How not to be ignorant about Rwanda

Hans Rosling,the Swedish medical doctor, statistician and global health expert – before his passing – frequently wrote and talked about a range of misconceptions that most of us hold and are reluctant to let go. Whether it is grouping together all African nations as corrupt, undemocratic, and severely poor, or failing to realise that contrary to what is reported in mainstream media, for instance, the trend in education and impoverished people in many of these African nations has changed for the better.

To illustrate his point, Hans Rosling pointed to the question CNN asked their readers – what percent of 1-year-old children are vaccinated against measles – with results predictably way off the mark. While the correct percentage was 80 percent, the author of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, pointed out that the majority of respondents thought a lesser percentage was vaccinated. In fact, only 17 percent of the United States public were correct.

More worryingly, a similar assessment revealed that 80 percent of the US media and 94 percent of the EU media were just as wrong. Yes, the platforms that many of us rely on for information, because we perceive them to be informed and accurate, are none the wiser. Ola Rosling, Hans’ son, explains that most of these misconceptions are driven by a combination of three factors: personal bias (from different life experiences), outdated facts (from school books written several decades ago), and news bias often driven by the quest for clicks, and epitomised by the desperate need for sensational headlines.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, when the Rwanda Development Board announced a partnership with Arsenal Football Club to encourage more people to visit Rwanda and get to know the country up close and personal, some unsolicited feedback followed, a lot of which was based on personal bias, outdated facts, and media bias.

For instance, rather than take the necessary time and effort to interrogate Rwanda’s current state of affairs vis-à-vis the partnership deal, commentators such as BBC’s John Humphrey, chose to cross-examine the deal with a tone and approach that were incredibly arrogant and dismissive of the actual facts that underpin Rwanda’s medium to long-term tourism strategy. Perhaps, this explains why, at his neglect of publically available content on Rwanda’s current tourism trend, the radio host chose to focus entirely on preconceived and factually inaccurate democracy trends in an interview that was supposedly about tourism.

Likewise, Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of sports management and tourism studies at George Washington University, demonstrated similar misconceptions while attempting to analyse the same deal. Perhaps relying heavily on outdated facts, the good professor resorted to recycled information and abysmally failed to convince readers that she was conversant with Rwanda’s medium to long-term strategy – which includes the development and promotion of a service-led and knowledge-based economy – with tourism identified as a sector with potential for growth and employment.

Encroaching the rich folks’ territory…

In this world of intense competition for attention and the rise of on-demand streamline services such as Netflix, advertising via traditional channels like television networks is steadily declining, making live football one of the only few remaining platforms that still retains the power to attract the world’s attention for ninety minutes a piece.

The Premier League in particular, arguably the most-followed and most-known football competition in the world, has broadcast rights in over 156 countries with 4.2 billion fans watching live games each weekend. As you would expect, appearing on the Arsenal jersey, which is prime real estate, doesn’t just offer Rwanda a portion of the attention. It does more than that; 35 million times a day to be exact, and that’s unrivalled global reach. Thus, you can either choose to look at the deal as ‘incredibly bizarre’ and ‘flashy’, or you can see it as a campaign set to run in 156 countries, visible to 4.2 billion people, under one programme, for 3 years.

So, if the numbers are convincing enough and the Arsenal platform isn’t the problem, what is the real problem? A closer inspection at the unease surrounding the partnership deal reveals that Rwanda’s actual use of the platform may be the problem. You see, in some quarters, because of personal bias, outdated facts, media bias, and the fact that the world is generally seen from no more than two lenses – either rich or poor – categorised as a poor country, Rwanda’s ambitions are expected to align only with the survival mode; focusing on basic needs such as water, food, and shelter. Nothing more.

Beyond that, it is encroaching the rich folks’ territory – only they should have access to prime real estate while the poor continue to associate with World Food Program, Unicef, Save the Children, and so on. They will even go the extra mile to remind you that if you receive one dime of their money in the form of foreign aid, that is enough to render you perpetually poor. Your decision to learn how to fish instead of depending on donated fish challenges preconceived ideas and is threatening.

Evidently, overcoming ignorance about Rwanda from a distance isn’t going to be a stroll in the park. It is going to take you more than a bait click on the Daily Mail’s website, and it is certainly going to need you to rely less and less on tweets by foreign-based experts, some of whom haven’t stepped in Rwanda for nearly a quarter of a century.

To succeed and carry opinions for which you have strong supporting facts, it appears that the visit Rwanda call is actually timely. Now is as good a time as any to visit Rwanda and discover breathtakingly beautiful spots of the country whilst challenging preconceived ideas. The odds are ever in your favour.   

junior.mutabazi@yahoo.co.uk

Twitter: @Jsabex

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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