Hot on Macron’s heels came Arse­nal, still some refuse to play ball

FRED­ER­ICK GOLOOBAMUTEBI

The East African - - OPINION -

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: fg­mutebi@ya­hoo.com

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