On Thursday 23rd July 2015, Kenyans woke up to shocking news.
You see, there had been an overall buzz and excitement in the last few weeks over Obama coming “home” to Kenya for the first time since he became U.S. president. However, CNN’s headliner for the event was on a different tone: “Security Fears as Obama Heads to Terror Hotbed”.
Kenyans were simply OUTRAGED by the headline, and the #KOT (Kenyans On Twitter) mafia went to work. #SomeonetellCNN soon begun to trend in Kenya, and then worldwide. Kenyans were calling out CNN for what they felt was (and continues to be) biased, uninformed and negative reporting of Africa. They demanded a retraction of the “Terror Hotbed” remarks and an apology. Most of these tweets were quite funny, and I have compiled some of the best ones which will be shared over the next few posts.
Is it true that there have been terrorist attacks in Kenya over the last few years? Yes. Certainly. Many others all over the world too. However, Kenyans felt that the “Terror hotbed” tag was biased, unfair, sensational and alarmist reporting, and that it was completely uncalled for. To explain why this is the case, I’ll give an example of Kenya’s president going to the U.S. If it was reported in the manner this was reported, the headline would read, “Security Fears as Kenyatta heads to Gun Violence Hotbed” and then we slap a travel advisory against the U.S. on top of that and add the phrase “especially if you’re black”. These words are all based on the news that has been coming out of the U.S. recently, but would be an unfair way to portray the situation. It is blanketing an issue that is far more complex, just like the image below:
Furthermore, the Terror Hotbed tag implies that Kenya and Kenyans are somehow asking for it, like they are supporting the terror or like it is being perpetuated by Kenyans. This is akin to blaming the victim of a crime, and implying that it is clearly, entirely their fault that they have been attacked.
The history of this wave of terrorism and attacks by Al-Shabaab is a bit of a long story, but the abridged version goes a little something like this:
In 1998, simultaneous attacks were carried out using truck bombs against the U.S. embassies in both Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania. These attacks resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in these two East African cities, and brought Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden to the attention of the U.S. public for the first time. Although the attacks were carried out on East-African soil, but they were aimed directly at the U.S., and that is why they were at the embassies. Three years later, the September 11 terror attacks happened, and the U.S. begun its War on Terror. In the meantime, the Al-Qaeda affiliated insurgent group Al-Shabaab was on the rise in neighbouring Somalia, able to easily take root in that country because of the chaos that has characterized Somalia for decades. It soon became a problem for Kenya when it begun kidnapping foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya, resulting in a collaboration between the Somali military and Kenyan military. Kenya officially went to war with Al-Shabaab in 2011, which led to retaliatory attacks against Kenyan civilians. The worst of these were the attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 and the university in Garissa in 2015. Other than these, there have been some minor attacks using grenades and other small devices.
In the words of our president, Uhuru Kenyatta, “This is not our war”. We simply got caught up in the middle of someone else’s conflict, and had to defend ourselves. In so doing, the militants were angered and begun to direct their efforts towards us. So not only is it ironic for CNN to be calling Kenya a “hotbed of terror”, it is also hypocritical, as this is not our war.
Bottom line, every state has its enemies and these happen to be Kenya’s enemies.
This is not the first time that CNN has incurred the wrath of #KOTDF (Kenyans On Twitter Defence Force; It is an amalgamation of #KOT and KDF, with KDF being the Kenya Defence Forces, the country’s military). In 2013 before Kenya’s general election, CNN reporter Nima Elbagir reported on a story titled “Kenyans armed and ready to vote”, filming four men in a forest who were apparently “militia”. The story painted Kenyans as tribalists who are just itching for a fight. This, on the same day that a peace rally was being held in Nairobi’s historic Uhuru Park, which the report did not mention. They equally did not mention earlier in the week when all the presidential candidates met and made a public vow to concede if defeated, and to pursue recourse through the courts if necessary. CNN ended up being bashed all day by Kenyans on Twitter using #SomeonetellCNN, in addition to people screaming about the persons in the video clearly being actors.
It would seem that the news channel continues to under-estimate the number of Africans with access to technology. Either it was not expected that Kenyans would see it, or if they would see it, that they would not object, or if they object, it would not be so loud.
CNN went ahead to edit the online post of the terror hotbed story to read “…heading to a region that is a hotbed of terror…” instead, so that it is apparently about the whole region and not about Kenya specifically. The attached editor’s note stated that the article was edited to reflect the fact that the terror issue was a regional one. Nonetheless, BBC Africa, Al Jazeera and even the Washington Post went on to report Kenyans’ objection.
The Kenyan government took the issue a step further, and withdrew an advertising contract with CNN. This seemed to be the last straw, as Tony Maddox, CNN’s Global Executive Vice President and Managing Director, flew in to Kenya to personally apologize to President Kenyatta and to Kenyans.
“We acknowledge there is a widespread feeling that the report annoyed many, which is why we pulled down the report as soon as we noticed. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to portray Kenya negatively, it is regrettable and we shouldn’t have done it. There is a world at a war with extremists; we know what a hotbed of terror looks like, and Kenya isn’t one,” said Maddox.
Regardless of this fact, Kenyans had already made themselves heard. These are not the days when you could report anything you wanted about Africa with no consequences.