15 May 2011

Rwanda’s Kagame in tweet-off with journalist

President Paul Kagame took exception to a tweet by Ian Birrell – and a frank exchange of views ensued between the British journalist and Rwanda’s head of state.

He might not have Barack Obama’s eight million followers, but Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, is an enthusiastic user of the social networking site Twitter.

Last night he took offence at a remark posted by a British journalist – and replied in person, thus beginning an extraordinary and very public exchange lasting well over an hour.

President Paul Kagame won last year’s elections in Rwanda by a landslide. He led the rebel army which ended the genocide in 1994 and has since been credited with bringing stability and economic growth to the country.

But he has also been accused of silencing opposition groups and the press.

Last night the president took exception to a public message posted on Twitter by former Independent deputy editor Ian Birrell.

Mr Birrell, referring to a newspaper article, tweeted –

Ian Birrell's tweet

Mr Kagame responded publicly, saying –

Paul Kagame tweet
Paul Kagame tweet

Mr Birrell repeatedy asked the president why he had stated the media, UN and human rights groups had no moral right to criticise him.

After saying Mr Birrell had just been “insulting”, the president tweeted –

Paul Kagame tweet

Mr Birrell replied –

Ian Birrell tweet

President Kagame sent over a dozen responses on Twitter during the exchange – and at one point, Rwanda’s foreign minister even joined in.

Interviewed on Channel 4 News, Ian Birrell admitted that the exchange had been a complete accident.

He told Alex Thomson using Twitter was an “interesting” way to address important issues such as human rights, but he said he was not sure how good a debate you can have in 140 characters.

He concluded that it was interesting that you could have such an exchange around the world, with someone like Paul Kagame.