What happened to Kagame’s monthly press conferences?

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By GLV Reporter

Kigali-This January, it will be almost be six months since Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame last held a press conference in Kigali. This is interesting because over the years, President Kagame had held regular conferences inviting dozens of local and regional journalists.

The monthly pressers used to be broadcast live on state radio and TV attracting probably the highest ratings of any programs. No press conference has been called since July 2010, this leading many, especially the local journalists, to wonder what could be the reason behind this.

A number of Rwandan journalists GLV talked to, expressed disappointment that they no longer had the opportunity to directly interview the president. “We lack background for certain stories since we don’t have official President’s positions on pressing issues and of course the interaction was a sign of government openness which is now missed” said journalist Muganwa Gonzague.

An editor of Umusingi local news paper, Nelson Gatsimbazi said that, the absence of the presidential monthly briefing has affected not only the journalists regarding to finding the right angle also with the citizens who waited to get answers on the issues affecting them.

 “We don’t get certain stories, we would go to the press meeting and Kagame’s comments would make head-lines for us”. Gatsimbazi added that “the citizens need to know the position of the president on some issues. This is because he could react on citizens concerns and direct decisions taken.”

 According to some critical observers, the president is said to be avoiding answering or being made to comment on controversial issues especially regarding fallout within the ruling elite. However, related to this, the president may have been advised to avoid situations where he could make statements that would later be misrepresented.

Noteworthy, during this hiatus a number of big events have gone without comment like his inauguration for second term, the controversial Congo mapping report, the allegedly soured relations with South Africa -reason why the SA ambassador remains absent from Kigali, the jailed without trial Col. Rugigana Ngabo issue and African events like Ivory Coast crisis, Sudan referendum etc.

Ignatius Kabagambe, the secretary general in information ministry said that “The President (Kagame) didn’t scrap off the press conference, but depends on his appreciation and schedules.” Kabagambe believes that, President Kagame’s cabinet and established institutions are now efficiency that the president needs not to clarify every detail of the event.

“Presidential press conferences have been always called when he (Kagame) wanted to address on some issues, who knows he might call one tomorrow. But, it’s not prescribed under the certain law that he might address every month,” Kabagambe added.

 Analysts also say that the president could be fed up with local journalists since the content and quality of their interviews seem not to improve with time. President Kagame has historically preferred giving exclusive interviews to foreign media than local.

 The president’s regular interactions with the media did not improve his reputation among international media watchdogs leading to conclusion that the monthly Press Conferences were not an good strategy in portraying a media friendly president.

The efforts to reach Presidential Press secritary, Yolande Makolo did not yield any fruit since she could not repeatedly answer our call and sms.

 It has also been clear that a high profile media presence is a double edged sword delivering both rewards of good publicity and attracting scrutiny and criticism in equal measure. The media watch dog Reporters san Frontiers claims Rwanda is the third worst media oppressor in Africa although this is vigorously contested by government which questions the motive behind the RSF reports.

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