A head of state grants the national broadcaster an interview, during which a question about a subject doing the rounds in the media is asked, and suddenly, thousands of miles away, across the seas, the history of the nation he leads is rewritten. How do we get here?
Until recently, Michela Wrong’s base, from which she waged her anti Rwanda campaign, and plugged her already well publicised time on the country, was the Guardian newspaper. She now seems to have added the Spectator magazine to her impressive list of promoters.
“When will Britain wake up to the horror of Rwanda’s President?” shouts the headline in almost pained frustration. Wrong then goes on to show us the entrails of what she claims to be the “horror,” all of which is naturally “exposed” in her book, a book for which a great deal is claimed.
Talking in general terms of ‘Western attitudes towards Africa’ as many Africans often do, can be lazy and somewhat trite. But, more often than not, it is the only explanation to the fatuity that seems to grip otherwise perfectly intelligent people, when it comes to commenting on Africa, and Africans.
The continent’s peoples are invariably presented in shallow, two dimensional portraits, and anyone may be an “expert” on them. Assertions that would be considered too ridiculous, if uttered about any other place, or peoples, are sententiously debated, when commentating on Africa, and Africans.
It is in large measure thanks to this, that Wrong’s increasingly preposterous claims about Rwanda, and in particular its head of state, Paul Kagame, continue to be taken at face value.
As ever, Wrong writes impressively, expertly manipulating round pegs, to apparently fit into square holes. Even a well informed reader might be beguiled into overlooking the startling fact that there is scarcely a grain of truth in anything she writes about Rwanda.
For all that however, one must quibble with her conclusion to the article. “He [President Kagame] can’t control the narrative forever. As he knows, the truth is slowly beginning to come out.”
This, after we are told, throughout her Spectator article, as we are in many others before it, that “the world” now stands with her, in its view of Rwanda. By her telling, which on closer inspection, is really ardent wishful thinking, soon, the country will be bereft of friends. So, presumably President Kagame no longer controls the narrative, and the “truth” has come out.
But that is perhaps mere cavilling. We can still stand back, and admire, how a long article on weighty issues like a possible assassination, analysis on international aid, apportioning of blame for a genocide, not forgetting to further publicise a book, can all be weaved from the rather unremarkable instance, of a politician responding to a question from a journalist.
During one of his regular interviews, usually given to the national broadcaster, RBA, President Kagame is asked whether Rwanda possesses the Pegasus spyware, as is claimed. He answers the question, at length, and makes the point that however much Rwanda explains, it seems to make little to no difference to the constant speculation.
The journalist, Jackie Lumbasi, then asks a follow up question, asking the President for his thoughts on why Rwanda is continuously “the target of media attacks…often involving the person of Paul Kagame…some have even written books…” she said, giving the example of Michela Wrong, “why do you think this is, I really need your opinion on this”
“I really wish I knew the answer, I don’t…” begun a relaxed President Kagame.
As he habitually does, he goes on to respond to every point that was put to him. The answer on Michela Wrong’s book, which he seemed to have almost forgotten, comes last.
He reiterates the point he had made earlier, that these attacks are needlessly personalised, often against him, adding that even in the book about which he had been asked, the central character was a close friend of the author. It is rarely, if ever, about the issues.
It is from this answer, that Wrong’s article arises, the peg on which she hangs a rewriting of Rwanda’s history, that has become her mission. We are led into the article with the welcome, if puzzling news.
“I doubt that Paul Kagame would have me assassinated, but it became clear to me late on Sunday afternoon that, at the very least, I am in his sights.” A bit of non sequitur, one might think, but there is method in the apparent confusion.
The intention is of course, to suggest to the reader that Paul Kagame is an assassin, and that Wrong’s book, which she judges “long on evidence” has so captured the attention of the President, that it occupies days and nights.
And it does have to be said, something had slipped in President Kagame’s normally, impeccable, gentlemanly manners. Afterall, Wrong went to a great deal of trouble to write so much about him, and since the book was published, only now, does he say anything about it, and even then, only because he is prompted to do so.
Why can’t he have the decency to be as obsessed with her, as she is with him? Hell, hath no fury than a journalist ignored, to paraphrase a saying. And this one happens to be an author to boot. But now, however, she is at least in “his sights,” being accorded the importance she feels is due to her, and her work.
At no time, of course, does President Kagame “voice misogynistic, paranoid nonsense on live TV” as Wrong claims. It is not the nature of the man. “Why would Kagame stoop so low?” She needles. The truth is, not only did the object of her attacks not stoop, low or otherwise, he barely glanced downwards, as he answered a question put to him.
And that is exactly the point. The nature of the man can never be truthfully reflected in anything Wrong writes, whether in her book, or her articles. Were even a hint of the true nature of Paul Kagame, to invade the carefully constructed caricature drawn by Wrong, her entire house of cards, book included, would come tumbling down.
And so, we must have this other Kagame, the “horror” up to which the British, are urged to wake.
According to Wrong, since the publication of her book, Rwanda’s Police force, Intelligence Services, and the President’s office, have all devoted time, energy, and presumably expense, to attack her on social media.
There have certainly been social media attacks directed at Wrong, which must be unpleasant, and cannot be condoned.
But important as she imagines her book to be, it still quite a leap to assume that the nation’s Intelligence services, the Police, and the office of the head of state, have all cleared their desks, to lead a social media war against her.
Part of the explanation for this apparent self referential thinking, is that Wrong has to follow the logic of the story she has created about Rwanda. Were she to deviate even slightly, towards the reality, she would not think it implausible that the social media attacks against her, are primarily, from ordinary Rwandans, who have taken strong exception to her attack against their country, and in particular, their head of state.
And it is twitter after all. All the world is there, and not all of the world will express itself with appropriate decorum.
It will come as news to Rwandans that they are “known locally as the twitter army”, but they will not mind. Many will argue that they are only responding in kind, that Wrong has wronged them more than they her.
She may pronounce her book “look on evidence” and many reviews in the Western newspapers and magazine think it “meticulously researched” but for Rwandans, it is a rehashing of familiar, attacks against the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front, RPF, and its leadership. They are offended by it.
Rwanda was a nation tragically lost, that has been delivered from the grip of colonially inspired self destruction. Paul Kagame was one of the revered principal men and women, who led that deliverance.
He embodies much that Rwandans hold dear. It is personal to every Rwandan. An attack against him is more than an attack on an individual. It is an attack against all for which he stands. This is an immutable reality that Rwanda’s detractors, who try so very hard to delegitimise his leadership, find so difficult to accept.
“More feared than loved” Wrong says of President Kagame, in explanation for why journalists rarely interrupt him. This fits perfectly with a country which she claims murders journalists, and in which, what media exists, is “tightly controlled.”
The truth is somewhat more prosaic. Whatever its merits, that happens to be the interviewing style in Rwanda. It owes to the broader culture, where even in normal, everyday conversation, interruptions are generally regarded as ill mannered. This is how people are, away from the microphones, and television cameras.
In front of microphones, interviewees are allowed to think allowed. It is not a privilege accorded only to the President. Ironically, the ever intellectually curious Kagame, would prefer a more challenging exchange.
And Kagame is an intriguing interviewee. There are never the evasive answers common with many politicians. It is either a full answer, or a quite unabashed explanation, that he would rather not say. Most Rwandan interviewers know this, and are happy to wait for what they know may be a headline grabbing answer.
He commands deference, not fear. Questioning Kagame’s popularity among Rwandans, is like questioning the affection for the Pope among Catholics. The moment the first grey hair appeared, on his now salt and pepper head of hair, he became “Muzeyi wacu,” our elder.
Unlike her caricature, the real Paul Kagame, has led a life of duty. Rwandans acknowledge his identification with them, and they identify with him.
The entire article is essentially a reprise of Wrong’s book, updated with the addition of the latest news about Rwanda, all twisted to fit the book’s narrative.
Rwanda “targeting” “dissident” groups abroad, journalists and activists, is now refreshed with the addition of Rusesabagina’s trial. We are told that he is to be imprisoned, because he criticised Kagame. The academic Christopher Kayumba, gets a mention, Wrong claims, he is under arrest, for forming a political movement.
Rwanda’s successful troop deployment in Mozambique, “has earned Rwanda a reprieve”, apparently, because the West is pleased. The people of Mozambique, now rescued from the beheaders of men, women and even children, a minor postscript to the tale.
And of course, we now have an infallible source of information about the allegation that Rwanda possesses the Pegasus spyware. Wrong has pronounced that Rwanda does indeed have it, and so, there can be no need for further speculation.
Rusesabagina’s entire trial for terrorism charges is ignored. Kayumba is yet to be found guilty, so, his innocence must be presumed, but once a young woman had come forward to accuse him, the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB), had little choice than to bring him in.
“He had predicted his arrest, such is the political climate in Kigali” writes Wrong, dramatically.
Kayumba needed no powers of prescience. He knew he might be arrested, because RIB had informed him that a serious allegation had been made against him, and they were investigating its validity.
Mostly however, it is the same, now familiar tropes: the RPF was in fact responsible for the genocide against Tutsi, the economic achievements are a mirage, double genocide, “arbitrary arrests” “disappearances,” on and on and on.
We are assured that all this has been hidden, because Rwanda spends “eyewatering” amounts of money on Public Relations (RP) firms.
Never one to lose an opportunity to demonise Rwanda, Wrong makes much of the inexplicable leak of a meeting between former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, now High Commissioner designate to London, Johnston Busingye, and a London based media company.
The high expenditure on PR firms, “became embarrassingly obvious when Justice Minister Johnston Busingye was exposed on Al Jazeera, being coached…” crows Wrong gleefully.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of using PR firms to advice government spokespeople, there is not a single government on the planet, that does not have media advisers. If there is any embarrassment, it surely must be with a company that is apparently unable to guarantee confidentiality for its clients.
Minister “exposed” getting media advice, is as earth shattering, as, well, Minister exposed receiving advice from his or her advisers.
It is almost sad to reflect that Wrong has become a card carrying member of the anti Rwanda group that includes, among others, journalist Judi Rever, Belgian academic Filip Reytnjens. She adds one Beatrice Umutesi to the list, and touts the group’s articles and books, as revealing the “Untold Story.”
What unites this group, is their dissemination of propaganda conceived by the perpetrators of the ’94 genocide against the Tutsi. The constant refrain of “double genocide”, and the RPF being responsible for the genocide, is classic Hutu Power propaganda, of the “Untold Story.”
Wrong lets awareness of this escape, when while praising Jude Rever’s book, the journalist in her cannot seem to resist qualifying the praise, by admitting that the book is “extreme.” This awareness should tell her how Rwandans regard her book. “Extreme” would be an understatement.
In any case, unfortunately for Wrong’s own integrity, knowing this is not enough to direct her away from the Hutu Power narrative, towards the truth.
Wrong has after all been quoted as opining that, “the fact that something may not be rooted in actual facts, does not mean it’s untrue…” There is no doubt a more nuanced explanation of what she means, but it is nonetheless telling.
And unlike Wrong’s own book, Umutesi’s equally offensive fabrications, do not even have Wrong’s writing talent. Umutesi’s partnership with one Frans Hoof, a Dutchman, who with his Belgian colleague, arrived in Rwanda, in 1994, as people were being murdered, to “advise” the government, should be enough to alert any decent person, to who, and what she is.
As for assassinations, or being in anyone’s sights, unlike Wrong’s real, determined campaign, attempting to assassinate the reputation of an entire nation, its people (“Rwandans are liars and it is part of their culture”), and character of that nation’s leadership, Wrong can thankfully feel perfectly safe.
The Kagame she claims could assassinate her, exists only in her mind. And although this might come as something of an annoyance to her, she may also be assured that while she may have Rwanda and its head of state in her sights, the actual Paul Kagame, bears no relation to the character of her imagination, and is far too occupied with that life of duty, to give her a moment’s thought.