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Posts Tagged ‘rwanda

BBC (nearly) runs film praising Rwanda’s dictator, “supported” by company linked to ruling party

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Update: Many thanks to Nick Wallis, who tells me that the film was pulled from the BBC schedules prior to being aired and never actually went out. Will update again if I can find out more…

Last year I blogged about the Rwandan government’s $50,000 deal with the US PR firm Racepoint, whose strategy includes promoting “Rwanda’s Visionary Leader… highlighting President Kagame and his visionary leadership”, while  “communicating the successes of Rwanda with key stakeholders in the political and financial elite communities”.

The PR firm…  outlines “a consolidated set of tactics to publicize both Rwanda and President Kagame“. This will initially involve “leveraging top print and broadcast outlets to communicate the Rwanda success story… and, in the process, validate it based on their credibility”, together with “a proactive campaign that leverages the web to seed stories favorable to Rwanda”.

Racepoint singles out  the Huffington Post as a particular online media target, together with “careful seeding across the blogosphere” to “initiate an offensive to control the organic search on Rwanda and set the agenda in print and broadcast”.

One of the key themes within the PR strategy’s “Education and inform program” would include:

The Rwandan Miracle: Healing of a Nation – We will highlight the rapid healing of the Rwandan nation, it will rely on visuals to drive the story home, Including inviting a handful of top-tier influencer media into the country to observe and Interview people in society.”

So I was very interested to hear about a new 45-minute film, reportedly due to air on May 12th and 13th on BBC World News, called “Rwanda-17 – Healing a Nation”.

The blurb from the film paints a heartwarming picture of the country’s under-17 football team, which it suggests “represents Rwanda’s breathtaking evolution and hopes for a better future, with good leadership and unity at the heart of not only sporting success but also a nation’s efforts to achieve reconciliation and prosperity.”

“What is it about Rwanda? What it is it that you’ve got *so* right?” asks the interviewer in the 2-minute trailer. His respondent tells him that “every ship” needs to have “a good captain”.

“Our team today, to play well, *they* a good captain, they need a good coach. They need somebody who has a vision. This is what we have in Rwanda.”

The shot then cuts to an interview with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame: “As the captain of this ship, what would you say you need to deliver to the people?”, his friendly interviewer asks. “We want to leave poverty behind us. We want to leave any kind of conflict behind us”, Kagame tells him.

This will doubtless come as good news to the UK-based dissidents who Rwanda’s government tried to murder last year… And the exiled opposition leader who has twice avoided assassination in South Africa, though it’s sadly too late for the opposition politician found beheaded in Rwanda in 2010.

There is a longer version of the trailer here, where it is stated that the film was “supported by Crystal Ventures”.

According to a DFID-funded research paper on Rwanda’s development, Kagame’s ruling party “funds itself by a combination of member contributions and the dividends paid by a private company which it fully owns… formerly known as Tri-Star Investments S.A.R.L. and now registered as Crystal Ventures Ltd.”

The Crystal Ventures website, meanwhile, states that:

“The company is wholly owned by Rwandan business people who pooled resources together to meet challenges of economic recovery and take advantage of growth opportunities in a virgin environment.”

Opposition activists, however, have claimed that the company is effectively controlled by the Rwandan President.

Google reveals lots more speculation – but far less concrete detail – about Crystal Ventures and its background. I’d be grateful for any input from readers on good sources to help unravel this…

Written by Richard Wilson

May 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Paul Kagame’s “cheerleader in chief”. Guest post by “Rwanda Nkunda”

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This is a guest post by Rwanda Nkunda. You can find more of their work via the blog “Cry for freedom in Rwanda”.

Tony Blair is on an official visit to Rwanda. This is probably the seventh visit since his departure from Downing Street in 2007.

The visits are part of his Africa Governance Initiative; although, he is also an official adviser to the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame. As noted by the Independent, the two share a close but bizarre relationship in which Mr. Blair functions as Mr. Kagame’s “cheerleader-in-chief”.

How the former leader of one of the world’s most powerful democracies became the publicist for a notorious “predator of the press” is a subject that remains closely guarded. The many explanations that emerge are wild guesses that tend to be borderline conspiracy theories–the sort that blames the western world for all evil in this world.

My focus here is less on how the two became involved with each other, but more on the substantive outcome of what we might consider to be Mr. Blair’s advice.

What is becoming a bit more apparent is that Mr. Kagame seeks to use Mr. Blair as a cover up for his past and present failures. Indeed, the relationship seeks to extend credibility and legitimacy to a brutal dictatorship; which frequently uses murder as a political tactic?. As such, Mr. Blair has become the benign face that promises enticing reforms while Mr. Kagame continues with business as usual.

The precise nature of the relationship seems very unclear. What we know is that Mr. Blair is frequently shuttled around the world in Mr. Kagame’s private jets and gets celebrity treatment whenever in Kigali. For a man who was once one of the most powerful figures in the world, the appetite to feel important or regain a glorious past might be the weakness that Mr. Kagame is exploiting.

To be sure, the regime has the capacity to dismiss some of the killings that the opposition attributes to Mr. Kagame. However the capacity to do so does not depend on Mr. Kagame’s innocence or lack thereof. It is simply that, when Kagame’s critics get murdered, there is little that gets done in terms of investigations. Moreover, and naturally, the regime never admits responsibility for such crimes.

It is deemed more convenient for them to deny and deceive, hoping that the “naïve” westerners will fall prey to their antics and continue to pump aid money. Yet, despite the many human rights concerns that have been raised, including massive irregularities in the 2010 presidential elections, Britain has doubled aid money to Rwanda to become the country’s leading donor.

The whitewashing does not always seem to work in the regime’s favor. In fact, if recent media reports are any indication of western perception, Mr. Kagame is slowly being revealed for what he is. For many of us though, the truth has always been clear. The nature of the killings that target opposition members has always left Mr. Kagame’s fingerprints showing.

The fact that Mr. Kagame tolerates no dissent has never been a secret. The Economist has for instance argued that Mr. Kagame “allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe”. What is rather more surprising is that many people around the world appear too quick to forget that Mr. Kagame is essentially a military dictator. Otherwise, the world would be holding him to a much higher standard, if it remembered his questionable military past.

President Kagame’s speeches, at least those delivered in Kinyarwanda, are often filled with vile and threatening language. There is nothing inspiring about them. His diction is that of a man without patience who is always seeking to bully his way. He regularly refers to opposition figures as “human waste” and promises to crush them without mercy.

When such killings do happen, it is little wonder that the opposition identifies Mr. Kagame as the prime suspect. Indeed, Rwandans have a proverb that says, “akaba ku mutima gasesekarira kumunwa” translating into (“that which is at the heart reveals through the mouth”). As we saw with the recent events in Libya, what a president says can inspire or destroy a nation!

Even if Mr. Kagame refutes all the allegations, his past is heavily tainted with greater crimes. Rwanda has invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo three times and has supported rogue militias including the CNDP whose leaders Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Moreover, various United Nations have accused Mr. Kagame of pillaging and stealing DRC’s mineral wealth.

As if the crimes above were not enough, Mr. Kagame has also been accused of committing a possible genocide against members of the rival Hutu ethnic group between 1996 and 1997. This is important because genocide is the crime of crimes. Moreover, Mr. Kagame often rides on his high horse claiming that he ended the Rwandan genocide. As such, if these crimes are referred to the ICC, the usual moral card that Kagame plays against the west might not count anymore. The evidence behind these allegations is very strong, hence the very reason why Rwandans believe that Kagame is a mass murderer.

In the meantime, Mr. Blair and Kagame seem to be winning. Mr. Blair seems to have won over the bulk?of British’s political class, whether conservatives or liberals, on Mr. Kagame’s side.

Since 2007, conservatives have been sending their MPs to Rwanda through project Umubano for volunteer work. While their good intentions are commendable it begs the question of whether the British parliamentarians would be comfortable to extend such missions to other oppressive countries such as Burma, North Korea or Zimbabwe. Doing so in Rwanda, sends the wrong message and weakens the resolve of those who are struggling to plant democracy.

Ultimately, as it seems, “crushing” independent voices is Mr. Kagame’s biggest fantasy. The question that needs asking is, should Britain be helping him to achieve this macabre goal?

Written by Richard Wilson

December 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Rwandan government’s $50,000-a-month PR strategy revealed

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Racepoint Group worked to promote “Rwanda’s visionary leader”

A detailed PR strategy prepared by lobbyists for the Rwandan government has been published by the US authorities. Under US law, lobby firms working on behalf of other governments are required to register their activities publicly.

The memo, which was prepared by “Racepoint Group” in 2009, is addressed to the Rwandan Information Minister from company bigwigs Larry Weber and Peter Prodromou – whose previous experience includes “working with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Libya to positively impact global public perception and support negotiating positions with key allies”.

The strategy aims: to “build a strong and sustained Image campaign communicating the successes of Rwanda with key stakeholders in the political and financial elite communities” and “Offset the negative and factually incorrect information of those parties with vested interests in mis-portraying Rwanda’s advancements”.

Campaign themes include “Rwanda’s Visionary Leader… highlighting President Kagame and his visionary leadership” and “The Rwandan Miracle: Healing of a Nation”. The company’s fees are listed as $50,000 per month plus $2,500 – £3,500 per month for “out of pocket expenses”. The average Rwandan has an income of $510 per year.

Racepoint suggests that Rwanda has a “significant image problem”, in part because “Certain NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, continue to advance a story of an unstable Rwanda” . Racepoint seems dismissive of this picture, alleging that Human Rights Watch and others are presenting it merely “as a means of continuing to attract donors and wield influence in the region”.

The PR firm then outlines “a consolidated set of tactics to publicize both Rwanda and President Kagame“. This will initially involve “leveraging top print and broadcast outlets to communicate the Rwanda success story… and, in the process, validate it based on their credibility”, together with “a proactive campaign that leverages the web to seed stories favorable to Rwanda”.

Racepoint singles out  the Huffington Post as a particular online media target, together with “careful seeding across the blogosphere” to “initiate an offensive to control the organic search on Rwanda and set the agenda in print and broadcast”.

“At the same time, we will blunt the online impact of our opposition by initiating a wall of defense debunking their accusations… we will identify and selectively respond to the most egregious… we will erect, on free social networks, ‘walls’ of pro-Rwandan data that debunks myths and links to Rwanda’s national web site. This will enable us to establish captive audiences on the web…”

Further elements mooted include a “Celebrity Visitor Program” a “Global College Tour” for President Kagame, and “challenging heads of NGOs that are the country’s largest detractors to public, televised debates on networks like CNN, BBC and al-Jazeera. This will provide Rwandan officials with the opportunity to debunk mythology being propagated by hostile NGOs and other detractors.”

The Guardian last year profiled Racepoint’s PR work for the Rwandan government, and highlighted critical comments by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative:

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, in a report last year, found that Rwanda has “excellent public relations machinery” which has succeeded in “persuading the key members of the international community that it has an exemplary constitution emphasising democracy, power-sharing, and human rights which it fully respects”. It concluded: “The truth is, however, the opposite.”

Rwanda’s constitution, the report said, was “a facade which hides the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime”, “basic human rights are in an unsatisfactory state”, “censorship is prevalent” and there are “serious concerns about the level of political freedom”.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 4, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Who shot Kayumba?

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Rightly or wrongly, Rwanda’s de facto one-party state has a reputation for brutality and lawlessness, and this latest episode will only increase it.

The BBC reports a botched assassination attempt, on South African territory, against the exiled dissident former Rwandan army chief Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa.

Lt Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a critic of Rwanda’s president, remains in a critical condition after being shot outside his Johannesburg home.

Rosette Nyamwasa said it was an assassination attempt as the lone gunman had made no demand for money or goods before shooting her husband.

Rwanda’s government denies the claim, saying it does not condone violence.

Lt Gen Nyamwasa was shot in the stomach and has been undergoing surgery in a Johannesburg clinic.

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says that since leaving Kigali in February, Lt Gen Nyamwasa had been a thorn in the flesh of President Paul Kagame, whom he accuses of corruption

Once a close ally of  Paul Kagame, and a senior figure within the RPF forces which defeated the genocidal government of 1994 (whilst also committing a series of atrocities in their own right), Nyamwasa recently fled the country and became a vocal critic of Kagame’s harsh, authoritarian rule.

Kagame gets an extraordinarily good write-up in the British and US media, which I find surprising given his government’s track record since 1994. More than five million people are believed to have died in the vicious resource war in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a war in which Kagame and his forces are deeply implicated. The press in Rwanda is very tightly controlled, and it is difficult for any genuinely independent opposition party to operate freely. During Kagame’s time in power, a number of his critics have been murdered overseas, and many others inside Rwanda have been killed or “disappeared”.

Britain is one of Rwanda’s most generous international donors, and we have also supplied military support. During his time as Rwandan army chief, Kayumba Nyamwasa visited the UK for military training – I know this because I met him briefly during such a visit in 2001 and he talked about it.

I hope that Kayumba makes a good recovery. I can’t imagine that South Africa – another key UK ally in the region – will take kindly to terrorist attacks being carried out on their territory. Rwanda will, of course, deny all responsibility, but they do have form in this area. According to Kayumba’s wife, Rosette Nyamwasa:

“[Mr Kagame] said it in parliament that he will actually kill my husband, that wherever he is he will follow him and kill him,”

A rethink of the UK’s relationship with this dubious regime seems long overdue…

Written by Richard Wilson

June 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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