Kenya, Somali exchange Twitter insults
13 December 2011, 09:32
Nairobi - Kenyan soldiers and members of an extremist Islamist
militant group have been fighting each other in Somalia since Kenya
invaded two months ago. Now, their spokespeople are taking the battle
onto Twitter, with taunts, accusations and insults being directly traded
in a rare engagement on the internet.
The propaganda war on the
microblogging website shows the increasingly sophisticated use of media
by both sides and underscores that there is often little reliable
information about the conflict in Somalia that now directly or
indirectly involves a half-dozen nations, analysts say.
tweets themselves will not be entirely accurate but it will allow
analysts to triangulate that information and come up with a more
accurate picture of what is really happening," said EJ Hogendoorn of the
International Crisis Group think tank.
On Monday, the Islamic
insurgent group al-Shabaab used its Twitter feed to accuse Kenya of
having a history of committing "barbarous acts" toward ethnic Somalis,
and cited a 1984 massacre where human rights groups say Kenyan troops
killed around 3 000 ethnically Somali men in eastern Kenya.
more recent actions, al-Shabaab's tweets that began last week claimed
that Kenyan soldiers in Somalia "flee from confrontation & flinch in
the face of death".
The Twitter feed also described
al-Shabaab's own press release giving details about Burundian soldiers
killed in an October battle between African Union peacekeeping troops
and the insurgents. Al-Shabaab claimed to have killed more than 150 AU
troops at the time.
The AU only reported 10 casualties although Mogadishu-based security sources say the figure was closer to 70.
tweets, written in fluent English, mocked an earlier Twitter posting by
Kenya's army spokesperson, Emmanuel Chirchir, that threatened to bomb
concentrations of donkeys that might be moving weapons for the
"Your eccentric battle strategy has got animal rights groups quite concerned, Major," the al-Shabaab posting said.
The Associated Press has determined that both Twitter accounts - HSMPress and MajorEChirchir
- are legitimate. It's not clear who is writing the al-Shabaab tweets.
Several Americans, most of Somali descent, have in recent years joined
the group that Washington has designated a terrorist organisation.
Chirchir has responded with his own barrage of tweets.
al-Shabaab joining tweeter, lets take fight to their doorstep", he
wrote. Chirchir accused al-Shabaab of stoning an innocent girl to death
and chopping off hands. He noted that many commanders have banned bras
in their territory, and urged readers to retweet the message in support
of Somali women.
Al-Shabaab, which is fighting the weak UN-backed
Somali government and controls much of southern Somalia, follows strict
Shari'ah law and has carried out amputations and executions, including
stoning to death a girl who Amnesty International said was a 13-year-old
It also enforces a strict dress code, flogging women whose robes it deems are not thick enough.
human rights Hassan Omar Hassan says the flurry of tweets obscures the
paucity of information about actual operations by the Kenyan military
since it entered Somalia in October. Kenyan leaders have not said how
long the intervention might last or what the ultimate goals are.
make an honest judgement about the war, Kenyans need more accuracy in
war reporting," said Hassan. "We don't know the full story... the
government has been able to circumvent accountability."
military originally portrayed the incursion as a short mission sparked
by the kidnappings of foreigners in Kenya, near the Somali border. But
Kenya has been pushing for a the establishment of a buffer state along
its border with war-ravaged Somalia for many years.
Kenya's parliament approved a plan to eventually place the Kenyan troops
under the command of AU forces in the Somali capital, indicating that
Kenyan forces could remain in Somalia for a long time. The plan has not
yet been approved by the UN or donors funding the AU force.
say if al-Shabaab tweets timely, accurate information about events it
may force more disclosure from Kenyan and African Union military
authorities. But al-Shabaab has already allegedly exaggerated the
numbers of wounded civilians and its military victories.
Saturday, al-Shabaab tweeted that Kenyan jets had bombed a Red Cross
feeding centre in the town of Bardhere, with scores of women and
A day later, the Red Cross confirmed their centre was hit, but said there were no casualties because it was empty at the time.