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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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