Four noticeable things from Ambassador Susan Rice’s speech at Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) in the Rwandan capital this evening. The first was the activity on Twitter. I admit, I got distracted during the first part of her speech, as the now familiar praise for Rwanda’s impressive development on multiple fronts was heaped upon the audience by Ambassador Rice. Distracted, I turned to Twitter, and was pleased, and surprised to see a lot of people tweeting from within the room at KIST.
The second thing I noticed is that I was the only one to tweet the first quote mentioning the political situation in Rwanda. No-one else in the room tweeted it, retweeted it, or even went close to it.
The third thing I noticed was that Ambassador Rice’s speech ended with a fairly strong appraisal of Rwanda’s successes with warnings that these successes were not mirrored in politics, the media, human rights and freedom of expression.
The fourth and final thing I noticed in Kigali tonight was that when one, very well-spoken, member of the audience, asked a question about democracy in Rwanda, there was a very audible hummm… throughout the audience. You very rarely hear these questions in Rwanda being asked by Rwandans, let alone in a public forum like the one at KIST tonight.
I was there for Reuters, who needed to hear what the Ambassador had to say on the latest news from Libya. However, for the sake of the blog, here are some key quotes from her speech in Kigali this evening transcribed below. For the full speech, you can listen in to this less than perfect recording, (UPDATE: There is now a transcript of her entire speech.) And here is the audio of the Q&A with the KIST students.
“Rwanda has not just moved beyond its own genocide. It has consistently led by example. From Darfur to Libya and standing up against those who would commit genocide or mass atrocities.”
“I’ve visited Rwanda now several times and as always I come here as a friend. This time, for the first time, I’ll be joined by my family. I want them to see your beautiful country and to learn what can be accomplished when a proud people unite in common cause.”
“I want them also to witness and take inspiration from your achievements. I believe as well that friends should speak frankly to friends.”
“Rwanda’s economic vitality has moved the country forward. Social progress has been substantial, yet the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist, civil society activists, journalists and political opponents of the government often fear organising peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed, some have been intimidated by late night callers, some have simply disappeared.”
“Yet, the world is moving rapidly in a different direction. Across the globe, including in societies where a common system rose that freedom would never arise, we’re seeing people demand the right to chart their own future. To organise peaceful demonstrations and to criticise their own governments. From… Tunisia, the demand to be heard has spread across North Africa and the Middle East…”
“…They will keep speaking out because they have a universal right to do so. And they know it. These rights: freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom to organise peacefully, are just as valid, just as inherent in Asia, in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa as they are in Europe, America or the Middle East.”
“As President Kagame said, I quote, “The uprising in Libya has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond. It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences. Their grievances will accumulate — and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you.” End quote.”
“The deepening and broadening of democracy can be the next great achievement of this great country and its remarkable people. In Rwanda, economic development and political openness can reinforce… this is Rwanda’s next great developmental challenge.”
“And with all that you have achieved ove the past seventeen years, I am confident that you will pass this milestone as well.”