Only if you’ve been living under a rock would you not know that the President Paul Kagame has been on a state visit to France since Monday. This trip has whetted the appetites of political commentators both in Kigali and Paris and it’s easy to see why. On one side is President Kagame, former supreme commander of the Rwanda Patriotic Army, a rebel force that took on and defeated the French-supported Habyarimana regime, and the man that guided Rwanda into the embrace of the Commonwealth. And on the other hand is President Sarkozy, a man who, on one hand visited Kigali in an attempt to improve ties, while on the other hand appointing Alain Juppe, a man whose hands were tainted with Rwandan blood, as foreign minister. In other words, this visit was one guided by the highest levels of political brinkmanship. So much so that, Mr. Juppe saw it fit to skip town for a bit and let matters go on without him.
This trip was also an opportunity to every Tom, Dick and Harry, who’s ever had an issue with the Rwanda of today and its leadership, to get their 15 minutes of fame. Boy, what a mélange of strange bedfellows. Standing outside and making quite a din was an assorted bunch, including anti-Joseph Kabila protestors, Victoire Ingabire supporters, Rwandan dissidents and Parisians with a bone to pick with the Rwandan president. Among this cacophony of noisy protest one could find members of the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB).
Bearing straight to the first camera and microphone that he could find, Jean-François Julliard, the RWB secretary-general earnestly said, “the climate for the media in Rwanda is so oppressive that the country is gradually losing its journalists. Those that do not flee abroad either censor themselves or are arrested. Two women journalists are currently serving sentences of 7 and 17 years in prison. A journalist was gunned down outside his home in Kigali in 2010. The remaining critical media are harassed or have gone into exile.”
Well, if this man was Pinocchio, he would have had a nose the size of telephone pole by now. But what he and his organisation peddle, isnt the truth but rather what they want the truth to be. If they were even a bit fair, they wouldn’t say that Rwanda is Africa’s third worst place to be a journalist, only being above Eritrea and Sudan. But this is what they do; they twist the facts and do whatever they can to thrust themselves in the news and thus stay relevant.
The RWB wasn’t the only organisation seeking a slot on the evening news. All these groups, hitherto unknown, understood that the France trip was a bonanza for them. And truth be told, it was. For two whole days, anyone who had an opinion that they wanted to air on Rwanda was given an opportunity to do so. But guess what? The President of Rwanda has left, the public’s attention WILL move onto the next big thing and the people, who had been seeking attention, will be left with nothing except discarded placards and sore throats.
So, while the RWB and others might have scored a few points in the media game, in the long run they’ve done nothing of note. On the other hand, look at what Rwanda has been able to accomplish. It’s been able to strengthen diplomatic ties with a member of the UN Security Council, put its points across in the international media and sold itself as a destination for French investors. These goals aren’t only short term but rather medium and long term. 20 years from now, this trip will be seen, not as just a mere media exercise, but rather the time that Rwanda and France finally put to bed the ghosts of the infamous Francafrique.