Hot on Macron’s heels came Arsenal, still some refuse to play ball
Some years ago, a Ugandan politician who often attracted the attention of journalists, usually for the wrong reasons, was asked how he felt about the constant media attacks. Not one to lack what to say, even in bad circumstances, he responded that there was something worse than being talked about, and that was not being talked about.
It wasn’t the answer onlookers had expected from him. They had imagined he would complain bitterly and possibly make some rude remarks about the media. He had never been my kind of politician, so I never felt particularly sorry that the newshounds loved savaging him. However, the retort left me feeling rather impressed. No, he wasn’t going to lie down and ask to be left alone; he had chosen to look at the bright side.
Recently my mind went back to his retort as I listened to and read reports about Rwanda, its government, and leadership. It all started with a visit President Kagame paid to France, accompanied by some government officials. Kagame had not been to France since 2011. In the intervening years and even years before that, relations between the two countries had blown hot and cold, mostly cold. The key issue has always been the role the government of Rwanda says France played in the genocide against the Tutsi, and how the government of France and some of the country’s political elite, active and retired, as well as media and a few intellectuals, have responded to the accusations.
There have been times when it seemed as if the tide in France were turning from outright denial and dismissiveness to acknowledgement that some wrong had been committed and that something should be done to make amends. There have also been times when the French have opted for aggressive behaviour, to which the Rwandans have reacted with predictable pushback. In recent years, many watchers had pretty much decided that the cold war between the two countries would be more or less permanent.
And then along came Emmanuel Macron who, like Nicolas Sarkozy before him, seemed to want to find a way for the two sides to sort out their differences and mend fences. Some reports suggest it is what a growing number of French people, the younger generations especially, want to see happen. And so it was against this background that Kagame and his entourage arrived in France, in what became a very highprofile event. As it turned out, it was too highprofile for some people’s liking. To make matters even more interesting, the world learnt that Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, is in the running to become the next head of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, the French version of the Commonwealth, and that she has the support of France.
All this was a little too much for some, all over the place, but more so in France and in Frenchspeaking Africa. How, they asked, some rather loudly, could Rwanda where French is no longer the main foreign language, which is now a member of the English-speaking Commonwealth and which apparently does “not share” la Francophonie’s “democratic values,” be receiving such treatment? For Rwanda, however, it seemed as if the louder the complaints, the clearer it became to those listening that its firm stance in its relations with France since the Rwandese Patriotic Front came to power, had not been in vain.
And then just as that particular noise was dying down, came the announcement that the Rwanda Development Board, the government body responsible for attracting investment and promoting Rwanda as a tourist destination, had struck a multimillion-dollar advertising deal with English football club Arsenal, in a bid to grow the number of tourists visiting in the coming years. There is a time when Rwanda seemed to be the subject of only bad news, when media made the country sound as though it was something of a political boot camp and gulag rolled into one.
In recent years, as the country has become more and more the subject of accolades for achievements across a range of domains, a lot of the negativity has receded into the background. The Arsenal deal, however, seemed to have awakened some of the old bile. That wasn’t everywhere, though. Across Africa it was mostly cheers coming from the millions of Arsenal fans but also others who saw the deal for the smart move it was, “from tiny Rwanda of all places,” as one admiring commentator in a neighbouring country put it.
But as Africans were mostly cheering, some farther afield were not taking it that well. First came some European politicians from countries
Rwanda proves that being talked about, is better than not being talked about.” In recent years, as the country has become more and more the subject of accolades across a range of domains, a lot of the negativity has receded into the background
that, over the years, have made a significant contribution to Rwanda’s efforts to lift itself up from the depths to which war and the genocide had thrown it. Soon enough, some of their media jumped into the fray and amplified the complaints about, apparently, “promoting Arsenal” at the expense of Rwandans living in poverty. There are indications from the Rwanda Development Board that the noise has already generated inquiries from new tour operators all over the world. And so Rwanda now proves the point that being talked about, in whatever terms, is better than not being talked about. Frederick Golooba-mutebi is a Kampalaand Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org