alexa When the Moi Avenue bomb went boom, I saw people eating our lunch - Daily Nation

When the Moi Avenue bomb went boom, I saw people eating our lunch

Wednesday May 30 2012

 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

When what now certainly seems to have been a terrorist bomb went off at shopping stalls on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue on Monday injuring 36 people, I saw the future... of journalism and history.

Most of the crowd that gathered to gawk was actually shooting pictures with their mobile phones, digital cameras, and there were a couple of iPads.

To borrow the popular line from satirist Wahome Mutahi (aka Whispers), I am neither too clever nor too stupid. Sure enough, within minutes, they were posting photos and videos on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

I could see that those camera-phone and tablet-wielding chaps were eating the media industry’s future lunches and pensions.

It used to be that when things went boom, people rushed home and waited for TV journalists to tell them what happened, and for newspapers to delve into the story the next morning.

Powdered men in dark suits would appear on TV to explain to the country what it all meant, and self-important columnists like this author would analyse for you the changing nature of international terror, and how the local bomb fits into the “emerging global terrorism pattern”.

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How things have changed! The Moi Avenue blast went off around 1.15pm. If you were on the Internet, by 3.15pm, you would probably already have had enough of the story.

It is not just that new information and communication gadgets have enabled the masses to rain on our party. Something more profound is going on.

The gentleman who said “journalism is the first draft of history” was not just some pompous editor. He was spot-on.

In writing this first draft of history, journalists quote politicians and generals (especially victorious ones); church, mosque, and synagogue leaders; rich men; and cultural leaders.

Technology has rescued history from this cartel. The morning paper or evening TV news are no longer the truth or the facts. They have become just one of several million perspectives on a story.

In the past, the victorious politician or general had the last word about how the contest went. Today, the opposition is often heard more than the government in cyberspace.

The voiceless are taking their revenge. The social media and the blogosphere are often criticised as a factory of rumours and gossip. That is true.

However, rumours are nothing more than resistance to government opaqueness, business secrecy, and the power and privilege that shield the powerful from scrutiny and accountability.

The house-help, who is abused by her employers, and the company employee who feels cheated — and are too powerless to speak out because they would be punished — resort to rumour and gossip to disgrace and injure the powerful.

In Uganda, during the horrible times of military ruler Idi Amin, his government was partly undermined by rumours. Amin would take to TV to denounce rumour-mongers, and some were arrested!

His favourite target, like that of many Ugandan leaders before and after him, was “Radio Katwe”, the country’s leading rumour mill that arose in the early 1900s as an anti-colonial propaganda tool for the nationalists.

It was a futile effort, because Ugandans didn’t believe official news — and sometimes even independent newspapers — until what they reported had been confirmed by “Radio Katwe”.

“Radio Katwe” liked to claim that there was a lizard that was addressing huge anti-government rallies around the capital. Amin would send soldiers rushing to arrest the lizard and round-up the rally crowds, but would find they had mysteriously disappeared.

Of course, it was just a protest gimmick. With the invention of the Internet, it was only to be expected that “Radio Katwe” would be ported there, allowing more people to contribute, and to take advantage of a large global audience.

The Internet, mobile phone, and social media are the new guerrilla weapons of the masses and the downtrodden.

The good, the bad, and the ugly; the heroes and villains, now all fight on a level ground. It is stuff like this that gives digital platforms their democratic and delightfully subversive quality.

To win there, you must really be good at what you do — even if it’s being evil. It is worth losing my pension to that.