Gone are the days when internet was for exchanging important emails and accessing websites one deemed important for their work – and that was all.
In comes the era of Twitter and Facebook, the two social networking platforms that have since changed the world, with suggestions that this form of new media had helped spread the Arab Spring like wild fire, sweeping three long-serving North African leaders off their feet within just a matter of months.
In Rwanda, however, the use of social networking sites has taken a different angle, with various government officials and institutions notably embracing the microblogging sites as new channels through which they can easily reach out to the people, especially the youth.
Talking of Twitter, President Paul Kagame has led the way, personally taking to the microblogging site to directly engage or respond to people inside and outside Rwanda.
The Head of State has previously said he finds time in between his busy schedule to attend to his Twitter account @PaulKagame and answer questions, if any, or comment on current issues around the world.
By yesterday evening, he had 1,860 tweets and 44,229 followers.
“When I am having my lunch, for example, it gives me time to check on Twitter... I don’t have different times to allocate to my meals and my tweeting responsibilities – I do both,” he said.
“When I am playing tennis, during the different breaks, I look at my Blackberry and answer one or two questions or issues that have been raised,” Kagame told a news conference, last year, adding he also affords time to tweet during his other responsibilities without inconveniencing any.
Several government agencies have begun to use social media platforms as a means to disseminate information to the public and publicise what they are doing – on time.
Besides the official institutional twitter accounts, ministers and heads of institutions have also taken to Twitter to directly connect with the masses and share views with the rest of the world.
For example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, who doubles as the Government Spokesperson, uses Twitter more often to set the record straight on issues pertaining to the country.
“Kanombe it’s always been,” was her tweet on January 10 when the findings of experts working for two French judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux came out, stating that the missiles that shot down the plane carrying president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, came from Kanombe military barracks.
The Minister of Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, initiated a series of online discussions, through Twitter feeds, engaging medical practitioners, partners and the general public on various health-related issues.
She holds the session Monday afternoon, twice a month, in what is dubbed “Mondays with the Minister”.
In a recent statement from the Ministry of Health Binagwaho said: “the Twitter forum is a great opportunity for improving service delivery by incorporating the direct suggestions of the population, who are at the centre of all decisions made by the MoH,” she twitted.
“I believe that equitable access to information and participation in debates around public health issues is a right of all citizens of the world”.
Recently, she met actors in the health sector and urged them to embrace social media platforms.
“You should tweet everyday; blogging and using Facebook to disseminate information about your work,” the minister encouraged.
She noted that it would help them inform the public about their work and also get feedback.
Supt. Theos Badege, the Police Spokesperson, says that the Rwanda National Police has been using such online platforms for a year now, adding that they have proved to be quick and effective means of communication.
“Social networking forums, especially Twitter and Facebook, have helped us reach and interact with many people, especially young people and those outside Rwanda,” he said.
“We are able to inform the public simultaneously during major events like the anti-GBV campaign, traffic week and to bring onboard those not present in the country”.
He added that it was still a challenge because many Rwandans are either illiterate or unable to access the internet.
According to Dr Corine Karema, the Director of Malaria Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), Twitter is more user-friendly and allows the use of limited characters.
“I like Twitter because it is user-friendly with a limited number of characters; quick messaging posting and it is straight to the point. I don’t use Facebook because it is more about advertisement and leaves no room for privacy,” Karema reveals.
Lucy Mbabazi, a public policy and IT specialist, also an ardent Tweep (moniker for people who tweet), says that Twitter is not as intrusive as Facebook and so makes the microbloging site her preference.
“Twitter embodies the power of technology. It can get the message out quick to thousands hence making an impact. From a public policy standpoint, it allows participation in governance and development matters.
“It also ensures accountability as far as public policy is concerned by keeping leaders honest. It’s also from Twitter that the world gets to know what is happening in Rwanda from Rwandans themselves,” Mbabazi adds.
She also believes that Twitter makes every word count as it empowers one to speak their mind.
To Allan Brian Ssenyonga, a social commentator and a keen Twitter and Facebook user, the beauty of Twitter is that it allows anyone to broadcast a message without any formalities, in just 140 characters and a powerful tool to reach out to millions.
“It removes protocol and enhances instant communication between those who are connected. It is one of the fastest ways to reach millions of people. One tweet can be retweeted by millions,” he says.
Albert Mucunguzi, the founder, PC Tech Magazine, a leading technology magazine on the continent, says social media’s cutting edge is the fact that users tend to think they are engaging with it in their spare time, and do not need to pay extra for saying more.
“It is the closest the world has come to being a global village. It bridges the gap between rich and poor, young and old, etc.
“It is a new culture. It is a way of life. About Facebook and Twitter, Facebook is more about friends and connections while Twitter is more about information exchange,” Mucunguzi surmises.