When Paul Kagame took it to Twitter

President Paul Kagame has a way of inspiring himself and those who work for him. He is cunning, can be inspirational, forceful, confrontational and sometimes, has appeared slightly “deluded”.

But you have to give credit to a man who feels so passionate about his country that he is willing to take on any critic of his on the ground, at home, away from home and in the air (read cyber space). That President Kagame chose to take on Ian Birrell on Twitter is only surprising if you know nothing about Rwanda’s strong man. Kagame famously in 2006 said that he was not ready for any lessons from Westerners who he accuses of looking on as Rwanda was going up in flames in 1994. Argument: you must have helped Rwanda during the genocide to criticize him…really?

As someone who fought the genocidaire, won the war and therefore helped stop the genocide (at least according to his account), Kagame feels that his figure should tower (literally) above everyone else’s when it comes to Rwandan issues. “No one has the moral right to judge me,” he keeps repeating. President Kagame breathes Rwanda, believes in Rwanda and feels Rwanda. Typical patriot, you may say but is he?

Sometime last year, I wrote here about the self made Lord of Rwanda that PK has sought to become. Those who know him wanted to believe me (not that I was really intending to have anyone believe me) but his henchmen were up in arms against me, writing and sending me all sorts of emails and comments, some worth the dustbin. The vitriol and abuse I got from Kigali was overwhelming – sometimes, incredible. Why you may ask? Paul Kagame has made himself, or forced those under him to make him the father figure of modern Rwanda (somehow he may be depending on which sources you read). But in doing so, he has been left to assume that everything Rwandese rotates around him, and this is his problem.

When anyone (read critic) questions what is going on in Rwanda, say for instance why there is no free speech, no political space or why human rights organisations are being prevented from freely doing their work, PK and his supporters take this to be a direct attack on the president. They forget that such questions, especially like the ones about freedom of speech, political space and other freedoms are policy questions. Now, while PK is head of state, he is not the sole maker of policy in Rwanda. Policy in the country is or ought to be a result of decisions by policy makers in the country who must or should include parliamentarians, heads of government institutions, ministers and where applicable, some members of the civil society. Any question about government policy should therefore be a direct hit at those who made the policy not the president himself.

But PK being the self effacer and control obsessed manager that he is, he always takes this to be a direct question aimed at his manner and nature of rule. Instead of arguing that this is government policy aimed at say for instance ensuring that the country does not revert to the olden days of hatred, ethnicity and or sectarianism, he starts blabbing about how no one has the right to judge him!

In the twitter exchange with Ian Birrell, President Kagame was asked why he feels “no media, human rights group or even the UN has the right to criticize him”. While he did not directly answer the question, his response was clear. Kagame feels that these organisations have got their own “serious flows”. He did not elaborate as to which flows he was talking about – at least from the transcript on Birrell’s blog. Granted, Birrell was somehow too confrontational and slightly harsh by referring to Kagame as deluded, but if PK felt the need to continue their discussion on Twitter, he should have besides pointing out Birell’s abusive use of words, gone ahead to clearly explain why he feels no one has the moral right to criticize him.

He did not. He instead, and I am assuming here, called Rwanda’s Minister of Information, Louise Mushikiwabo who defending her boss came in with the mother of defences.  Ian what so complicated? can critic but u hav no “moral”(key word)right: PK saved lives, built country n gave hope”, she said. According to Mushikiwabo, PK is “unbwogable” should never be questioned because he is a hero, a life saver and a giver of hope.

You begin to see the reason why PK behaves the way he does. He has been made to believe that he is Rwanda’s saviour, Stephen Kinser even referred to him as the Man Who Dreamed Rwanda’s Rebirth.  Bill Clinton has showered him with all sorts of prizes for excellently guiding Rwanda out of the rubble to a respectable status as a nation. He continues to get as many accolades as possible from people and institutions most of them Western, who feel his position in global politics has been elevated, and thus wish to be part of the story. Tony Blair has been making endless runs into and out of Kigali as special adviser to PK. It is things like these that have made the man “unbwogable”. It is writers like Kinser that have made the man feel like he is a demi-god, well above everyone and particularly insulated from criticism.

If you are a journalist and you happen to be critical of his style of leadership or even question his government’s policy on selected aspects, you are immediately branded anti-Rwanda (a traitor if you are Rwandese). If you are a researcher and you choose to say what the government feels is wrong (irrespective of whether you previously have said good things about the leadership), you immediately become an enemy, someone who can not be trusted and thus must leave. This way Rwanda has managed to control what goes into the public domain, been able to preserve a smooth and clear public image which projects it as an efficiently well managed nation – the panacea for more foreign aid. It works, has worked for PK and whether we want it or not, he will still enjoy this father figure for some years to come. Question though is, is this productive as far as Rwandese are concerned?

PK will argue that the Rwandese came out in large numbers last year in August to show their unrelenting support for his rule. That as long as the Rwandese are happy, he does not care. And why should he really? Why should he bother about a group of people asking him to be reasonable or not to be deluded if the Rwandese (the people who elected him) are happy with what he is offering? To answer this, you need to know exactly what these Rwandese in question truly think of their president. Unfortunately, with free speech non existent, without an independent media, a functional civil society and the ever looming divisionism and genocide ideology laws, this question will never be answered. And as we wait for that time, Paul Kagame will continue to make claims, claims that may be true but which are not about to be put to test. As we thank Ian Birell for getting us into the mind of PK (for those who didn’t know) we should perhaps say bravo to Mr. President, for coming clean and telling the world who he actually is.

Over to you my little monsters!…


Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking! ellyakanga@usa.com

14 thoughts on “When Paul Kagame took it to Twitter”

  1. To Eleneus Akanga, Ian Birrel

    Democracy is an agreement within a nation, a society on how it governs itself, chooses its leadership engage in setting laws. There is therefore not a unique form of democracy but rather several types of democracies based on the various society we have around the world.

    It is very easy to single out a leader and tax him of all sorts of names but one wonders why those accusing do not provide the minimal decency of basing their critics on facts, which would be so simple to gather from Rwanda if the case presented had any relevance.

    In 2000 George Bush the winning candidate received fewer popular votes than the runner-up Al Gore but still won the presidency with 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266. This was based on the US electoral voting process or should I say based on the US constitution. It is the democracy that suits Americans. The popular votes are not the decision factor. And you rightly saw no offense to that….

    It is also interesting to see that both in the US and UK you have a democratic system dominated by 2 main parties. We are yet to see an independent candidate win the top seat in any of those countries. Refer to the Ross Perot campaign of 1992. According to your logic should we accuse the UK, USA of being non democratic and those parties of colluding to exclude others? I certainly think not and somehow I think we both agree on that.

    When it comes to Rwanda however you would like to apply different standards.
    Rwanda went through an electoral process in which frankly we had to choose a party and its candidate that had offered to Rwanda steady peace from 1996 to 2010, economic growth, the return of millions of refugees, jobs, one of the best healthcare system in the developing world, rule of law and more. The other parties were not able to convince on their promises given their weak records impacting their credibility. That s how HE Paul Kagame won with such a high score. You can refer to the election in France in 2002 when Chirac faced the extremist far right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen of National Front (FN), and so won re-election by a landslide (82 percent); all parties outside the National Front (except for Lutte ouvrière) had called for opposing Le Pen, even if it meant voting for Chirac. This case clearly shows that democracy is the will of a society for its betterment not the expression of your frustrations towards President Kagame.

    Coming now to the freedom of expression and human rights ….Like they say in the USA ….BROTHER PLEASE….How can one bring broadband in his country, support the deployment of ICTs in schools, organize live national dialogues where citizen and foreigners can call in or sms, hold monthly press conferences, hold press points all over the world, be accessible on twits to all and still be against freedom of expression.

    Anti-Semitism and hate messages are forbidden by law where you live, why don t you call that an abuse of human right as well? Or when it comes to setting chaos in Rwanda you have a new set of standards that you apply. I am wondering what would happened if a politician would encourage skin heads to kill all black people in your neighborhood?

    Why should we put our country back in chaos with amateur politicians who have no other line of mobilization but to stir the so called Hutu versus so called Tutsis. We are still yet to see any of them engaging in topics relevant to the society such as education, health, economic growth, job creation etc ..
    Freedom of speech and debate yes but one based on facts and honest concepts not sensational insults geared at self promotion. Especially not taking Rwanda back into chaos.
    A Rwandan who voted RPF and HE Kagame in 2010

  2. Genocidaires are such sour losers! Why can’t you people just accept that you lost fair and square and move on? How do your minds work? (Not being a genocidare I have no idea!)

    “Over to you my little monsters!…”

    Indeed! Except many of them are indeed realizing that it’s a pointless fight and choosing to come home and share in the development struggle that is a much more worthy use of their effort.

    1. Not sure I understand your argument Pedro. Will you please explain more about this linkage that you are making in regard to genocidaires. Are you suggesting in anyway that criticizing PK or in this case, writing something about an online debate he has had with a foreign journalist makes one a genocidaire?

      1. why don’t you reply to Nkubito instead of dwelling on useless discussions and arguments like Birell. Now you are going to harp on the fact that someone called you a genocdaire or not.
        Reply to Nkubito who has presented a well documented and factual argument which i am sure you will fail to respond to. Thats why you are all branded; you dwell on ONLY the sensational and not factual, intellectual arguments like the one presented by Nkubito….get real man!!!

        Thats why the likes of you and Birell lose respect of decent folk!!!

      2. @Nyaruguru, first of all thank you for passing by. While I am not sure Nkubito made a “well documented and factual argument” it goes without saying that you clearly can not claim that anyone would fail to respond to it. And there are so many reasons for this. Number one, each argument, however well presented will always have a counter argument. The issue then becomes one of which one makes more sense or is more convincing. Number two, Nkubito refers to the 2000 election of GW Bush who as we both know famously won the election through the courts. You may wish to recall that Americans had decided otherwise in a free and fair election (ignore what we had in Rwanda in August 2010). GW Bush contested the result and was later made president.

        I must say I did not believe this was the best way to resolve the issue nor do I believe in courts deciding elections. However when there is a contention as there was in 2000, courts are the only way out – which is what happened.

        You may agree or disagree on the ruling but at least we both know which judicial system (Rwanda/US) can be assumed more independent. Thus I do not see where Nkubito bases himself to assume that myself or Ian saw nothing wrong in this case. I did and never have I said I didn’t.

        Nkubito refers to the dominance of the two main political parties in the UK and US. Granted, there has been no case where an independent candidate has risen through the system to become leader of the two countries. Why this makes no sense as to the issue at hand is the fact that the argument on Rwanda is not about the number of parties or who gets through to lead based. Rather it is about how fair the system is. While UKIP for instance has not or will possibly never get their leader into Number 10 as PM, it remains a recognized party in the UK and one which in all the elections that have been held has been granted a fair chance to freely campaign, and solicit for votes. The same cannot be said of say a party like PSD, PS-Imberakuri and the others. Whereas most of them are clearly fringe parties very much leaning towards the dominant RPF, their existence at the grassroots level is clearly minimal. And this has nothing to do with their lack of organisation but a deliberate attempt by the dominant party (RPF) to marginalize them and keep them as one official told me, “where they should be”. Thus it is not about the number of political parties or whether the smaller parties can field or produce a president or PM but whether the political platform is level for those in politics to exercise their political rights.

        I could go on and on giving a counter argument to all of Nkubito’s arguments but remember the reason I chose to pass his comment and not comment on it was because I felt that unlike Pedro, Nkubito was civil. He had something to say and set out to say it in a civilized manner without attacking or accusing anyone.

  3. While Pericles legitimacy dwelt on progress of the City-State, Homer’s legacy lives on through the exaggeration of events.

  4. A well argued article. All too true.I also have a penchant for asking direct questions that demand direct answers. Here in Kenya,people,particularly the older generation, have a question of being circumspect when asked very direct questions.It is something I observed with Kagame.And it is frustrating.My own mother does it all the time, especially if she is in the wrong and knows it…

  5. I think its not about attacking each other but understanding what Democracy is all about.First I appreciate that Pk has done much as regards development in Rwanda.I insist development bout not democracy we all know that there is no rule of law in Rwanda,no freedom of Press.Winning an election does not necessarily mean some one is popular.Look at what was in Rwanda was it a free and fair election,see Uganda Museveni won the elections and considers him popular but is there rule of law in Uganda.At least looking at what has happened to the opposition leader Kiiza Besiigye.
    Look at Libya Gaddafi has done much as far as development is concerned but there is no democracy or rule of law.
    Remember Hitler,no one was as popular as him when he was in power.This applies the same to the likes of PK,Museveni,Idi Amin,Gadaffi and all the other dictators.
    Believe me when a leader is in power wheather he is a dictator or not he has to be popular and the reasons are clear.State machinery,state propaganda,intimidation etc

  6. Eleneus, I was worried about you because you disappeared from Facebook. I started worrying about those Rwandan assassins reported to be in London. Glad to see you were still posting as of 05.15.2011 at least. Could you get in touch?

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