Tweetplomacy: Can you defend a nation in 140 characters? Kagame, Rwanda heavyweights take on Twitter critic

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Is it possible to defend a nation in 140 characters? Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo took diplomacy to a whole new level, Tweetplomacy, when they confronted a Twitter critic, journalist Ian Birrell, for challenging Kagame over statements he made in an interview with the Financial Times, saying the UN and the media had no moral right to criticize him.

Lesson for Kagame: While it is easy to rent crowds for election rallies in Kigali and fudge voters’ rolls, those numbers and fictitious supporters cannot stand for you in an open web forum. Our take… Not so Tweetplomatic. Most importantly, Birrel, who would have difficulty visiting and reporting safely in Rwanda, was able to ask (persistently) questions that Rwandan journalists get accosted for asking at a press conference in Kigali.

Kagame may have waited for one of his sympathisers in Rwanda to stand up and defend his name, but one of the pitfalls of a fear society is that it attaches a high price to free speech, so much that even those that support the establishment are afraid to speak.

Here are the Tweetcables:

IB: No-one in media, UN or human rights groups has the moral right to criticise me, says despotic & deluded @PaulKagame
IB: Kagame refused to even answer if he is a religious believer. When asked, he replied ‘Yes and no.’
PK: @ianbirrell. Not you either…no moral right! You give yourslf the right to abuse pple and judge them like you r the one to decide …
PK: @ianbirrell….and determine universally what s right or wrong and what shd be believed or not!!! Wrong u r …u have no such right ..
IB: @PaulKagame Fail to see why you think I have no moral right to offer criticism and opinions. Pls explain further
IB: @PaulKagame And once more, pls explain how and why I ‘just pretend’
IB: @PaulKagame Although aware of what happens with regard to press freedom and those who criticise you in Rwanda
PK: @ianbirrell. Ask Rwandans they will tell u I am not what u call me and I am sure they r not what you think they are…!
PK: @ianbirrell. You have no basis for your comments and you dont kno what you r talking about me or Rw. I will only hold all that in contempt!
IB: @PaulKagame Plenty of evidence – & your statement that no-one in media, UN or human rights groups can criticise you underlines the point
IB:@PaulKagame Presume this is why you dislike human rights groups
PK: @ianbirrell. Africa-Rw- will need Africans to work in the lead n in concert with others globaLly who r genuine to put things right….
PK: @ianbirrell. ….not the likes of you who just pretend ….!
IB: @PaulKagame You clearly stated no media, human rights group or the UN had moral right to criticise you…this is despotic and delusional
PK: @ianbirrell. You did not offer any explanation yourslf why you would refer to me as despotic n deluted…did u just want pple to believe it?
PK: @ianbirrell. You were actually just insulting …..!
IB: @PaulKagame You are avoiding the point. Pls answer why you think media, UN and human rights groups have no right to criticise you
PK: @ianbirrell. Why did u think I didnt have a right to my argument with the journalist of FT with whom I outlined that arg.???
PK: @ianbirrell. Is that all u kno about Rw? No need to explain to u anythg? Ask your own govt/leaders to explain to u those same things…
IB:: @PaulKagame How is there accountability when you shut down papers and prevent rivals from standing in elections?
PK: @ianbirrell In Rw.we hold ourselves and each accountable indeed to a high level and even deal with criticism honestly,openly and fairly..!
IB: @PaulKagame And you still have not answered why you think media, UN and human rights groups have no right to criticise you. Pls answer
IB: @PaulKagame Also I know of people living in fear of their lives for daring to criticise you. And with good reason….
PK: @ianbirrell. No, the point underlined is that while some in UN,Human rights grps n media criticise,they r not without serious flaws..!
IB: @PaulKagame Sorry, you clearly stated media, human rights groups & Un have no moral right to criticise you. Not first time you’ve said it
IB: @PaulKagame So if media can criticse why do you clamp down on press freedom in your country?
PK: @ianbirrell….that have to be questioned more often that not ..and dont seem to like it! Probably you dont…yourslf!
PK: @ianbirrell. It was those that were being referred to…!
IB: It is great @PaulKagame engaging with a critic like me on Twitter. Just shame he doesn’t allow such debate in Rwanda with his own people
Birrell and Mushikiwabo
LM: @ianbirrell: how wish the simple logic of “despots cannot produce content, hopeful, n upbeat ppl” would prevail on Ian. Guess 2 wishful!
LM: @PaulKagame @ianbirell wld u care 2 know what 11.000.000 Rwandans think of Paul Kagame b4 u spread ur formed opinion? 2 big a challenge 4 u?
IB: @LMushikiwabo Had to gauge opinions of Rwandans when govt clamps down on media, closes papers and silences opponents
LM: @PaulKagame @ianbirrell: how wish the simple logic of “despots cannot produce content, hopful, n upbeat ppl” wd prevail on Ian. 2 wishful!
IB: @LMushikiwabo @PaulKagame Don’t understand last tweet but notice you not engaging with arguments like your boss
LM: @ianbirrell @paulkagame Ian what so complicated? can critic but u hav no “moral”(key word)right: PK saved lives, built country n gave hope
IB: @LMushikiwabo @paulkagame So no media, UN or human rights group has any moral right to criticise? Pls explain why that is…
IB: @LMushikiwabo @paulkagame You talk of saved lives. What about all those millions killed in the Congo?
IB: @LMushikiwabo The UN report from last year into brutality in DR Congo
LM: @dcGisenyi @PaulKagame @sonjasugira @ianbirrell measure: voter turn out n vote, Gallup poll, watch him w. crowds, talk back Radio Rwa, etc
IB: @LMushikiwabo @dcGisenyi @PaulKagame @sonjasugira Vote marred by harassment & intimidation of rivals, independent journalists & critics
LM: @lilianemukazi @paulkagame @ianbirrell:I kno… Rwaz have dealt w the likes of Ian 4many yrs now: zey keep guess wrong n we keep advance…
IB: @LMushikiwabo @lilianemukazi @paulkagame You have consistently failed to answer my points
LM: @ianbirrell @PaulKagame Ian have u ever heard of Rwa National Dialogue? R u fam w Rwa prez monthly press conf?PK 2 secure 2fear crtics@home
IB: @LMushikiwabo @PaulKagame If so secure no fear of critics why silence rivals & shut down media?
LM: @TLHAGOANE @KevinMcCallum @ianbirrell @PaulKagame papers assoc w crimi nality:no place in Rwa;start by understand what ze print zen we talk
LM: @TLHAGOANE @KevinMcCallum @ianbirrell @PaulKagame polit rivals most welcome, ethnic bigots n genocide ideologues: Rwa no go zone
LM: @MortonAlex @ianbirrell @PaulKagame: good Q. no rivals coz not same league.