I just wasted 47 minutes watching the latest installment in Youtube’s much hyped “World View” series with presidents and prime ministers; this time the subject was Rwanda’s Life President, Paul Kagame. The interview was conducted by Khaya Dlanga, the South African blogger and “Youtube partner” and billed as “… the first YouTube World View interview with an African leader.” Previous interviewees included David Cameron and the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero. Lots of people have tweeted out the video or blogged about it with little comment. I doubt many of them even watched it.
Basically, it is like watching paint dry. But that’s probably the point with the whole thing. Kagame gets away with saying nothing. Dlanga is no match for Kagame. Of course we’re not surprised by Kagame’s tactics. As we know he is good at that. (Adam Hochchild recently referred to Kagame as “the media savvy autocrat.”)
Kagame is never forced to answer real questions by Dlanga: whether about his regime’s destructive role in the neighboring DRC (retaliatory violence against Hutus) or the persecution and assassination of political opponents and journalists back in Rwanda, among others.
It felt like the questions–submitted online–were prescreened. They were all softballs. Kagame gets asked questions about “the future of Africa;” the diaspora; “the youth;” and what advice he has for “undemocratic leaders” (when he wins elections with plus 90 percent of the vote) or for countries “like Nigeria, Libya and the DRC divided along ethnic lines.” Finally, about 20 minutes in, a viewer gets to ask Kagame about stepping down after his second term ends in 2017 (technically Kagame has served more than two terms but who is counting). Kagame, clearly annoyed, doesn’t answer really the question and Dlanga doesn’t follow up. Which is when Kagame faces the final question: “If you could dine with one person … who would it be and why?” What?
To sum it up: Kagame has a strategy for being elusive in interviews (just mouth a bunch of platitudes and hide your annoyance well), but we have to ask what Dlanga and the producers were up to here. Did Dlanga actually prepare for this interview? Or was he just wise knowing how Kagame’s supporters deal with his critics. (The link takes you to a story about academics who wrote a critical book about Rwanda and Kagame.)
UPDATE: Meanwhile Kagame took exception to criticism by British journalist Ian Burrell and went on a twitter rant against Birrell. For a rundown of the incident, see a great summary by A View from the Cave.