I have a beef with my fellow Rwandans; a pretty serious one moreover!
It has to do with social media wars, the question being, why do we so often allow ourselves to be “overpowered” by bad-faith actors that choose to malign us, our society, our interests, even who we are? I am talking about the kind of exchanges that happens on the world’s big social media platforms – predominantly Twitter, now renamed X, Facebook, and others like YouTube.
Very many Rwandans, like people elsewhere on earth now have accounts on these platforms, where you will find several fronts in the world’s wars of information, misinformation, propaganda, disinformation, you name it.
But us Rwandans, at least very many that I personally know, have chosen to be largely passive; to largely not be involved, even in the face of the most insidious, and vicious attacks on us: from Tshisekedi and his group in Kinshasa; or from apologists of genocide, terrorists of FDLR and their propagandists; or from revisionists of the saddest, most difficult events in our history, and a lot more.
Here is the thing about war in our world today. Some may still think of war in terms of militaries or armed groups fighting with guns, grenades, artillery pieces, fighter aircraft, and the like. Today that is partly true. No less important are the social media wars that supplement the “hot wars” and, in case you haven’t been paying attention, whose participants compose of armies of social media warriors pushing the narrative of this or that side; trying to shoot down the narrative of the adversary, who in turn do everything they can to discredit the other side. And so on.
Social media wars – conducted on computers and smart phones, with the battlefields situated on the aforementioned social media platforms – have taken on vital importance in today’s world. It has gotten to the extent (as one will read in so many reports in the world’s media) of states investing hundreds of millions of dollars, to gain strategic advantage in the battles to win over international opinion to one’s side. States wage hot wars with prior preparation to win as much of the moral support internationally as they can, with social media campaigns as the tool to achieve this goal. Those on the receiving end too will be working around the clock, to counter whatever the adversary is peddling, while presenting their own case.
One very important component of the “information struggles” are ordinary, everyday people that quickly become participants, lending their support to this or that side, depending on their interests, or their views of what is right or wrong. Just take a peek at the “conversation” between Russian and Ukrainian (and the multitudes internationally that chime in to lend their voice to one or the other side) social media. To say it is “fire” is a mild understatement.
Obviously for social media wars to break out, it doesn’t always require the outbreak of hot conflict. All it takes are some provocative, or misplaced words, to whip up a storm of recriminations, sharp words, and incendiary rhetoric. I am thinking of some serious, yet amusing incidents, like the social media wars Uganda’s first son Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba has ignited with Kenyan Twitter. These usually begin around 3 am, with the general tweeting intentions, say, of capturing Nairobi, for some reason or other. And before you know it, fire!
Kenya’s social media warriors enter the fray, by the thousands, unleashing wicked memes, sharp one-liners, hysterically funny take-downs alluding to the general’s personality and, before long, Kenyan Twitter has “won the war.” Luckily for everyone, these matters usually end in a good-natured way, often with Muhoozi himself calling for “a ceasefire.”
Even more breathtaking is Nigerian social media. One of the least advisable things on this earth is to get into a fight with the West African nation’s legions of Twitter warriors.
The latest to find out was Italian football club Napoli, which for some puzzling reason thought it advisable to make racist memes mocking their own player, Nigerian Victor Osimhen, for missing a penalty. Nigerian Twitter struck, with a flood of outrage at the racist abuse of their compatriot. The Nigerians turned up the heat after the first day. And then Napoli’s social media people emerged, to apologize for the harm they had caused Osimhen.
Which brings me back to my Rwandan compatriots. Why can’t we borrow a leaf from the Kenyans or Nigerians?
Tshisekedi regime officials in Kinshasa daily issue outrageous, harmful lies about Rwanda; in fact about all of us. They abuse us, and insult us with old smears about how “we steal their resources” (as if there is anyone better at stealing Congolese resources than Congolese themselves and their thieving rulers – ok, maybe with the exception of Belgian monarch Leopold a hundred and twenty years ago!) Also, Tshisekedi constantly issues loud threats of war against us, while hordes of Congolese armchair warriors insult us in the most juvenile propagandist terms.
Yet, we (Rwandans) keep quiet, albeit with the exception of a few outraged voices here and there.
I would prefer we fold our shirtsleeves to defend ourselves and our society against all this bs.
But we just let it slide.
Sadly, I think I know why. Many Rwandans feel they are bound by some code of decorum; the so-called “ikinyabupfura”, and think they are above engaging those that abuse, or insult us (and I am not talking only of Congolese), to retaliate in similar terms.
As a result, the lies, the misinformation, the propaganda such as that emanating from Kinshasa carry the day.
I think we will pay a steep price for surrendering the information battlefield, or we can go about turning into social media warriors ourselves, fighting for our collective interest.