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False Report on Zimbabwe President Sparks Social Media War In Kenya

  • Ndimyake Mwakalyelye

By Monday, The storm of words set off by a false quote originated by Kenyan newsmagazine, The Spectator, but fueled by social media, including the group Kenyans on Twitter or KOT, and then the respected New York Times, that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe called Kenyans thieves, had died down after the quote turned out to be a hoax.

However, while some where enraged by the statements, which The Spectator reportedly said it made up for satirical purposes, some questioned the authenticity of the outrageous claims quoting Mr. Mugabe warning Zimbabweans to be on high alert when visiting Kenya, because “stealing was in their [Kenyans] blood,” and that he was sure the universities even offered a degree called, “bachelor of stealing!”

Kenyan resident Judith Murugi, however, gave President Mugabe the benefit of the doubt.

“From what I’ve read about him and the speeches I’ve heard from Mugabe, I think it’s a lot of speculation or twisting words around, so as to create some sort of conflict but I don’t think that Mugabe would actually say something like that,” she said.

Following revelation that the quote was a hoax, anger initially directed at President Mugabe and Zimbabwe then turned to the so-called social media hypers such as KOT, and then the reputable New York Times that helped spread the false quotes worldwide.

Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald Newspaper quoted Presidential Spokesperson George Charamba reproaching Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa correspondent for the New York Times for not verifying the quote before publishing it.

Charamba reportedly said, “ I find it incredible that Mr. Gettleman can insert a quote he attributes to my President in his story, and then seek to check its veracity only later.”

The Herald further quoted Charamba describing Gettleman as “blunderous, if not an outright racist.”

The New York Times has since retracted the story, and Gettleman, who said he verified the story, apologized via twitter.

“Guilty as charged, the Mugabe quote was fake,” Gettleman twitted! “I deeply regret the way we presented it,” he said.

That Kenyans are heavy users of social media, particularly twitter, where they debate many controversial as well as light issues, Murugi said she felt Kenyans on Twitter refrained from attacking President Mugabe the way they have other leaders.

“I’m surprised this time that they’ve started this and they’re not as vocal as they normally are, actually when they started, I thought they would start the page of ‘Someone Tell Mugabe,’ the way they do with almost every leader that they start these twitter wars with, but I’m surprised that this has not come up yet.”

Adding his views, Nairobi resident Mark Ngugi embraced Kenya’s usage of twitter and other social media platforms, saying they should not be taken so seriously, saying to them it’s a healthy platform of engagement.

“Uh, outsiders, they might think it’s too serious, but for us, we’ve had wars with Nigeria, we’ve had war, even within ourselves, online, twitter, social media wars,” said Ngugi.

“So, outsiders might think it’s serious but locally, we just write a tweet and the next minute, you’re going with your own businesses, yeah.”

Note: VOA East Africa Correspondent Jill Craig contributed to this report.

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