And if he comes, this should be his last official visit to the United Kingdom. We know well that each time he speaks at one of the world top universities, his image of criminal is re-branded anew as one of a great leader. I imagine you have already guessed who I am referring to. It is the Rwandan president Paul Kagame. At the time he is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at the University of Oxford on May 18th, it is important to question how he gets all these invitations at such well widely renowned universities.
The first issue to address which is related to such question is the importance of these appearances for the Rwandan president’s image. Since 1990, there is no single major war or break of political or socioeconomic stability in the Great Lakes region that Paul Kagame has not been involved in. From the assassination of the first elected Hutu president of Burundi Melchior Ndadaye in September 1993, through to the shooting down of the plane which was on April 6th 1994 carrying Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprian Ntaryamira, respectively presidents of Rwanda and Burundi.
He also had his hand in the assassination of president Laurent-Desire Kabila in January 2001. Though the latter had played Kagame’s and affiliates’ game while agreeing to remove Mobutu in 1997, the fact that Kabila tried to distance himself from the initial understanding cost him his life. In the meantime, Congolese resources have been plundered, millions of lives lost, women in the hundreds of thousands raped, and other millions of citizens forced to become homeless in their own country.
The current saga of M23 is far from seeing an end. And the image that comes out into the public eyes once international experts point out the role played by the Rwandan president’s affiliated militias or groups in atrocities that are committed is not pleasant at all. It needs re-branding all the time. And there are many western firms specializing in that sector of business.
For example it is a well known fact that London is a place that one has to work with to influence the world opinion. Racepoint, Bell Pottinger, Portland PR, Hill and Knowlton, and other public relations firms in this sector, are there to help rebrand African dictators’ reputations, although the attempt to lure under the carpet all human rights abuses that Paul Kagame and other alike dictators are responsible for appears somehow revolting.
Racepoint Group, a London based PR company, has also been among other things working effectively for Kagame to open him doors so he can distort the truth about what the international community has now come to accept as the new narrative about his oppressive regime and responsibilities in the crimes committed in his country and the Democratic Republic of Congo, this since 1990 when he launched his first attack on Rwanda from Uganda.
In the US, one of the firms Paul Kagame has been working with is GoodWorks International [GWI]. Here are some of the services they were contracted for and generously paid for. The company was for example approached on 13.10.2009 to discuss broad investment goals and the role they had to play. It had to act on behalf of the Rwandan government. And contacts with the company involved Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Ambassador in Washington.
In September 2009, Austin Cooper (Vice President) of the company worked with the Rwandan Embassy to help organize and facilitate public participation in their annual Rwanda Day, held in Boston on September 19. GoodWorks’ role consisted of: posting a letter of invitation from Ambassador Young on the GWI website as well as those of the Corporate Council on Africa and the Africa-America Institute; issuing a Media Advisory of the event to the press; and providing on-the-ground support in Boston. GoodWorks was represented at the event by Ambassador Carlton Masters and Vice President for Public Affairs Austin Cooper, plus staff.
In the re-branding exercise of the Rwandan president, there are also his business connections, such as Tony Blair or Howard B. Buffett or Pastor Warren that he uses to open him doors. In the case of the University of Oxford, the co-chair of the Oxford Business Network for Africa, Sara Leedom, has personal business interests in Rwanda since she is a Board member of the African Entrepreneur Collective, a platform for supporting new businesses. The Collective she represents in Rwanda has its headquarters in California. Was she paid to do the introductions? We will never know. But what is certain is that her connections with the University of Oxford have been taken advantage of by Kagame’s circle of advisers who are in charge of his brand name.
As the saying goes, ‘Money talks.’ In conclusion it is not that the Rwandan president is worth having or seeing at all these different places around the world where knowledge is primed, but only because he needs approval and endorsement of whatever he is trying to sell to the world to cover his well documented crimes. Consequently, to get invited, he has to bribe.
If you have not yet signed the petition calling for the cancellation of his upcoming visit to the University of Oxford, click here, then sign and share it among your circle of friends. Our indifference should not continue to be the factor which hinders change we seek.