Home Rwanda Decides 2024 A Campaign of YouTubers, Disposable Cups, Rwandan Songs

A Campaign of YouTubers, Disposable Cups, Rwandan Songs

by Daniel Sabiiti & Fred Mwasa
10:12 pm

A photo of RPF flag and a drone at a campaign rally in Kigali, June 2024

At the media podium on all the campaign sites of President Paul Kagame and his coalition partners, there is an unusual sight; popular YouTubers and social media influencers. These have not come alone, they have teams of assistants. Welcome to the RPF Inkotanyi presidential campaign 2024.

For the 2017 campaign, social media was there. But not in the same fashion and format we are seeing it in the 2024 campaigns.

The rise of social media as a tool of communication in Rwanda became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic when movement was restricted and going online was a channel of staying in touch with many, sharing information, but also keeping one busy.
Though unregulated, Rwanda has since seen a steady growth of social media users and that has given this platform the ‘power’ to act as a public watchdog, the first in breaking news and more so trying to take over the sole responsibility of the mainstream media.

Compared to the 2017 elections campaigns where most of the live video feeds were done by the national broadcaster (RBA), the RPF YouTube channel and a handful of X influencers (then Twitter), this year’s campaigns have seen an opening to other YouTube channels to do the same or bigger job.

Though YouTubers and social media influencers are seen as a controversial media in Rwanda and often seen as critics of policies who do their job without fact checking, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) Coalition campaign has tapped into their power to reach many. The coalition wants that audience to follow the live stream and news of every rally since day 1 July 13 in Musanze district.

Throughout the campaign so far, there are popular YouTube faces: ChiTa Magic, Mama Rwagasabo, ISIMBI TV and MIE Empire.

All these are extremely popular in Rwanda due to how they approach information. For example Mama Rwagasabo TV run by Scovia Mutesi, is famous for her outspoken nature about everything. Clips of her are a common on social media.

The others highlighted above are mainly social and entertainment-based. They look out for people to interview, from socialites, to successful business people. As a result, these channels have unimaginable following. It is perhaps this following the RPF has smartly sought to capture.

Indicative of the seriousness with which the YouTubers are taking their newfound political fame, they’re not traveling alone; they have teams of two to three assistants. Before they start filming, say for example arrival of the RPF candidate President Kagame, they are seen putting on some makeup, indication thet know how looking good means to their audiences. 

In the eyes of YouTubers, the campaign trail is all done is search for views and earn some YouTube monies (in USD) at all costs. Indeed some of them have gathered views and followers in millions and earned the monthly pay.

Officials say that the power of social media cannot be neglected during this crucial presidential rally where the RPF has formed a coalition with many other political parties to back President Paul Kagame as their candidate for the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections- which were for the first time combined to save resources.

Officials also said that registration to participate in the campaign rallies and election news coverage was open to all social media channels – who only had to apply and get accreditation.

This year’s campaigns have seen more of the YouTubers come with their own teams, acting like media platforms and freely (without limitation) trailing along the RPF campaigns in Musanze, Rubavu, Ngororero and Muhanga districts using their media company branded cards.

The use of their channel/company media cards was put to an end when the campaign reached Nyarugenge district where all media were required to have a special campaign media valid from June 22 till July 24.

Based on their financial capabilities, some have trailed in key districts and others have dropped off along the way, however day 1 in Musanze will be remembered as one campaign rally that was widely covered on YouTube channels in Rwanda.

In addition to the usual army of Rwanda Red Cross first-aiders, this year’s campaign has availed single-use disposable cups (branded with RPF logos) as containers for water for drinking water.

Depending on the site location, single-use disposable cups have been used in some major towns but also retained the use of reusable plastic cups (No sharing plastic cups like in 2017) and distributing water bottles in some rural area campaigns where residents came in big numbers.

Rwanda has banned the use of plastics and aspires to become plastic free, an ambition which is yet to be achieved by changing mindsets.

The use of alternatives (disposables) has mainly been used in cities where the elite already have been accustomed to using disposable coffee cups.

Rwandan Songs At Center stage:

Unlike in 2017, where Djs at campaign rallies used to play popular songs from the region and beyond, this year has seen Rwandan local songs and artists take center stage. At every rally, local artists have performed (live or playback) the most popular songs in the country.

Songs like- Jugumila, Nywe PK24 (a remix), Bana, Hitamo Neza Kagame, Contre Success, Thank You Kagame,Ndandambara, Ganyobwe (being the most danced by supporters); alongside TUMUTORE NIWE (used every time Kagame arrives on site) and others like: Byari Byabananiye,Tumutore Kagame, Ni Wowe, Ogera, Ikipe Itsinda are among the most popularly played songs that have stirred uproars among crowds on hearing the first song key notes sounded.

The performance platforms have also been given to popular names like Bruce Melodie, King James, Knowless, Alyn Sano, Chriss Eazzy but also to upcoming (undergrounds) and area-based artists- who have joined the race to compose campaign songs to get noticed.

This year, the RPF campaigns used artists based in Rwanda, unlike in 2017 where they used Rwandans based abroad- The Ben, Kitoko etc.

Though most of the crowds remained still, performances by underground artists are seen as an opportunity for exposure.

Shockingly, despite political divide between Rwanda and DRC-the song-DUTORE /VOTE /TORA PAUL KAGAME FPR OYEEEE- performed in a congolese beats, and released just before the official campaigns was a game changer at many RPF rallies (along border towns) and performed among other songs to raise the morale of support.

All these songs were played in succession at the rally sites and were also heard on the streets, in bars-all night till the next day of the campaign.

Liberty to Speak

Incumbent President Paul Kagame has rallied many since 2003, 2010 and 2017, but rarely would supporters interrupt his speech instead back it with RPF slogans.

This year, everything changed starting from the Busogo-Musanze rally where Kagame was speaking of Rwanda’s relation and peace with neighbours, and an RPF supporter shouted (in Kinyarwanda) saying “Tuzabavuna“- to literally mean “We shall break them”.

Kagame responded: “I didn’t say that but I will be there with you”.

Since then, this statement has trended on social media and in following rallies- where supporters have given Kagame tips of what to say during the campaigns and in many times diverting from his planned talking points.

Campaign Drones

Drones are relatively a new phenomenon in Rwanda and mostly used for spraying mosquito habitats, delivering essential medical and tourism packages, following the entry of the first drone company –Zipline in 2016 and many others afterwards.

According to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) regulations- amended 30 August 2023, it is acceptable to fly a drone in Rwanda but a permit is required to fly a drone recreationally or commercially and permits are issued by the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority.

With these regulations, the media is allowed to use drones to film events and performances, and for the first time citizens at rallies were able to capture images of drones- which were also capturing them.

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