Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has some pointed advice for journalists

Keep it honest.
Keep it honest.
Image: Bret Hartman/TED
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Rwandan president Paul Kagame, a leader who is either feted or feared, depending on who you’re talking to, had some pointed advice for journalists at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania, today: Be honest.

The Rwandan president said that honesty was the non-negotiable characteristic he operated with on a day-to-day basis. Asked about what advice he had for young journalists, Kagame said, “They need to be honest.” Journalists, he said, should be “responsible” in their reporting and then “let the people listening to them make their judgment based on the facts.”

The Rwandan president was one of a slew of innovators, activists, entrepreneurs, academics, and scientists scheduled to speak at TEDGlobal, an event designed to explore ideas that could propel Africa forward in business, technology, and entrepreneurship. Kagame, unable to attend the session in person, spoke via Skype with Zimbabwean journalist Vimbayi Kajese.

How his advice is received is likely to vary based on people’s diverging views of the president.

Kagame recently won re-election for a third term by a landslide, extending his 17-year rule over the central African nation with 99% of the vote. His rule has transformed Rwanda, enhancing peace-building and women’s empowerment, increasing economic development, and advancing the country’s education and communications technologies. He is also much-admired by people and institutions in the West, with some labeling him the global elite’s “favorite strongman“(paywall).

But his critics call him a dictator, and accuse his government of cracking down on the opposition, repressing independent media, and silencing dissent. In July, Human Rights Watch published a report claiming that Rwandan officials summarily “executed” suspected petty offenders as part of a government strategy to “spread fear, enforce order, and deter any resistance to government orders or policies.” Rwandan officials denied the allegations, calling the report “fake.”

Kagame, who has famously said that one should “learn” from those who criticize them, said his inner circle criticize him for being “impatient.” He said he was learning to listen more, and “absorb things and rationalize and never act in partisan.”

“We have to be honest with each other,” Kagame said of working with his team. “Honesty is extremely important. And we stay on that for the rest of the things we do.”

Kagame told the audience that they need to work towards a more integrated and peaceful Africa. “Each one of you needs to have confidence and trust in yourselves,” Kagame said. “You must have a vision, have a strategy, and do something towards the results that you want.”