A detailed PR strategy prepared by lobbyists for the Rwandan government has been published by the US authorities. Under US law, lobby firms working on behalf of other governments are required to register their activities publicly.
The memo, which was prepared by “Racepoint Group” in 2009, is addressed to the Rwandan Information Minister from company bigwigs Larry Weber and Peter Prodromou – whose previous experience includes “working with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Libya to positively impact global public perception and support negotiating positions with key allies”.
The strategy aims: to “build a strong and sustained Image campaign communicating the successes of Rwanda with key stakeholders in the political and financial elite communities” and “Offset the negative and factually incorrect information of those parties with vested interests in mis-portraying Rwanda’s advancements”.
Campaign themes include “Rwanda’s Visionary Leader… highlighting President Kagame and his visionary leadership” and “The Rwandan Miracle: Healing of a Nation”. The company’s fees are listed as $50,000 per month plus $2,500 – £3,500 per month for “out of pocket expenses”. The average Rwandan has an income of $510 per year.
Racepoint suggests that Rwanda has a “significant image problem”, in part because “Certain NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, continue to advance a story of an unstable Rwanda” . Racepoint seems dismissive of this picture, alleging that Human Rights Watch and others are presenting it merely “as a means of continuing to attract donors and wield influence in the region”.
The PR firm then outlines “a consolidated set of tactics to publicize both Rwanda and President Kagame“. This will initially involve “leveraging top print and broadcast outlets to communicate the Rwanda success story… and, in the process, validate it based on their credibility”, together with “a proactive campaign that leverages the web to seed stories favorable to Rwanda”.
Racepoint singles out the Huffington Post as a particular online media target, together with “careful seeding across the blogosphere” to “initiate an offensive to control the organic search on Rwanda and set the agenda in print and broadcast”.
“At the same time, we will blunt the online impact of our opposition by initiating a wall of defense debunking their accusations… we will identify and selectively respond to the most egregious… we will erect, on free social networks, ‘walls’ of pro-Rwandan data that debunks myths and links to Rwanda’s national web site. This will enable us to establish captive audiences on the web…”
Further elements mooted include a “Celebrity Visitor Program” a “Global College Tour” for President Kagame, and “challenging heads of NGOs that are the country’s largest detractors to public, televised debates on networks like CNN, BBC and al-Jazeera. This will provide Rwandan officials with the opportunity to debunk mythology being propagated by hostile NGOs and other detractors.”
The Guardian last year profiled Racepoint’s PR work for the Rwandan government, and highlighted critical comments by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative:
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, in a report last year, found that Rwanda has “excellent public relations machinery” which has succeeded in “persuading the key members of the international community that it has an exemplary constitution emphasising democracy, power-sharing, and human rights which it fully respects”. It concluded: “The truth is, however, the opposite.”
Rwanda’s constitution, the report said, was “a facade which hides the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime”, “basic human rights are in an unsatisfactory state”, “censorship is prevalent” and there are “serious concerns about the level of political freedom”.