How to spread Rwandan propaganda, and intimidate opponents? Twitter, of course.

Digital Content

Last week, a few unfortunate clicks revealed to the world that the Twitter account of Rwandan President Paul Kagame is run by the same person who spews pro-Rwanda propaganda under the handle @RichardGoldston. The faux Goldston is, of course, allowed to be a lot less guarded than Kagame himself, and a trawl through his Twitter cache offers up a few revelations – none of which are complimentary toward South Africa. No wonder SA-Rwanda relations are at an all-time low, writes Simon Allison.

The Internet is full of trolls. As journalists, ignoring them is a professional necessity – all that anonymous hate and vitriol is kryptonite to the self-confidence of any writer. But trolling is only as effective as it is anonymous; out of the shadows, the troll suddenly becomes accountable.

And so it is with a certain sense of schadenfreude that we at the Daily Maverick have been following the story of @RichardGoldston, a troll whose mask slipped in spectacular fashion last week. During an unpleasant Twitter argument with the academic Laura Seay (@texasinafrica), online observers were shocked when Rwandan President Paul Kagame (@PaulKagame) suddenly joined in the debate, seeming to pick up from where Goldston left off. Then Kagame’s tweets were suddenly deleted, and @RichardGoldston went into hiding. The implication was obvious: whoever controls @RichardGoldston also has access to @PaulKagame.

In the wake of the scandal, Kagame’s office (@UrugwiroVillage) confirmed the connection: “@RichardGoldston was an unauthorised account run by an employee in the Presidency. It has been deleted and the staff member reprimanded.”

And yet, questions linger. Who was the employee in question? How much did Kagame know? And how closely did the vociferously pro-Rwanda views expressed by “Goldston” reflect Kagame’s opinions? It is difficult to believe that someone trusted to run the President’s twitter account would hold views widely divergent from the president himself – especially in Rwanda, a country renowned for its tight control over public relations.

"It's impossible to know how close these tweets mirror Kagame's or others in Kigali. But the views expressed by Goldston are an exact representation of the views Kigali's critics have long suspected them of having," said Steve Terrill, a freelance journalist and long-time Rwanda observer. Terrill is the person who initially connected the "Goldston" account with Kagame's office, raising concerns with the Rwandan Presidency as early as January. And he's paid the price, too: over the weekend he was detained in Kigali Airport and refused entry to Rwanda on spurious drug charges, forced to abandon a planned trip to cover the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

"No one in the [Government of Rwanda] is allowed to say things using their real names," said Terrill. "There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Kagame knew about and approved of this account. [Paul Kagame's] office lied when they said this one anunauthorized account. It's worth noting that not one media person within Rwanda mentioned this incident in their reporting. In any other country this would have been huge news."

Although the @RichardGoldston account was deleted, Terrill shared with the Daily Maverick his cache of tweets made by the account over the last two years. In light of what has happened, they certainly make for interesting reading.