Twitter and Politics in Rwanda, for better or for worse

GuardBy: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is no stranger to taking to Twitter to engage with both his supporters and his foes.  Some of his dialogues have been the topics of published articles, including the infamous heated debate with UK journalist Ian Birrell in which they passionately discussed a variety of topics. The full exchange can be found here:

A recent report stated that Rwanda is among the top 10 African countries that use Twitter on a regular basis.  As an avid Twitter user myself, I often become involved with debates of many kinds regarding progress in Rwanda and challenges the nation continues to face.  It is no surprise that many do not like my articles and are free, of course, to share that opinion with me.  Some take it to a whole new level and attack or harass me in different ways but all fall under the umbrella of freedom of speech.

An interesting pattern has emerged on Twitter when it comes to Rwanda.  It may occur with other countries as well, but I have only observed it particular to Rwanda.  When a controversial report comes out or an article is published that does not praise everything the Rwandan Government is doing without question, many “new” accounts pop up and begin following the same people.  Upon further inspection of these “new” accounts one will find that they only follow vocal oppositional figures to the Rwandan Government, have few to no followers themselves, and have only a few tweets, usually less than 20. These accounts spam the “oppositional voices” and then disappear as quickly as they showed up. Many have speculated that these accounts are paid by the Government of Rwanda to focus on distracting the opposition through heated exchanges. Sadly, these exchanges are mostly personal attacks and do not focus on actual issues that deserve discussion.

In one of my morning reading sessions I came across the following exchange between Alice Muhirwa, Treasurer of the FDU-INKINGI in Rwanda, and a question she posed to her President, Paul Kagame regarding the ongoing, seemingly unending, trial of imprisoned Victiore Ingabire, President of the FDU-INKINGI party.  Ms. Muhirwa posed a professional and legitimate question, but one of the President’s devoted followers decided she knew better and began to detract from the original question.  Below is the exchange in full, some edits have been made to elongate the slang often used in order to keep each exchange under the 140 character limit:

Alice Muhirwa begins her Twitter conversation by asking President Paul Kagame: @PaulKagame, what do you say about Mrs. Ingabire’s transfer to the new court chamber? Will she starts from the beginning or is evidences from NL

Then enters the account of @sandrarwanda whose profile states she lives in in the US and she begins to hijack the conversation from this question:

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa and @PaulKagame: This question should be for judges who make transfer decision. You are trying to point finger to whom?

From @alicemuhirwa  to @sandrarwanda: you were not mentioned in this tweet, I tweeted My president who is answerable, please leave the floor

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda and @PaulKagame:  however it is my Right to ask The President his point of view.

From @sandrarwanda to@alicemuhirwa:  you are deceiving yourself to ask head of state thinking people will not respond. He is linked to all those that love Rwanda

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda and @PaulKagame: President of Rwandans, I think he never appointed you to choose to whom he’ll serve and to whom he he’ll not?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  Don’t go out of the topic. We are not. “Time is nothing when there is determination.”

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa and @PaulKagame:  The President has other important things to do am afraid. You are advised not to bother him.

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda and @PaulKagame: Sandra! Let me excise the freedom of speech you were talking about! So amazing your answers!!! What makes you furious?

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Determination like that of you and your leader is a waste of time. Let us wait and see

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  good enough.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa and @PaulKagame: It is amazing to hear this from u. Why then shout that there is no freedom of speech yet you speak to the President?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda and @PaulKagame: it is very regrettable for you if tweeted President=freedom of speech; how many Rwandese have access to this? Remember well

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  recall our 2011 tweets when I told you the freedom of speech should extend from tweeter to public debate. Do you remember?

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Be advised to call for help & forgiveness from H.E the President then he can exercise his supreme powers guided by the law

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: you’ll never see this dream of yours “SHE IS INNOCENT” (Victorie Ingabire)

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  what do u mean by terror? Time will tell. Who will forget Rwarakabije in NYAGE school attacks? Did he acknowledged his accounts??

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: All kinds of terrorism and similar shall be fought by Rwandans of all generations. Maybe you forgot what Rwanda went through

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  I wish to see a Rwanda free of all type of bad issues, including terrorism must reduce up 0%.Ingabire is out of concern

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: I will refer you to Geneva Convention on PoW. Gen. Rwarakabije obtained amnesty from Rwandan Leadership. Ingabire is different.

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  these are political arrangements from people’s will, in our heart he is terrorist unless he’ll request public pardon

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: it is my point of views even if I have to die for it. There is no effective reconciliation if there is no truth.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: It will indeed be free in our life time. By the way why don’t you open your own front [door] and do constructive politics?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: wat do you mean by my “own”?

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Ingabire supported and still supports FDLR now you say Rwarakabije is terrorist … NOT clear! Rwarakabije is born again

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  hahahahahaha! Call it as you wish, i am ready to face the law in my eyes he is a terrorist .Unless he confesses.

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: she has never supported them, the court, if fair, will prove it.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Your own means that you avoid Ingabire. The impact is big if there evidence about your association in wrong doing

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: Sandra! Just converse don’t intimidate! The prosecution has the power to exterminate and file, here I am. Am nothing else than I

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Here is the time for constructive divergent voices

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: no one can have such idiocy. She could have waited until they gain power and come after, but she came in daylight!

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: She acted behind the scenes. I was one of the advocates who urged that she should be allowed to come to Rwanda

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: to be in gap! Alright?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: My God!! You can prejudge! Do you have evidences of what u call behind scene?

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: This is not a case for you and me. It is a world case. Terrorism and insurgency is a worst case scenario. She’s very lucky

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: let the law suit decide.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: Gaining power? They will never gain power because not only [are they] being neutralized, they know very well who and what chased them away

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  Rwandans know [that] the Rwandan progress no longer need military fights, it needs Freedom, political space, rule of law

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: I very much respect the law I will honor your advice. And please don’t involve the President in Judiciary matters not so?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: I asked his point of view, as I could ask yours! I am not ,if I ask him about garage does it make him Garbagiest?

From @sandrarwanda to@alicemuhirwa: I am sure there are other things you can talk to him about. There you will see good complements

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: it is my right to ask, and it is his will to answer or not;

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: You fear a fight and yet  [the] person you support wanted to fight! Fighting isn’t bad if you defend a genuine cause. FDLR & Co. have none

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: I don’t fear, mine is 4 positive democratic change, people like u have 2 change mentally, Opposition minds = enemy of the country.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: You are trying him? Why provoke him? He’s a voice of the people of Rwanda. Let the courts of law and the Prosecution handle

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: it is not provocation, no need of is simply his point of view.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: You have no right whatsoever to stain the President with such queries related to Ingabire’s justice! If u didn’t know learn it

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: dont please,relax!!

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda:  don’t be furious .he is able to provide responses or not, but I don’t find any crime to tweet him! Are you playing the stain removers?

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: democratic change like one for single party-MRND or one that encourages terror and wants to bring insurgency? You know the cost?

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: we can’t slide back on MRND time, I am 100%sure that you got what I meant

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: what you have to know opposition mind is not enemy RELEASE INGABIRE.

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: You can tweet the president as he has access for people to link to him but you cannot stain or insult him. We shall not accept that

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: it is my right unless you block me. You will be playing the stain-remover as you did for this long conversation. Good Day

From @sandrarwanda to @alicemuhirwa: I wish I could block all radical ideologies in my country. You need to be baptized

From @alicemuhirwa to @sandrarwanda: hahahahahaah! Like Rwarakabije! I am safe enough.

While it may seem odd to include the entire dialogue between the two women, the point was to expose how supporters of an oppressive regime will resort to any tactic in order to redirect a conversation and suppress freedom of speech. This is not just a symptom that occurs on Twitter but on Facebook, Yahoo groups and various other Rwanda related forums.

Alice innocently sought information directly from her President in the social forum that he often frequents to engage with his fellow countrymen, therefore her asking him such a question was not out of the ordinary.

Rwanda is known worldwide for lack of freedom of speech and chasing vocal opposition leader and journalist into exile for fear of death or imprisonment. Many human rights organizations have documented these ongoing problems.  Every country surrounding Rwanda has freedom of speech and freedom of the press: Uganda, DRC, Tanzania, etc.  So why does Rwanda continue to control all information that is published about it from within the country? Rwanda is a police state under the rule of a violent dictator. Some of the prime characteristics of maintaining order and secrecy in a police state are the following well documented stances within this beautiful country:

a) Throwing into prison all genuine opposition leaders.

b) Scaring, by assassination and other inhuman and cruel practices, opposition and opinion leaders and journalists.

c) Sustaining security organs and militia to perpetrate unimaginable crimes to the people, with impunity. For example, staged grenade attacks to justify crack-down on opposition.

d) Keeping the citizenry in imminent fear of being thrown to the inhumane prisons and “safe houses.”

e) Torture as Kagame’s public policy.

Until there is freedom of speech, freedom of political space and freedom of the press, Rwanda will remain a silent country with only positive information being publicizced within it.

At the time of publication Alice Muhirwa had received no response to her question from President Paul Kagame.


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