I opened my twitter account almost two years ago during one of my multi-media classes in Grad school. Since then, I have only managed to tweet no more than 8 times.
But alas! A man who I thought belonged to the BBC generation (Born Before Computers) out-smarts, we, the so-called dot.com youngsters, when it comes to using interactive social media.
President Paul Kagame has over 5000 people that follow him daily on his twitter account. He has over 450 tweets. The list of followers is a mix of people from all walks of life including journalists, philanthropists, investors, social critics and ordinary fans.
The tweets make an interesting read. From humor, to words of inspiration and from global politics to valentines messages!
In one of his tweets at the start of this year, he makes a personal pledge that “With this New Year, I intend to interact with you more via twitter.”
That’s not all that defines President Kagame when it comes to the use of social media. He’s also on face-book followed by over 15,000 fans. Here the debate is buzzing with different topics and it comes in addition to his interactive website.
But again, this is the least important compared to the annual national dialogue, umushyikirano that brings together different categories of people right from the top leadership to grass-root leaders. It is a unique platform that continues to baffle even our sworn critics.
Last year alone, over 100,000 people followed it via internet. Thousands of sms were sent in and a significant number of ordinary wanachi called by phone to ask different questions concerning their day-to-day lives.
Like one commentator wrote then, “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.”
And so I ask indeed---which ‘despot’ or ‘enemy of democracy’ in this world presents himself for public scrutiny to a level that matches this man? Which ‘enemy’ of free speech will ‘waste time’, fidgeting with tiny Black Berry buttons to respond to issues raised by even the most senile of characters.
Talk of staying in touch and the above actions tell the story. They show the difference between this man and what we are continuously seeing in North Africa. Leaders drunk with power and ignoring what the ordinary man on the streets craves for. Leaders who are lost in themselves and are hoodwinked by the comfort of presidential palaces and air conditioned limousines, forgetting that some ‘muturage’ somewhere is pricking jiggers in his/her feet.
Luckily, ours is a different story. And the story of twitter, face-book proves the kind of progressive leadership am talking about.
Times have changed and President Kagame understand this well. Today, you need not to send telegrams or telefax to stay in touch--simply tweet and you get to know what is happening around you. And President Kagame is doing it beyond our imagination.
What does this mean? It means that the news of a leader who has swallowed a bribe might get to the President before it gets to the Ombudsman or the Chief Prosecutor. It means that the President might get to know of a fatal accident in the Nyungwe forest ahead of the Chief of Police. A minister, who exudes high immoral standards, might receive the shock of his life, upon receiving a link from the President himself.
And the beauty of it all, is that it gets the Head of State closer to his people, getting to know some detail, which otherwise could never have been brought to his attention. It definitely piles more pressure on the entire leadership spectrum to perform.
This is what makes the difference with today’s Rwanda. And this is what makes some of critics look insane!
A man who finds time to interact with a cross-section of his people cannot be the same person who stifles their voice or wants to silence them. You are either one or the other, but not both.
Surprisingly, some of these critics, including the new noise makers, do not have the audacity or guts to expose themselves to this degree. If they do, they will hide behind pseudo names.
Therefore, like Job Jabiro said in yesterday’s paper, “what Government intent on stifling dissent and basic freedoms would invest in fibre optic connectivity to the most remote corner of the country, supply laptops to primary school children, introduce e-Government, open up the airwaves, and actively court foreign owned newspapers and television stations to set up shop in the Country?”
And I add, “What President, keen on suppressing his citizens would again be the same President committed to providing an affordable health care, quality education, food security and above all, is simply a click away from accessing?” I rest my case!