use of the power of social media and took to Twitter.
They were able to inform others of the impending danger, mobilize for rescue activities and even catalyze the response of the government and humanitarian actors. It’s also quite wonderful that several individuals who were trapped inside the attack scene pleaded for help and solicited assistance by using the twitter platform. Most of them were rescued after their stories trended.
Soon after the attack, the hashtag #WeShallOvercome, have been trending in Kenya. and everyone in the world have started sending a solidarity message to Kenyans.
The Post-terror Attack Approach of Kenya
Total solidarity was shown to the victims of the attack by everyone. Previously, the government of Kenya was criticized of her repressive approach and collateral profiling on the Somali ethnic community after the Westgate attack and on a number of other incidents.
It seems that the Kenyan government has now reviewed its policy regarding post-terror attack approach and rolled out a friendlier and effective approach that fosters the unity and common goodwill of all the Kenyan communities.
The ordinary Kenyans have also called on the Somali and Muslim communities not to fear from the repercussions of such attacks and castigations for something that was undertaken by a few terrorists. Muslims and in particular the Somali community were always the victims on both sides of the divide. They are literally paying the price for crimes they had nothing to do with and were perpetrated by a few individuals.
This was a good gesture for the Somalis who are in Kenya and the Muslim communities who are the victims of police brutality when this kind of incidents happen in Kenya. Memories of how the police have treated them brutally in 2013, putting thousands of Somalis, indiscriminately, in concentration camps in Nairobi and deporting hundreds (including Somalis of Kenyan nationality) against their wish to Mogadishu.
Many of the Somalis in Kenya now hope that the government of Kenya will not profile or indiscriminately target innocent civilians who have nothing to do with terrorism. The common voice of the people is that such acts don’t represent Islam but it actually violates the basic fundamentals of Islam.
This is recommendable change of approach on the part of the Kenyan government coated with good faith and hence will lead to winning the confidence of the entire Muslims -more so the Somalis who are victims of both sides.
How the Western Media Covered the Attack?
An article published in New York times by its East Africa bureau chief, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, displayed the aftermath of the attack, including graphic images and dead bodies. It has become sort of a normal thing that Western journalists do just to misrepresent Africa in-terms of news coverage. This is out rightly a disrespectful and biased way. It seems their coverage of Africa are still shaped by colonial ideas, exoticism, feelings of white superiority and, ultimately, raw racism.
The article (plus photos) drew anger from most of the Kenyans in Social media. Kenyans on Twitter swiftly came up with the hashtag – #DeportKimiko – to protest the graphic uncensored images that she has used in her article. Many people in Africa believe that the negative portrayal of Africa by western journalists (and sometimes a few African journalists who are their affiliates) is done deliberately to paint a bad image and drive away investors and tourists from the continent.
Countering the Western media coverage, another hashtag #SomeoneTellNYTimes began trending in Kenya, with many people tweeting photos showing people providing aid to the victims of the attack and a number of other positive stories.
In a response, the New York times tweeted a statement expressing its respect for those affected by the attack but also defending its use of the images. “It is important to give our readers a clear picture of the horror of an attack like this. This includes showing pictures that are not sensationalized but that give a real sense of the situation.”
Many journalists, activists and social media users have asked the New York Times to showcase any scenario where they have used such graphic photos in their previous reporting of similar incidents that had happened in either London, Paris or USA. The times have not answered for these queries and why they thrive on pure double standards.
The western media will most likely use dreadful images of Africa presenting it as hopeless, poverty stricken, while ignoring the images of natural safaris, well-developed metropolitan cities, skyscrapers and the gradual development of the continent. The lack of this manifestation has created a severe image of Africa that people will ask you when you go out of Africa; Do you guys drink tea and eat normal food in your houses.? This shows how the audiences in the western world and beyond Africa are intentionally fed with biased information about Africa which is based on stereotypes and malice.
I’m not saying there is no problem in Africa. Yes, there are myriad of problem in Africa often caused by us (africans) but again why the coverage of the Western media is so selective always covering on slums, poor neighborhoods and depicting Africa as a country while ignoring its 54 diverse and independent states?
I believe the skewed or incomplete reporting on Africa can be eliminated if we tell our own stories and educate our public about the importance of sharing the beauty of our countries/continents with the world. The advent of internet has eased the dissemination of information and we should definitely make good use of that.
What can Somalis learn from Kenyans?
Somalia is quite different from Kenya in terms of security situation. The Attacks and explosions happen in almost every other month. But resilience is in our blood. We are known to clean the mess at the scenes of the explosions within hours, helping the victims and the government uplifting the wounded to other countries who cannot be treated within the country.
Kenyans have shown us; how we can use the power of social media to weaken the wrath of terrorist attacks. How we can hold accountable for the mainstream media and counter their narrative of biased coverage. and how they have managed for their communications after the incident which often lead to a spike of hateful rhetoric, extremisms and misinformation.
At these moments, we should avoid sharing graphic images and dead bodies in the social media platforms. It has become a norm for both the local and the international media as well as the ordinary people in Mogadishu (representing Somalia for that case) to publish graphic images in their social media accounts moments after horrifying terror incidents. It’s disrespect act to our fallen citizens, taints the global image of our country since such dreadful images taken from terror scenes will only paint a bad image to the already ugly narrative of our country.
Another significant lesson that we can learn from Kenya is how it had improved on its response operation after the incident of Westgate Mall which is a weak point of many governments in Africa. Our government should revise for its counter-terrorism frameworks and come up with strategies that can reduce or eliminate for the dreadful attacks of the terrorists.
Therefore, as citizens of this country, we should develop, create, produce, showcase, publish, distribute and share a narrative that portrays the positive side of the country. We should challenge the mainstream media that only focuses on the negative side of the country while disregarding and downplaying the developments going on in the country and the gains we registered over the past years.
The Narrative of Linking Somalis to Terror
I applaud some of the Somali twitter users who have already started challenging the mainstream media, like Al-jazeera and many other established outlets who systematically chose to depict Somalia as a terrorist heaven and hopeless country. The hashtags of #SomeOneTellAljazeera and #NotinOurName has been widely used since 15th January, 2018 to counter their biased and disrespectful coverage.
While defying all the odds, some of our outspoken Somali youth in Twitter namely Ali Nor Abdi and Abdimalik Anwar brought this narrative to the limelight and backlashed Al-jazeera and some of their reporters for the bias against the Somali community and for deliberately stamping good name of a whole community to a terror outfit. We need to emulate the courage of our friends and speak out when our destiny and reputation is at stake.
Its crystal clear that unless we protect our image, present the positive side of our country and use our media platforms to tell our own stories, we will be the victims of biased and disrespectful media coverage.
By: Mohamed Irbad