In late May, reports emerged of the brutal rape and murder of Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, a young Nigerian student. In the days following, more stories of violence against girls and women emerged--the killing of a teenager by a police officer, the gang rape of a minor, repeated acts of sexual violence by popular Twitter users. Together, these stories made clear, as governors have now declared, that Nigeria is dealing with a state of emergency on sexual violence.
Also in late May, another Black man was killed by law enforcement in the United States. George Floyd became the latest in a long line of Black American people who have lost their lives to police violence throughout that nation’s history. In Kenya too, many citizens face police violence, with a particular surge attending recent coronavirus restrictions.
This report explores social media (Twitter) chatter on these issues--police violence and gender-based violence--in Nigeria and Kenya. It highlights the stories that have become a rallying cry for social action, analyzes sentiment around these stories, and spotlights the ways in which the broad themes of misogyny and state-sanctioned violence against citizens are contextualized in Nigeria and Kenya.
Social media is perhaps our richest contemporary site for organizing and activism over a broad range of social issues. From the Bring Back Our Girls movement, to pushes for a reckoning over the Biafran War, Nigeria’s war with her own, social media has opened new space to work through some of our most thorny social problems. And among the oldest social concerns that human societies face, seemingly as old as time itself, is gender-based violence. It cuts across various social or economic classes, affecting both developed and developing countries. In Nigeria and Kenya, many cases go unreported, due in large part to the stigma survivors face. And the social costs of this kind of violence are high. Studies have shown that children who grow up with violence are more likely to become perpetrators of violence in the future.
Police violence in the United States, particularly against Black people, also repeatedly emerges as a major social concern. The rate of fatal police shootings amongst Black Americans is much higher than any other race. Nigerians and Kenyans also contend with police brutality. For instance, the agitation to #EndSARS which began in 2017 is an issue of police violence. Kenyans have also rallied against the increase in police brutality across the country especially toward poor communities as uncovered by a recent BBC Africa eye investigation.
In this report, we seek to contextualize the recent resurgence of concerns around gender-based violence and police brutality in online chatter. Using Versus, EnterFive’s sentiment analysis tool, we highlight the stories that have led to renewed fervour against these issues. We assess sentiment around these stories and the hashtags they have inspired, and speculate on the place of social media in matters of social change.
Versus Twitter breakdown from both Nigeria and Kenya
Tweets reviewed from Nigeria and Kenya dated May 15th - June 5th 2020
Tweets reviewed from Nigeria 🇳🇬
Tweets reviewed from Kenya 🇰🇪
In Nigeria, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly neutral, with 23% negative sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
In Nigeria, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly negative with a 37% neutral sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
In Nigeria, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly neutral, with 47% negative sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
In Kenya, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly neutral, with 16% negative sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
In Kenya, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly negative, with 39% neutral sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
In Kenya, Twitter chatter on this hashtag trended mostly negative, with 46% neutral sentiment (see “Key Takeaways” Section).
According to the World Health Organization, gender-based violence (violence against women and girls) is a global pandemic. This ranges from physical and sexual abuse to mental harm, even murder. 1 in 3 women is said to be affected in their lifetime by any one of these violent acts.
More than 200 million girls have been reported to have undergone FGM (female genital mutilation), in a total of 30 countries where data exists; western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa with some countries in the Middle East and Asia. This type of violence against women especially girls leads to medical complications.
Global and Regional Estimate of Violence Against Women.
As much as 38% of female murders globally are committed by intimate partners
Over 200 million girls have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation in 30 countries where data exists.
35% of women in the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, or non-intimate partner.
1.4 billion USD spent on treating health complications of FGM in one year (2018) for 27 countries where data were available, with an estimated 64% increase in the next 30 years (2047) if FGM prevalence remains the same.
For Twitter users #JusticeForUwa was a rallying cry to express concern and distress around the rape and murder of 22-year-old student, Uwaila Vera Omozuwa. Many joined the movement to create awareness against rape, by showing their support and calling for justice for the victim. The case has since gained recognition in the country. Online protest and activism against rape culture also continues as people speak against rape cases in other parts of the country.
Chatter around this hashtag showed solidarity for campaigns on the various social issues making headlines, especially the stories of rape and murder of young girls. These headlines attracted negative sentiments, as people expressed their sadness and heartbreak toward the cases being discussed.
“Yangy” saw numerous mentions and trended negatively in Nigeria, as Twitter users called for justice against an alleged rapist of 24 women. Chatter around this story has since quieted, after the accused person denied the allegations against him. There has been no follow up known to the public so far.
Chatter in the Kenyan Twitter community closely identified with the issues going on in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Users openly expressed their concern and rallied round the #SayNoToRape campaign, recalling unresolved cases in other parts of the world.
Kenya has seen and reported several cases of police brutality, of which most of the mentions trended negatively. Some of the hashtags that trended were #JusticeForSamuelMaina, #Justiceformamajane, #JusticeforYassin and #JusticeForVaite, condemning the acts of abuse as well as judicial killings by the members of the police force in Kenya and seeking redress for the victims.
Nigeria recorded 10,893 deaths as a result of police brutality in the country between May 29, 2011 and June 1, 2020. Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded over 100 human rights violations and 8 extrajudicial killings by members of the Nigerian police force between March 30 and April 13, 2020.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has trended on and off for years, but on May 25, 2020 it was brought to the fore with people tweeting negatively about the murder of a Black man by white police officers. This has garnered global criticism, with Kenyans calling it “not police brutality”, but “M-U-R-D-E-R”.
Samuel Maina was beaten by members of the Kenyan Police Force on May 27th for being outside about 13 minutes after the nationwide curfew as a means to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Maina said he was robbed by two policemen and was later chased away when he showed up at the Kahawa West Police post to report the incident. He was later brought to Kenyatta National Hospital by a friend where the doctor confirmed that his nose bone was broken as a result of the police assault. This incident trended mostly negative and gathered negative mentions. One particular tweet gathered over 400 replies and 2,600 retweets.
Yassin Moyo is a 13-year-old Kenyan boy that was hit by a stray bullet from a member of the Kenyan Police force on March 30, 2020, whilst on his balcony with his siblings. He was rescued and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Moyo was buried at Kariakor cemetery on March 31 according to the Islamic rites. The issue has received nationwide attention and the parents have been interviewed by CNN and other local media stations. Social media mentions about the killing of Yassin Moyo trended mostly negatively with one of the tweets sharing a protest march video that stopped at the boy's house.
Kenyan officials instituted a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew from 7 pm to 5 am daily to slow the spread of coronavirus on 27 March, 2020. Chatter on over 100 tweets indicates that Kenyan police have leveraged the curfew to further violate human rights in the country. About 16 deaths have been recorded from police brutality during coronavirus curfews.
Many users in both Nigeria and Kenya simply retweeted #SayNoToRape in solidarity with the issue without framing commentary around the concept. As a result, the hashtag trended mostly neutral on the sentiment distribution from Versus.
#BlackLivesMatter had a high negative sentiment in both Nigeria and Kenya. This is because users voiced their anger over the lack of accountability that allows police officers to get away with horrendous crimes. There were extremely few positive sentiments, which were not enough to be shown on the sentiment distribution..
Sentiment expressed around #PoliceBrutality leaned strongly negative in both Nigeria and Kenya as they came with commentary on reported cases of assault on the public. Kenyan users also retweeted #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd alongside reflections on Kenyan stories of assault, connecting U.S. American concerns of police violence with their own.
Our grounding research indicates that the social and economic cost associated with gender-based violence is high and still on the increase:
Victims of gender-based violence suffer from psychological issues long after they have physically recovered from the incident.
Sexual violence has led to several health consequences like sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and in the case of already pregnant women, a high rate of infant and child mortality and morbidity.
Police brutality is a global issue: Whether it is police officers unfairly targeting African-Americans in the United States or Nigerians and Kenyans suffering unfair treatment by police, it is clear that this institution fails many citizens. In the United States, organizations are coming together to agitate for defunding or abolishing the police. How activism against police violence evolves in Kenya and Nigeria remains to be seen.
Black Struggle is Local and Global: #BlackLivesMatter first emerged in the United States as a rallying cry following the death of Trayvon Martin. It has continued to trend on and off, as a way of framing many concerns of the wellness of Black American lives, among which police brutality continues to be a major concern, as the killing of George Floyd has made apparent. Beyond its original context, the hashtag has gained new meaning. In Nigeria and Kenya, users speak out against police brutality and gender-based violence in their specific local contexts. #BlackLivesMatter then becomes a rallying cry for the numerous ways the lives of people of African descent are endangered both on the continent and in the diaspora.
Individual stories are rallying cries for broader systemic issues: Our finding indicates what we intuitively know, that individual stories possess power both as a rallying cry for social change, and for critiques of the contexts in which abuse emerges. Between both issues of gender-based violence and police violence, stories of individual experiences inspired hashtags, which users use both to express solidarity/concern and to unpack issues. As a result, we see more nuanced conversation around gender-based violence, space for more women to share their stories (and be heard), and in-person rallies to call for governmental action.
More than Armchair Activism: Amongst the traditional critiques of social media is the notion of the “hashtag activist” or the “armchair activist”-- the social media user who sits at home and writes loudly on their digital device, but never takes action to transform their material reality. That critique is hollowed by the in-person protests against gender-based violence that have taken place in Nigeria. These actions remind us that social media’s currency reaches beyond the digital sphere to the material, reinforcing the notion of porosity between digital reality and material reality—i.e. the more entrenched social media has become in daily living, the truer it has become that what happens in digital space has real implications in material reality and vice versa.
Indeed that quality of social media drives what we offer with Versus. In paying close attention to sentiment expressed across platforms, we can attune ourselves, using data, to important narrative and value shifts as they take place across society.
On urgent social concerns like gender-based violence and police brutality, listening to social media chatter opens opportunities to deepen our understanding of the nature of social problems and to clarify the trajectory toward social change.