September 12, 2019

Beware: Social Media Is Making Leaders Responsive But Can’t Deliver Justice

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Victim Diane Kamali posted a video of her alleged beating by local TV proprietor

There is a growing, and glowingly worthy trend showing that social media, particularly Twitter is making leaders more responsive and in the process, likely to contribute to accountability in parts of the world where leaders care about what ordinary citizens think, need and deserve.

In Rwanda, for example, there is evidence to show that when ordinary citizens complain about poor service delivery, alleged corruption, injustice, negligence of duty, or lack of responsiveness and mistreatment from some public officials, the top leadership has swiftly responded – leading to addressing the issue or issues the citizen or citizens raised.

Leadership responsiveness is especially immediate when President Paul Kagame is tagged alongside the official or institution in question. When that happens, the President not only responds promising to look into the issue, but also the official or office complained about immediately responds and promises to solve the mentioned problem.

For instance, on September 5, 2019, Diane Kamali complained against the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) and, to translate from Kinyarwanda, tweeted: “I was beaten on 16.07.209 by Dr Francis (GoodRich TV). I informed @RIBRwanda and it has been 2 months without any response. Does it mean that individuals who have money and are friends with important leaders can’t be punished”?

This complaint was lodged against the owner of Good-Rich television, Dr Francis Habumugisha who allegedly beat up one of his staff members, Diane Kamali in a staff meeting.

After the tweet, President Kagame responded on September 11, saying: “we shall follow it up and get to know what exactly happened and take necessary action. Surprised if RIB was info[rmed] how they did not do what was required”

In a follow-up, RIB then informed Diane Kamaili via Twitter (as translated from Kinyarwanda): “Good afternoon Diane. Your complaint was received and is being investigated. You should pass by the place you lodged your complaint and find out the progress of your case. We promise you will receive justice because no one is above the law”.

And the Prosecutor-General, John Bosco Mutangana weighed in: “This case (Diane’s) is being handled by the prosecution and [the] suspect is detained as investigations continue. A due process of law will follow and suspect will be presented to court with respect to criminal procedure”.

There are similar cases where the President and his senior officials have positively and directly responded as a result of citizens’ complaints on twitter in the past year or so.

This is a very positive development and, at The Chronicles, we applaud this leadership responsiveness. Before the advent of Twitter and other social media channels, there were limited direct and instant engagement between the top leadership and ordinary citizens. Apart from public meetings, there was no channel citizens could directly use to speak to their President about the problems they faced and the behaviour of officials; now they do; through Twitter and the President is responding admiringly well.

We believe this trend, if it continues, is likely to lead to greater accountability, and effective service delivery especially if citizens continue to share information on poor service delivery, corrupt tendencies, abuse of power, injustice and mistreatment, and leaders make it a culture to swiftly respond and resolve these challenges.

While some might rightly say that other leaders shouldn’t wait for the President to comment to do their job, at The Chronicles, we believe this interaction between the citizens, the president and other leaders is healthy and will help consolidate rule of law, accountable leadership and consensual ownership of governance outcomes and, in the process, consolidating legitimacy.

The probable danger that should however be avoided by judicial officials is acting on public sentiments on social media rather following due process. That is, while responding to complaints on social media is a good first-step, judicial officials should, in all cases, always be guided by due process of law rather than public opinions on social media.

This means that it’s important for citizens and leaders to know that while it’s fine or even a duty to complain and demand action where justice isn’t seen to be done or where negligence of duty or abuse of power is detected, on its own, complaining on social media can’t deliver justice, it only makes the problem known.

That means that those who complain should always make follow-ups and ensure that justice is fully done rather than expect or assume that because top leaders have made promises on social media, the issue will automatically be resolved or expect that it must be resolved in their favour rather than according to the law as courts of law may decide.

Finally, let all public officials make it their priority to always do their job diligently and be responsive to citizens’ queries rather than acting after the president’s intervention. It’s when all leaders at all levels are responsive, accountable and care to solve challenges that citizens face that the country can, collectively advance and develop.

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