by Ian Birrell
Wednesday, 3
March 2021
HerdWatch
07:00

A national newspaper gives a pulpit to a bloodstained dictator

Baron Lebedev has recast Rwanda's president as an environmental hero
by Ian Birrell
Baron Lebedev interviews Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Credit: The Independent

The Rwandan president Paul Kagame is a master at playing Westerners for adulation and aid money. As I wrote here last week, he has successfully suckered in a long line of leading politicians and other prominent people to pay homage to his reign and pump money into his regime’s pocket.

His latest promoter is media owner Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia, who has recast the gangly dictator as an environmental hero in an interview run in The Independent and the Evening Standard. “We’re trying to move away from our ugly history, to give people hope,” says Kagame, under a headline hailing the president’s “intent to make conservation his country’s next battle”.

Never mind that Kagame is a bloodstained despot who crushes democracy, kills dissidents, kidnaps political foes, loots neighbouring nations and bears personal responsibility for a huge death toll. He says he is planting trees and protecting his gorillas that lure rich foreign tourists. Lebedev does at least touch on concerns about repression and the rendition of Paul Rusesabagina, real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda, but  offers a fresh platform for another raft of wild accusations.

Kagame must have been pleased after the humiliation of Al Jazeera obtaining a video showing British public relations firm Chelgate training his justice minister Johnston Busingye. This cock-up confirmed Rwanda paid for the private jet that captured Rusesabagina and the state is now intercepting privileged communications with his lawyers in violation of judicial rights — confirming there is no hope of a fair trial.

Yet it is depressing to see an influential British media owner offer this pulpit to a dictator with such a dire record on free expression that includes journalists dying in suspicious circumstances, fleeing for their lives into exile and independent outlets being shut down. Perhaps the best known case was Charles Ingabire, editor of an independent news website, gunned down in a Ugandan bar a decade ago.

Might I suggest Lebedev reads Anjan Sundaram’s disturbing book ‘Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship’, which recounts his years trying to teach journalism in Rwanda as he slowly saw the real face emerge of its toxic ruler? One reporter told how if they failed to toe the official line in smearing a jailed opposition leader even their children were threatened. “But if we say she is guilty they leave us alone. So we call her a villain, genocidal.” Another, calling himself one of the “walking dead”, rues how “to control people you need to create a great deal of fear.”

At the end of this fine expose is a list of journalists beaten, exiled, jailed, kidnapped or murdered for doing their job. The author admits it is incomplete, yet it is 12 pages long. Since the book was published five years ago, more names merit inclusion. So much for independent journalism in Rwanda.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

What else would you expect from The Independent and the Evening Standard? I believe they are owned by a combination of Russian and Middle Eastern interests. It’s a great shame – there was a time when I bought The Independent every day, but I realised around 2002 that they were pushing a demented and left-wing agenda.

Jane Hurley
Jane Hurley
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Me too. Then I moved to the ‘i’ which is also owned by Lebedev and claims to be independent. It is not.

Roland Ayers
Roland Ayers
1 year ago

What’s missing here is a sense of just how masterful, shrewd and sophisticated Kagame is. He sounds nothing like a despot. It’s only when you dig deeper that start to see just how unsavoury is regime is. As a former insider, David Himbara has a unique insight, and it’s worth reading what he has to say about his former boss.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Roland Ayers

Although arguably Africa needs leaders like this, at least for a while. Look at what a mess Singapore was before Lee Kuan Yew, with huge ethnic riots between Indians, Malayans and Chinese. Kagame realised in such an ethically divided country like Rwanda only a benign dictatorship like this will stop the country falling apart. After enough years of development and education and people rubbing along things can be relaxed, but it has to be harsh for a while. Nigeria would do well for example to have a leader like him.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
1 year ago

Um, excuse me. I lived and worked in Singapore at the time, and whilst Communist agitaters were locked up, it was during the Vietnam War, of course, his warring and diverse ethnic opponents didn’t like it. However, I never heard of Lee Kuan Yew mudering or ordering the murder of these opponents.

At the time, the Chinese minority in Malaya were constantly being targetted because the Chinese, like the Chinese in every country i have worked in, were industrious and hard-working. The more indolent, although often charming, Malays just wanted their hands on the fruits of their successes.

Lee Kuan Yew was, out of necessity, a ‘dictator’ but a benign one, and modern Singapore came about on his shoulders. I met him a few times and when he stated that a small island could not compete through manufacturing etc., because of the lack of space, but only by stimulating the brains of its population through access to education, he then set about making this possible. Physical school buildings were utilised to hold three separate ‘schools’ on an 8-hour rotational schedule 24/6. It was an amazing feat and this is evidenced by the Singapore I knew in 1965 through 1968 to becoming the counttry it is today.

He was the most erudite and articulate man. He not only could quote Shakespeare, he also studied the plays for inspiration. To have him compared to Kagame is, in my opinion, grotesque.

Last edited 1 year ago by Susannah Baring Tait
imackenzie56
imackenzie56
1 year ago

To compare what Yew inherited from the Brits to what Kagame inherited is lame. There is no comparison and Yew (if he had survived in Rwanda) would have been more like Kagame.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

Tony Blair invaded Iraq, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
David Cameron helped bomb Libya from a wealthy state to a failed one, with much ongoing death and suffering.
Is Birrell concerned about pulpits being given to these two bloodstained warmongers?

Steve Byrd
Steve Byrd
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Can I suggest a difference? We all know Blair and Cameron, we know their record. We know that — for now, at least — those records, they themselves are still under scrutiny. They don’t get a free ride from the pulpit. It’s simply not the same with Kagame and Rwanda. And we need to be informed.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Birrell seems full on establishment to me. He used to write the speeches for Cameron. Including, perhaps, on Libya. it’s a bit odd then that unherd promotes this guy, or the website as a whole, as anti establishment. The writer is as establishment as you can get.

Last edited 1 year ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

He probably is, but your comment is really just ‘whataboutery’. You seem to imply that until we live in a world wide utopia we can’t legitimately criticise tyrannical rule anywhere.

At the time most of the bien-pendant liberal left opinion was in favour of the Libyan intervention – against if you recall a threatened massacre by Gaddafi’s forces. An intervention in Syria was also contemplated – as we can see the lack of Western intervention there has not yet produced a land of milk and honey.

We can argue about the Iraq war until the cows come home, but everyone including Hans Blix the UN rapporteur thought Saddam Hussein, who was essentially a neo-fascist dictator and had gassed his own people, amongst many other atrocities, had weapons of mass destruction.

Blair and Cameron can at least be imperfectly held to account and their records openly discussed. Kagame has ruled brutally for years and been adept at getting away with this largely because of guilt of the previous genocide.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 year ago

I very much appreciate this piece and last week’s piece, but let me suggest an expositional point: Hook the reader more efficiently. For example, open with something like, “‘Rwanda’ conjures images of dead bodies streaming down the river by the tens of thousands. Indeed, Rwanda’s tribalistic genocide of 1994 ultimately took away Z% of the population. Underappreciated is the even greater killing that attended Rwanda’s incursions in to the Congo X years later. This last bit of wholesale killing was directed by Rwanda’s president, the gangly Paul Kagame. It makes for more than a puzzle, then, that affluent globalists in the West hold up Kagame as a savior of the country and as a hero of the environment…”

Last edited 1 year ago by Chauncey Gardiner
Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
1 year ago

Useful, also to others.

jackarandarainbow
jackarandarainbow
1 year ago

Kagame is doing nothing that the UK government is not doing or has done – although its repressive actions are on a lesser scale, with less violence/murder. Vested interests in the US had that Epstein fellow bumped off, quite obviously and blatantly. Then there’s Tommy Robinson and Julian Assange. Not to mention several thousand prosecutions of people refusing to pay for a TV licence in order to compulsorily fund the BBC, a woke propaganda outlet. Oh yes, nearly forgot, what about all the “hate speech” harassment and imprisonment? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on what we are ALLOWING our politicians to do in the the UK? Before we point to other countries?

imackenzie56
imackenzie56
1 year ago

And yet, I will wager you love AMLO of Mexico, who does all the same, just more effectively and with a lovely smile. At least Rwanda is actually getting better for the average citizen compared with the period prior to the “blood stained dictator”. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I don’t understand the volte face hatred of this man by the intelligentsia.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

 Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia’

Very similar places, in my experience.