Monday, December 27, 2010

Kagame's Ongoing Propaganda Effort

Over the last year we have often heard the claim, in different forms, that critics of Paul Kagame "don't know the country".

FREDERICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI wrote an article last week claiming "Kagame has dumbfounded his ennemies and critics" and writes:
"Besides power sharing designed to end yesterday’s politics of exclusion, the dialogue is one of those features of Rwanda’s governance that make it truly unique in the Great Lakes region.
It is also one of the key features of Rwanda that baffle outsiders, and to which commentators, especially those with interest in issues of political space and inclusivity, pay little, if any, attention"
 FREDERICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI's article gives us the strong impression Kagame does not only sponsor the Kagame cup, but might very well be sponsoring several journalists in east africa to twist the truth concerning the political reality in Rwanda. Especially this quote is telling:
 "In many ways, this meeting poses questions for critics whose preoccupations rotate around issues of political space and inclusivity, and freedom of expression.
There is no country in this region and possibly in the world, where citizens are given the opportunity to engage in conversation with their leaders and to vet their performance on this scale"
You don't need to be a fan of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza's UDF Inkingi to understand that this statement is completely false. Even the Dutch government, which helped Kagame rigg the elections, acknowledges the fact that Rwanda does not have sufficient respect for democratic values, freedom of speech and human rights.

Kagame's RPF propaganda effort through journalists like those at  Andrew Mwenda's "indepedent" , through FREDERICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI, through his sponsorship of the Kagame Cup, through the film "earth made of glass" by Deborah Scranton (focused on a US audience), the recent visit of Harvard students to Rwanda organized by an RPF operative studying in Harvard, all point to the existence of a highly organized marketing effort in favor of the RPF regime.

I am increasingly convinced propaganda is at the heart of the RPF' effort to stay in power.

The Guardian ran a story just before the August "elections" which shows that the RPF is investing a lot of effort and resources in marketing their regime:

"Tasked with persuading the world is London PR firm Racepoint, hired by Kagame. "You used to Google Rwanda and the first thing you would see would be about genocide," said Cathy Pittman, Racepoint's managing director. "Now we are feeding content and stories to journalists about the economy and culture. A lot of it is about images."
In the run up to the August elections, a week before Paul Kagame's visit to the US, Jared Cohen (who is  known for his efforts to use new media to support democratic development in Iran)  started a #rememberrwanda campaign on twitter. A week later Jared Cohen was having dinner with Paul Kagame while "Earth made of glass" (a RPF propaganda film) was launched in New York.

When I asked Jared Cohen about this propaganda experiment which in my perception aimed to guide the discussion in the US concerning Rwanda and favor the current regime in Kigali, instead of denying or explaining his propaganda effort, he accused me of minimizing the Rwandan genocide. Since then he  has moved out of Hillary Clinton's policy planning staff, to start working with Eric Schmidt @ Google.

The net result of this exchange with Jared Cohen was offcourse that it reinforced my assumptions on his objectives. Brian Solis in his new book "Engage" explains that narratives on the image of a business are no longer written by companies itself. In the same way, narratives on the US and it's foreign policy objectives are not written by policy staffers at the State department. The response by Jared Cohen illustrates to me that his social media work at the State Department was not guided by a social media plan. It was pure guess work.

If Jared Cohen would have wanted to engage the Rwandan and Congolese blogosphere, fight misconceptions and conspiracy theories concerning the US and it's foreign policy and together reach a higher level of collective intelligence, this certainly was not the way. 

It would be very interesting to see if Paul Kagame's propaganda team is able to adapt their ongoing propaganda effort to this new era of social media. I would advice them to focus their effort and money on becoming the best students of new media Paul should read Brian Solis' new book "Engage", invite content strategy specialist Kristina Halvorson  for a "five-day forty-hour seminar", and write and supervise  the creation of a social media  plan which would create a new framework for the allready ongoing propaganda effort. Several new pro-kagame blogs have seen the light over the last couple of months. It shows that the team is sensetive to change, which is good. But a more focused approach is necessary. Off course you can change and adapt it while executing and evaluating the outcome. But, as the example above shows, planning and structuring your social media efforts should be the first step.

 Somewhat related links:

Article on propaganda in contemporary China.

Article on marketing the rwanda genocide anniversary by aegis trust.

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