Rwanda prepares to tweet

Rwanda has big plans for the Internet and its place in the future development of the country. At present, barely 3% of the population is online, service outages are common, Rwandatel is in trouble and there are potentially serious issues with connectivity through Uganda. However, Rwandan authorities are reportedly in a push to get officials online across popular social media networks.

President Kagame is quite the Twitter fan. He frequently responds to tweets throughout the day from a Blackberry on his verified Twitter account. The President even arranged a visit to Musanze via Twitter earlier this month.

According to Great Lakes Voice, this appears to be part of a much wider movement to get decision makers and government departments online. Social media tools were proposed as a means to combat propaganda at the Government retreat in Rubavu recently,

“We were told to sign-up to the social networks such as facebook and twitter; but am not an expert in IT, though we have to be,” the source said, preferring not be revealed since they are not authorized to speak for the government. link

In mid-2010, the government also mooted setting up a 24 hour “war room” to combat “negative propaganda”,

Senators on Monday [12 July 2010] backed a plan by government to establish a department to operate 24 hours with the mission to counter all the negative reports and propaganda coming from outside The idea of the new department was fronted as Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo appeared before the upper house of parliament to update senators on the country’s diplomatic standing. In response to a proposal by senator Seth Kamanzi for government to set up what he called a “situation room”, the minister said plans were under way to establish what she instead called “war room”, like it is in the US. link

This latest move into social media would appear to be linked to the same plan. The Rwandan authorities have been stepping up their activities on Twitter in recent months with the creation of a number of new accounts including, Urugwiro Village and the Rwanda Police.

With barely 3% of Rwandans in Rwanda online, the question is who are they intending to communicate with? The diaspora? Investors? The donor community? Or are we in for more of the endless tit for tat battles you see playing out in comments on blog posts and newspaper articles about Rwanda?

It remains to be seen when and how members of parliament and other decision makers begin to establish a presence online. As someone who’s spent the best part of the last 8 years training journalists and others in what these tools are and how to use them, I fully expect to see a few booboos being made – and that’s normal.

Each tool attracts a different community and different ways of communicating. Each tool has a distinct culture which needs to be learned if you’re to get the most out of it. Forcing anyone to use Facebook or Twitter is a recipe for failure.

I’ll keep an eye out for any new and interesting accounts that appear and add them to this Rwanda Twitter list.

On a side note, it’s interesting to compare where the Rwandan authorities are now with their activities online, compared with one year ago. Here’s a background briefing document I received from BBC Monitoring in early 2010 about Rwanda and the Internet during the run up to the Presidential election in August 2010. As you can see, Rwanda has been very active online for quite a while. However, Twitter was barely on the radar, and hardly used, a year ago.

Rwandan politicians are using the new media, though in a limited way. Domestic internet use is limited, with only 2.8 per cent of the population, around 300,000 people, having access to the net by June 2009, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

President Paul Kagame and president of the opposition United Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi) Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza have the strongest online presence. While Ms Ingabire’s use of new media seems to be aimed at garnering support ahead of the 2010 August presidential elections, President Kagame seems to use the new media to highlight the country’s achievements and to urge foreigners and the Diaspora to contribute to development of Rwanda.

The use of social networks, especially Facebook, seems to be a new way for Rwandans to discuss their ethnic affiliations. Rwanda has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus. This culminated in the 1994 genocide. Referring to a person’s ethnic origin is taboo in Rwanda, with the government urging Rwandans to move on from the past, forget about being Hutu or Tutsi, and to be simply Rwandan.

Many people access the internet through their mobile. The number of mobile internet users in Rwanda reached 112,000 as of end- November 2009, local daily the Business Times reported on 22 December 2009. This includes 39,000 mobile internet users on the Rwandatel network and 73,000 users on the MTN Rwanda network, as of late November.

President’s website

President Kagame has a personal website, http://www.paulkagame.com/. It is not clear who developed this website, but it links to Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, where readers can follow news about the president.

On the site, users can find the president’s biography, speeches and an overview of Rwandan history and tourism. There is an “Ask the president” section, where one can enter personal information and send a message to the president. The site also links to http://www.paulkagame.tv/ – which features video of his speeches and meetings with key officials – and his personal blog, http://www.paulkagame.com/blog.php.

The president also has an official government platform on http://www.presidency.gov.rw. BBC Monitoring noted that, though the site could be accessed by the public previously, users now need to enter a username and password. Unlike the dull-looking official site, Kagame’s personal website features striking blue graphics.

Opposition sites

The opposition FDU-Inkingi party has a website http://www.fdu-rwanda.org/. On its website, the party outlines its programme as “a political framework whose goal is to install the rule of law in Rwanda, underpinned by the respect of democratic values enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and other international instruments relating to democracy and good governance”.

The party is made up of organizations and individuals who are “determined to offer to the Rwandan people an alternative political system to the dictatorial system of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)”.

FDU-Inkingi head Victoire Ingabire also has an official campaign website for the 2010 presidential elections, http://www.victoire2010.com/.

Another Rwandan opposition politician with a personal website is Faustin Twagiramungu, http://www.twagiramungu.net/. Twagiramungu, a Hutu politician and former prime minister, stood as an independent candidate in the 2003 presidential elections. He ran on a platform of full employment, regional security, and progressive taxation. He accused the government of attempting to silence his views. In the final count, he was placed second (out of three) with 3.62 per cent of the vote. He initially did not accept the result, claiming that the incumbent Paul Kagame was leading the country towards a one-party system.

Kagame on Facebook

Paul Kagame has two Facebook pages: http://www.facebook.com/pages/PaulKagame/109613107281, on which he had 4,021 fans, and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Kagame/13731708643, on which he had 6,038 fans as of 4 February, 2010. It is not clear who created the two groups, however there is a link to http://www.facebook.com/pages/PaulKagame/109613107281 from Kagame’s personal website. The wall section of this page contains regular updates of the president’s key messages/comments during official functions.

The wall section on http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Kagame/13731708643 contains many video clips showing Kagame’s position on corruption, aid and foreign policy. Many of these videos can also be found on YouTube. This page seems to run many contentious topics in its discussion section, such as “Mr president [Kagame], you are a very poor dictator” which is one of the most popular topics, with 153 comments.

Since the return of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza from exile many of the topics on this page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Kagame/13731708643) have centred around the election. Ms Ingabire is the president of the opposition United Democratic Forces-Inkingi. Ms Ingabire, who has been an outspoken critic of the government, returned to Rwanda on 16 January 2010 after 16 years in the Netherlands.

The discussions include “Can Rwanda conduct an election devoid of intimidation by the govt?”; “Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire, a test for Rwandans than she is to the Rwandan Government” which received 136 comments centred around the alleged hate speech made by Ingabire at the Tutsi genocide memorial site on 16 January.

Privately-owned, pro-government daily The New Times quoted her as saying that the centre showed “one side of the genocide committed against the Tutsi. There is another side of the genocide committed against the Hutu because they are also hurting and asking themselves when their grievances will be settled”.

In a letter entitled “Right of rectification and reply to libels published in Sunday Times on 17th January 2010 and The New Times of 18th January 2010″ addressed to the New Times’ editor-in-chief, dated 19 January, Ingabire said her words had been “intentionally twisted” and that she had been the “subject of a deliberate and continuous heinous and/defamatory campaign”. She clarified that what she had said was that “we are here honouring at this memorial the Tutsi victims of the genocide; there are also Hutu who were victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, not remembered or honoured here. Hutus are also suffering. They are wondering when their time will come to remember their people.”

Contributors on the group are divided between supporters of Kagame and those who are anti-Kagame. The discussions are divided along ethnic lines, and many of the comments degenerated to name calling.

It is worth noting that new media seem to have given Rwandans a medium to air their frustrations. Discussion of a person’s ethnic origin is taboo in Rwanda. Comments such as the ones made on the forum would be termed “divisionism” which carries a two-year jail term.

Facebook and the poll campaign

There are several other Facebook groups garnering support for Kagame ahead of the August 2010 presidential elections. These include “President Paul Kagame will win 2010 elections”, which has 1,525 fans, and “I am voting for President Paul Kagame, are you?” with 447 members.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza also has a Facebook page, entitled “Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza for president”, with 615 fans as of 4 February. She regularly updates her page with notes to her supporters.

Since her return from exile, she has detailed her activities in Rwanda as she prepares for the poll. On 3 February she posted pictures of herself and her assistant, Joseph Ntawangundi, in a note entitled “Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza narrowly survives a lynch mob ambush masterminded by the regime dated 3 February 2010″.

The pictures showed her assistant with no shirt and what appeared to be evidence of a beating on his back. The note said that Mr Ntawangundi “suffered ribs and legs injury and was stripped half naked. He was later rushed to King Faycal Hospital in Kigali for emergency treatment and his condition is still worrying”. The note attracted 46 comments from fans condemning the attack and expressing support for her.

The Rwandan police denied the claims, saying “the attackers were common residents who reacted out of anger at Ingabire for bypassing them [in the queue to collect national ID cards] when they had been waiting there for longer”, Rwanda News Agency reported on 4 February.

YouTube

Videos of President Kagame’s latest global tours and speeches are available on YouTube, as well as via a podcast on his official site which allows users to save the content.

YouTube has a channel devoted to President Kagame, http://www.youtube.com/user/presidentkagame. The channel features video of Kagame’s speeches at world summits, meetings with world leaders, and addresses to the nation. The most-viewed video was that of his New Year address to the nation, with 1,756 hits.

FDU-Inkingi123 TV channel uploads videos of the opposition FDU-Inkingi party’s activities, mostly featuring its president, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza (http://www.youtube.com/user/FDUInkingi123). Some videos, such as a two-minute clip of the controversial speech that Ms Ingabire made at genocide memorial site in Kigali, had been have viewed over 3,000 times. This particular video had been viewed 3,952 times by 4 February.

The most-viewed video in the favourites section on FDU-Inkingi123 is one uploaded by “dunia 460″ entitled “FDU Inkingi Victoire”. The video shows Ms Ingabire at an airport in the Netherlands as she is set to return to Rwanda to register the FDU Inkingi party ahead of the presidential elections. In the video, which had been viewed 4,028 times by 4 February, Ms Ingabire sets out what she hopes to achieve by going to Rwanda.

Twitter

President Kagame has a Twitter page with 360 followers – http://twitter.com/PaulKagame. Mr Kagame, who has only tweeted 10 times since joining Twitter on 15 May 2009, mostly focuses on issues relating to development and ICT. Opposition FDU-Inkingi chairperson Victoire Ingabire also has a Twitter page – http://twitter.com/VictoireUmuhoza – with 34 followers.

Focus on genocide

Much of the government presence online seems to target foreigners and Rwandans in the Diaspora. This can be seen from the many websites which focus on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, and which can be linked to from the official website of the government of Rwanda, http://www.gov.rw/. They urge people not to forget the genocide, and to make donations to genocide survivors. The government also has several websites showcasing Rwanda’s culture, and services offered by government institutions.

A link on the government site takes users to a website entitled “Genocide against the Tutsis”, http://rwanda15.org/. which links to other websites such as the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre website, http://www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/old/index.html.

The centre was opened on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, in April 2004. It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide, and other genocides around the world. The centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried.

The national commission for the fight against genocide (CNLG) website, http://www.cnlg.gov.rw/, also has a link from the government website. The commission was created by law No 09/2007 of 16/02/2007 which stipulates that the commission is a national, independent and permanent institution. The commission’s mission includes putting in place a permanent framework for the exchange of ideas on genocide, its consequences and the strategies for its prevention and eradication. The commission also produces three radio broadcasts on Radio Rwanda (Wednesdays at 9.30 a.m. and Thursdays at 8.45 p.m.) and on Contact FM (Sundays at 8.00 a.m.)

To engage the Diaspora, the Rwandan government launched the “Diaspora One Dollar Campaign for Genocide Survivors” on 4 April 2009. The project, developed by the Rwandan Diaspora community members and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, can be found at http://1dollarcampaign.org/. The One Dollar Campaign’s mission is to improve the living conditions and the social welfare of vulnerable genocide survivors. The website hosts an 18-minute video clip on the commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi with a documentary featuring accounts from genocide survivors. There is also a photo and video gallery, urging people to get involved donate or to volunteer.

Many of the government institutions have websites outlining their mission, services to the population and news. In addition to the official government site, 10 out of 14 ministries have websites including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, http://www.minaffet.gov.rw/; the Ministry of Defence, http://www.mod.gov.rw/, and the Ministry of Justice Ministry, http://www.minijust.gov.rw/. The Office of the Prime Minister http://www.primature.gov.rw/ and Rwanda parliament http://www.rwandaparliament.gov.rw) have websites showcasing annual reports. This appears to be for the sake of transparency, as part of the government’s quest to fight corruption.

Photo taken from Flickr