When Mr Uhuru Kenyatta rose to power, he became, by no effort of his own, Kenya’s first social media president. In many ways, he was also the first “Youth” president despite being 51.
The excitement was understandable. His predecessor was elderly and never did more than shake a few hands in public. Then came a man who loves to high five, do the bro hug, fist bump, take selfies, dance and sing along to popular hits. He was no Barack Obama, but to many he was the closest we could get, not just in Kenya but on a continent littered with retirees who have been in power for decades.
Everything he did set a precedent. When the President wore military fatigue for the first time, the pictures went viral for days and are still plastered in many matatus and homes, when he showed up with his deputy dressed the same, his supporters cheered like he had just scrapped taxes.
He could take just a selfie with a fan and it would light up social media. Not many could have imagined they could be “Friends” with their president on social media and even interact with him.
The man may not even know the password to his social media accounts but that means little to his followers, who believe they can reach out to him whenever they want, like they do with their online friends.
System Ya Ma Facts;
Social media, it seems, had brought the President closer to the people, and it had worked. Uhuru Kenyatta’s Facebook page has almost three million “Likes”. On Twitter, the President has 1.89 million followers. And on Instagram, he has 74,000 Followers.
This means State House can easily post a message without fear of it being fact-checked or filtered by the traditional media which the president is not really a big fan. When the media says something that State House disagrees with, they quickly post their side of the story, usually with a hashtag “System ya facts” and go on with their lives. This kind of freedom is unprecedented. And it looks like it has been a major success for the President, going by the number of people who follow his accounts.
It is not hard to hear some boast: “I am friends with Uhuru on Facebook and I ‘like’ all his pictures.” This is a major win for Mr Kenyatta. It is what his handlers want to accomplish.
But it goes wrong sometimes. On Wednesday, the President, seeking to engage with the youth, invited singer Rufftone, radio presenter Mbusi and the FBI Dancers to State House to sensitise the youth on voter registration and show how “cool” and “with it” he is. But it backfired.
A picture of Uhuru dabbing — a popular dance style where one drops the head to their elbow while raising the other arm in a gesture that resembles sneezing — was released and it went viral. But not for the reasons State House expected. It was viewed negatively and many expressed their displeasure.
Many on Twitter and Facebook blasted the move as an unfortunate publicity stunt done while Kenyans are dying from famine, lack of doctors, corruption and many other issues plaguing the country.
“@UKenyatta Mr President, I wish you had the same zeal and time that you have for these useless things when it comes to our health and our soldiers,: tweeted @CharlesJb1.
While @MwakaFredrick fired “@UKenyatta: Kenyans need you to work sio kudancedance while people are dying and everything is going wrong. Looting everywhere.”
@chesskevo still believes the President is cool but… “: @UKenyatta coolest president… But you need to address the problems facing Kenyans.”
Others, like Gracelike Rain, believe the dancing and dubbing show how relatable the President is.
“Wow!! What a President who’s got all the qualities of a ‘great leader’! Patience, humour, humble, diligence, wisdom, truthfulness, courage, confidence, self-control and others… it’s real LOVE that can bind them all! Kura kwa Mr Uhuru Kenyatta! I love you!”
@JacobOkello2010 couldn’t understand the hullabaloo
“@UKenyatta Honestly there’s nothing wrong with the President having a good time with the youth. Akiwalenga mtacomplain. What do you want?”
Dancing All Day;
The State House digital team, led by Dennis Itumbi, did not take the criticism lying down. They shot back, warding accusations that the President had done nothing the whole day but “dab”.
Mr Itumbi even posted the President’s diary, saying: “I share the diary to make a point — the President spent the day addressing challenges that face Kenya and embracing opportunities. To interpret his engagement with the youth last evening, it would be fair to understand his entire day engagement,”
He wrote on his Facebook page. “Context is important in everything.”
That also proved the power of social media, understanding that speed is of the essence in helping counter misconceptions. But that also did little to calm the storm of the dab, especially on Twitter where #DabOfShame was trending on Thursday, with people calling out the stunt.
@Mariemwangi6 tweeted “Uhunye, so long as lects, docs and nurses are on strike, people are dying of hunger, please don’t laugh, smile or dance in public. #DabOfShame”
People then started juxtaposing the President’s dab with images of children drinking from murky waters to try and show the President was disconnected from the realities on the ground.
@MarkDienya was probably the winner of this effort when he wondered what the President would do next.
“Vera Sidika and Huddah Monroe will soon be visiting State House to teach Uhunye how to twerk? #DabOfShame,” he tweeted.
But the furore did not seem to deter the President and his handlers who went ahead and launched #UhuruDabChallenge much to the chagrin of his critics.
Social media is a tool that has been embraced by many leaders, with former US President Barack Obama having been one of the best at it. His Facebook page currently has a staggering 54 million “Likes” while his Twitter page has 84 million followers.
Donald Trump, who has been dubbed the Tweeting President because of his unhinged, early morning tweets, is currently at 24 million followers. Trump has changed the game in Washington for the media, who now have to closely monitor the President’s page for news which mainly attack corporates, individuals and even countries.
His tweets on corporates have an instant effect on share prices.
A report from S&P Global Market Intelligence shows that the President’s tweets appear to have a short-term impact on how markets see a company’s credit risk.