A version of this article originally appeared in Tech Post Uganda. It has received a few addenda tailored for The Civic Beat’s Reader audience.
What happened in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall didn’t just stay on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube but rather left scars deeply ingrained in hearts the world over.
What started as a commemoration of the international World Peace day was to be turned into a black Saturday. At around noon East Africa Time (9 GMT) in an affluent mall; Westgate, popular with wealthy Kenyans, expatriates and tourists, was sealed off by terrorists. As of September 25, Voice of America reported the death toll at 72, with victims from 10 different countries.
Social Media Response
Somali militant group Al Shabaab, via their Twitter press account, were quick to boast of their achievement and warned of more terror geared towards the natives of Kenya’s soil. However, their account was quickly suspended. In retribution, they quickly opened another account and threatened for more revenge for Kenya’s military deployment in Somalia.
Social media was kept awash with a myriad of tweets from various news agencies and individual efforts from those that were situated in Nairobi. Regardless of the differences in religion and culture amongst other, Kenyans (Kenyans On Twitter, aka #KOT) united for a common cause of peace and supporting the bereaved families under the hashtag #WeAreOne. They also used hashtags such as #AriseKenya and #PrayForKenya.
— September’s Very Own (@Wykid92) September 22, 2013
The dire need to refill the waning blood banks in Kenya drove Red Cross to launch a blood donation drive which registered over 1000 donors and other well wishers contributing items such as food, clothes and several basic needs. Through Twitter, too, Safaricom–a leading mobile provider in Kenya–canvassed for financial donations through its popular mobile money service, M-PESA, which has by far received more than 8.5 million Kenyan shillings (~USD 98,000) in direct transfers.
Ksh 5,000,000 of the #WestgateKitty will be allocated to the completion of the Blood transfusion facility at Kenyatta National Hospital.
— Safaricom Limited (@SafaricomLtd) September 27, 2013
The nation’s leading daily, Daily Nation, published a gruesome picture of a woman drenched in blood for their Sunday’s paper cover picture. However, a condemnation from the general public via Twitter sparked the hashtag #BoycottDailyNation and eventually a public apology from the paper’s CEO.
As much as you want to make profit at least you should have a human face, that was so insensitive of you, apologize #BoycottDailyNation
— Nancy Muriuki (@nancywmuriuki) September 23, 2013
Outlets like Global Voices and PRI have shared the remarkable ways Kenyans turned to social media after the crisis. South Africa’s Mail and Guardian noted how tweets sent messages of hope during the darkest periods of the attack, and even Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta turned to Twitter and Scribd to update the nation:
Update on the Westgate Mall Terror Attack http://t.co/s7yZHuVDdw
— Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) September 22, 2013
Impressed by Kenyan officials use of Twitter during this crisis.. Not sure I have ever witnessed any such use by any other African country
— africatechie (@africatechie) September 23, 2013
A number of publications have looked at the incredible ways Kenyans have used social media in response to the attacks. The country is one of the most active in Africa on Twitter.
Hard times pray for Kenya. pic.twitter.com/spk9EugOY1
— Victor Wanyama (@VictorWanyama) September 22, 2013
At The Civic Beat, we are interested in how creative expression online creates communities around tragedies, and the wide variety of creative images and tweets posted in response to the attacks reflect a need for healing and unity after the severity of the incident. We’ve collected a few of the outstanding ones here and continue to research these images. Anyone with insight into particular symbols and images within, please get in touch.
We saw images highlighting Kenyan officers’ strength and their response to the attacks. The military played a vital role in ending the siege.
Others incorporated the mall itself into the image. This first one calls for religious unity as well.
The majority of the images utilized the Kenyan flag in particular as a symbol, and we saw a number of candles, hearts and other images of peace.
— Airtel Kenya (@AIRTEL_KE) September 23, 2013
There have been a wide variety of responses in the wake of the tragedy, but these images of unity and peace under the colors and themes of the Kenyan flag stood out most to us. They seemed to come largely from both Kenyans on the ground and the Kenyan diaspora, though we also spotted a few from supporters online. Have you seen other images? Do you have other insights to share into the response online?