Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The digital battle of Goma!

By Gael Masengi

Clicking, uploading or ‘hash tagging’ every good and bad moment of our everyday lives has become an habit we, human beings have adopted and come to love so much. Whether it is the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the killing of Osama Ben Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan or the Arab Spring in the Middle-East or the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, New York, surely you will know about it before turning-on your TV screen.

This week as the fierce battle of Goma town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo escalate, the Twitter community or simply known as “Tweeps” have taken into storm the social network to support, blame or just alert the rest of the globe about atrocities being committed in North-Kivu by the infamous Rwandan-backed M23 rebels. Since the on-going conflict erupted early this year, the United Nations’ so-called Group of Experts on Congo findings have painted the neighbouring Rwanda and recently Uganda as the main sponsors of the Congolese mutineers, allegations confirmed by various international anti-war organisations but constantly denied by Rwanda despite overwhelming evidences. 

Just like in any conventional war there’s two side in every argument, yes, only in this day and age is a little bit different because public opinion has undoubtedly become or should I say always has been one of the most important ‘tools’ of war, a notable example of what I’m talking about is how the Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been engaged in a “twitter war” with pro DRC ‘tweeps’, overwhelmed by negatives tweets, Minister Louise Mushikiwabo tweeted “Gov Rwa is again asking FARDC, M23 and all other armed groups in the DRC to stop fighting; extra-regional meddling should end as well!” indicating that her country has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going-on in the DRC, the FM went-on to get defensive as she adds “…No question DRC has good ideas for peace, if only it could be allowed to govern itself”. However in contrast to his minister, Paul Kagame left his 87,924 followers in the dark as he preferred to remain silent rather taking all the commendations from angry folks twitting angry tweets, directly holding him accountable and imploring him to put an end on what they call ‘madness.’

Shortly after their triumphant entrance in Goma city, the rebel fighters of M23 confirmed the capture of Goma Airport on their Facebook page saying “Mapambano ineekeya ku Mont goma. Aeroport yote Tayari”  meaning that although fighting continued in Goma the airport was already under their control, within seconds, the wall post has recorded over two-hundred and fifty "Likes" and more than three-hundred and fifty sympathising comments, clearly the antagonist also have supporters. The M23 propaganda mechanism didn’t stop there; the rebels went-on to mock the government and Joseph Kabila himself writing “overwhelmed by the status quo, President Joseph Kabila calls the Congolese people to mobilise,”  “who will listen to you?” ask the fighters and accompanying the message with a photo of a frustrated Kabila. Many agree that the rebel fighters have so-far cleverly use both the mainstream and social media to navigate their message, within a week of intense battle to take the key town of Goma, numerous people have changed their view towards the M23, some calling them freedom fighters and others comparing them to the 1997’s “Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo” a coalition of Rwandan and Congolese dissidents, this is the kind of publicity the rebels needed knowing that just like fifteen years ago, the Congolese people lost faith on the regime of Mobutu Sessesseko and were ready to welcome whoever to come in name of ‘liberation’ and ‘democracy.’  

The increasing use of social networks in conflicts and specifically in this one surely indicated how anyone can take advantage of new technology to control the narrative and ultimately normalise even though not a justifiable cause.

Meanwhile the people of Goma and surroundings villages are left at no one’s mercy as the so-called International Community which always feels guilty (of holocaust and Rwandan genocide) watch at distance and having little or nothing to do about it. But hey! Who’s to blame? The incompetent government of Joseph Kabila, which many of them voted for on late last year’s election, have completely failed them.

Is it unlikely for the rebels to march into the capital Kinshasa? Will they be welcome? Only time will tell.

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