Sometime last year a journalist friend of mine told me that a presenter on a local radio station in Uganda once defined Twitter as a platform for jokes. According to the presenter the Luganda description for what Twitter is all about was ‘Omukutu ogw’okusaagirako.’
Others have said pretty much the same when they assert that they believe Twitter to be a social network for those with time to waste. But how do you sustain that notion when the number one citizen in your country is on the same platform? Twitter is not a joking subject, if I could borrow a phrase loved by Ugandan kick boxer Golola Moses.
The last few days have arguably been President Museveni’s most digital days. It all started when he took a ‘selfie’ that got so many on Twitter and Facebook talking. Before the ‘selfie’ talk could simmer down, he took things a notch higher by sending out his very first tweet. To avoid confusing Twitter users, his @KagutaMuseveni account was immediately verified by the folks at Twitter.
The very first tweet from the man with the hat was well received and by the time of writing this it had been retweeted over 1600 times. Not to be taken as a one hit person, another tweet was sent at around 2am Ugandan time yesterday. Interestingly, although the first tweet was sent out last week, the @KagutaMuseveni account was opened way back in March 2010 and had over 17, 000 followers before the first tweet.
Museveni’s account now has over 24,000 followers. Apart from Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, other East African leaders seem to be seasoned Twitter users judging from the numbers of followers they have. Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta has 406,000 followers while Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has 327,000 followers. Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete has amassed 139,000 followers.
During one of the ‘MindSpeak’ events organised by Aly-Khan Satchu in 2011 and held in Nairobi where President Museveni was the chief guest, Satchu said at some point that we should not elect a leader who is not abreast with the times and not on Twitter. By then President Mwai Kibaki was still in power and not on Twitter.
It is good to know that our leaders have embraced these contemporary communication platforms and some like President Kagame have encouraged government officials to also join and interact with other people in the country. One can for example ask a minister a question on Twitter thus avoiding the trouble of physically going to an office, booking and appointment and waiting to see the minister. Away from Twitter our brothers and sisters in Tanzania on Saturday celebrated 50 years as a union. Not 50 years of independence but 50 years since Tanganyika and Zanzibar formed a union and took on the name of, the United Republic of Tanzania.
The Mainland and the Isles united on April 26, 1964 following an agreement between the then President of Tanganyika, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and his Zanzibar counterpart, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume.
The colourful ceremony took place at the Uhuru National Stadium and was graced by several African heads of state, vice presidents, prime ministers, envoys from as far as China. Indeed it is commendable that the Tanzanians have managed to uphold the unity that Nyerere and Karume started 50 years ago.
It is however important to point out that as Tanzania goes about the process of changing their constitution, the relationship between the mainland and Zanzibar has proven to be one of the most contentious issues.
It is not easy keeping such a union going and some countries that tried failed like was the case of Senegal and Gambia (Senegambia). Gadaffi also tried to have Chad as part of Libya but that too did not hold. The unity of Tanganyika and Zanzibar gives the region hope in that if they can keep it together then we can dream of a bigger union involving other EAC members.
And did you know that a certain Ugandan called ‘Field Marshall’ John Gideon Okello led the fight to overthrow the last Arab government in Zanzibar? At the age of 27, he toppled the government of Sultan Seyyid Jamshid bin Abdullah in what is commonly known as the Zanzibar Revolution. How a Ugandan from Lira district ended up fighting in Kenya then moving to Zanzibar is a story for another day. Once again, allow me to wish the Tanzanians a happy 50 years of Muungano.