Mr Ian Birrell is on cloud nine. And he should be, seeing as he has resurrected from obscurity. Punch his name into Google and what came up was the picture of a man who had been former everything: former deputy editor of ‘The Independent’ of UK, former speech writer for Prime Minister David Cameron – maybe soon to become former journalist?
Not any longer. Now, thanks to “My encounter with Paul Kagame” (his words), the whole media fraternity is afire with his name.
Ian, welcome to today’s Rwanda. For that man you clothe in “thin skin” (your words), apart from being the man who has recreated you, is the man who led Rwandans in creating the wonder of a recovered Rwanda.
Call me “vainglorious”, “juvenile”, whatever you want, but in Rwanda there are no two ways about any point. When it comes to protecting our rights and our dignity, which we fought hard to regain and paid dearly for, nothing will go in our way.
So, President Paul Kagame talked to you the way he did.
Indeed, who in the West has the moral right to question Rwandans on anything? In President Kagame, you were talking to a voice that carries the authority of Rwandans. So, heed his advice and seek our opinion.
Minister Mushikiwabo, too, knows what she is talking about when she directs you to us as your first point of reference.
We, in our 11-million-strong voice, shall tell you unequivocally what we are.
Not in the lonely voice of Rusesabagina, not in the foreign voice of donors. Not in the voice of UN or human rights reports.
That apart, of course, the exchange between President Kagame and Ian on Twitter last Saturday (14.5.11) revealed a sobering truth: the contempt in which some Western journalists hold Africans.
The stories Africans make everyday are never seen and only foreign reports are relied on to define the African narrative.
Examples are legion.
In Rwanda, we are used to seeing our president stop his motorcade at a scene of accident to personally assist victims. Where he is addressing a rally, many a time an individual has invited him to come and witness the poor conditions they are living in and he has never declined.
The other day a Kenyan lady in northern Rwanda surprised herself and her colleagues when Kagame promptly honoured her tweeted invitation to meet their ‘tennis kids’. More recently it was in response to invitation from KIST students.
And just last Monday (16.5.11), President Kagame was guest at the National University of Rwanda.
The following day, it was at the Institute of Legal Practice and Development. Both are in southern Rwanda. As happens wherever he visits, he fielded questions and freely interacted with the pupils/students and their teachers/lecturers.
Hasn’t it now become a tradition that during news conferences, in addition to responding to journalists’ questions, Kagame answers phone-ins and SMS from anyone?
In the yearly National Dialogue that brings together all the Rwandan leaders and is attended by all the diplomats, anyone, from the remotest part of Rwanda to any town on earth, can participate if they choose: via phone-ins, SMS, e-mail, twitter, name it.
All this, however, is not news to the Ians of the West.
News is when the president of a country on the Dark Continent challenges a Western journalist on twitter. News is when an African president does on the latest ICT tool what no other president on the globe, especially its developed part, has done.
That, however, ignores the fact that there are African leaders who are eager to use any tool to reach out to their people.
We are seeing this in an increasing number of African countries but to an Ian in the UK we are blind. He will arrogate himself the lofty task of guiding us and talking for us.
And if a leader reacts to the empty assertion of that Ian, it’s because he “is happy to engage with a foreign critic like me”.
Imagine that condescending colonial attitude! The leader has honoured you with the courtesy that your unappreciative person does not merit by addressing himself to you on twitter and what you see is “happy to engage” with you.
But the Ians of the West will never cease to amaze.
Listen: “It is..…a shame that with just a tiny proportion of Rwandans online so few of his people were able to see such a revelatory self-exposure.” Wonder of wonders! In a few tweets, Ian has been able to reveal in Kagame what Rwandans he interacts with practically every day have never been able to see.
Of course, Rwandans, being wo/men of honour, do not use offensive language on anybody and will swallow anything.
President Kagame, in not answering Ian’s obstinately insistent question, was politely telling him to check the answers out himself.
The killings, imprisonments and other accusations levelled against the government have been explained umpteen times and the government has always come out clean.
So, in the end, who is delusional? Methinks the man who thought he’d raise his profile by attacking a president only to see it flicker for a while before it went a-plummeting!
The last time I checked, President Kagame’s worldwide popularity had soared following that single tweeting encounter with Ian.