How Social Media has Evolved and Transformed Rwandan Society

By Athan Tashobya

Gone are the days when people thought that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media platforms were used only to share one’s social life, and less relevant information such as, “I am traveling to so and so”, “I am having a drink with friends” and all sorts of rather personal life twists.

When Edmund Kagire—a local journalist battling liver cancer—took up the microphone to share his testimony on how social media helped him raise about Rwf16 million for cancer treatment in India, everyone saw a true testimony of how social media can change life.

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Panelists at the #KGLTG share their experiences of using Twitter. (Faustin Niyigena)

Kagire, while speaking at Kigali Tweet and Greet (#KGLTG) event held in the car-free zone on this week noted that social media was “very instrumental” in raising his medical funds that enabled him to travel to India for treatment.

“When the doctors (in Rwanda) wanted me to go to India to seek medical attention in the shortest time possible, I was a bit confused and didn’t know where to start from. I talked to family members and a few friends. And to be honest I didn’t want to make it public that I was sick because it felt more of a private matter.

“But I talked to a few friends who said that they have seen similar cases in some countries where social media has been used to garner support, both emotional and financial, to fight terminal diseases like cancer and all these diseases that require a lot of money to deal with,” he revealed, adding that he got a call from his in-law who lives the US who advised him to open a fundraiser page on Internet called ‘Go Fund Me’.

“I shared the page on Twitter and Facebook simultaneously and it went viral. People tweeted and Rwandans in the Diaspora picked it up and shared it all over the world. It was overwhelming. I could not believe the power of social media,” Kagire said.

“So, money started coming in through donations, and the same ‘noise’ on social media consequently attracted the Government of Rwanda to come in and intervene and I was able to get medical expenses’ support, and travelled to India for treatment. 

“I am very thankful to social media, and I believe it’s a tool we can always use to change our situations and fate. Social media is not just a tool to talk about your whereabouts, where you are having fun from. As a journalist, social media has been very vital in helping me grow my career,” Kagire said.

It’s of little surprise that Rwanda has become one of the most progressive countries in using the Internet to push social and economic boundaries.

A report released in December last year by Open Knowledge International, ranked Rwanda as the best in Africa to have the most available government open data.

The Open Knowledge Global Open Data Index 2015 ranks Rwanda from 74th place in the world in 2014 to 44th in 2015, at level with Israel and Puerto Rico.

Defence and Military spokesperson, Brigadier General Joseph Nzabamwita, says that the active use of Internet and specifically social media in Rwanda has been provoked by the current availability of information technology infrastructure, which he says should be embraced to bridge the gap between leaders and the public.

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RDF spokesperson, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita (R), in a conversation with an unidentified man during the #KGLTG. (Faustin Niyigena)

“I believe that actively getting in contact with Rwandans through active social media is the best way of being accountable.

“In this era, social media should surely be used by leaders as a tool to engage the people we serve,” the Army spokesperson said during the event.

Nzabamwita said that social media, specifically Twitter, breaks barriers of information dissemination.

“For instance, I don’t need a journalist to reach people that I serve. It helps me in engaging the people we serve.”

Nathalie Munyampenda, a local social media enthusiast, said that social media has made Rwanda’s presence on the global platform bigger than her geographic size.

“I think we (Rwandans) have an active social media and it’s made Rwandans on social media heard on the globe, thanks to the availability of information and technology infrastructure,” said Munyampenda.

She added that social media had made it possible for the public to reach out to the leaders and tell them multiple opinions, air out constructive criticism and give feedback on various issues.

“In Rwanda’s case, even though we have accountable leadership, I also think Twitter has made it easy for us to reach out to our leaders on various issues.”

The Government of Rwanda, Office of the President, President Paul Kagame, Office of Immigration, Army spokesperson, Minister of Youth and ICT Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Minister of Health Dr. Agnès Binagwaho, and Rwanda Development Board, were rated by Rwanda’s popular social media enthusiasts among public institutions and government officials who are most active and engaging on social media.

Tweeps talk about their experience on Twitter

Nathalie Munyampenda says that when she joined Twitter in October 2011, she didn’t take it serious, but she has since become accustomed to the platform more than any other social media “because it’s more engaging”.

Munyampenda is one of the few people that are followed on Twitter by President Kagame and admits that she was surprised when he followed her.

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Nathalie Munyampenda. (Karamuji/Flickr)

She also adds that it’s quite tricky to tell which government official is more active on social media than the other, but thinks that the Army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Nzabamwita is one of the most active, plus Minister of Youth and ICT, Minister of Health and the Office of Immigration and Emigration.

Fiona Kamikazi, a banker and co-organiser of #KGLTG.

She joined Twitter in September 2011, and her love for the micro-blogging service is influenced by the fact that she ‘talks’ to herself and people don’t get to judge her.

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Fiona Kamikazi. (Karamuji/Flickr)

Kamikazi, one of the funniest tweeps, says that she uses social networks during work breaks or when there are no clients to attend too.

She has become popular due to being active on social media.

“Yes, I’m like a celebrity now (not bragging). You know how celebs walk into some places and people come and say hi and take pictures? Yeah that happens to me sometimes.”

The “complaining maniac”, as she refers to herself, says that social media has enabled her to air out her constructive criticisms or report her grievances without necessarily going to people’s offices, “and this works when we mention the right people, we call it “kuregana“.

Kamikazi says that through social media, it is now easy for the Government of Rwanda to announce, teach, inform us about government programs and the public can ask questions and give suggestions.

Allan Brian Ssenyonga is a writer, blogger and says among dozens of social media platforms, Twitter was the best because it allows optimal use of language by giving you only 140 characters. So on it (Twitter), the best communicators take the day.

As a journalist, he says that 70 per cent of his work is on/from social media and it avails information as fast as possible.

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Allan Brian Ssenyonga. (Courtesy)

Ssenyonga’s most popular tweet was posted under #WhatWouldMagufuliDo hashtag, which he posted in November and it got 94,185 impressions, 673 retweets, and 357 likes. It was quoted by BBC, The Guardian and many other international media houses that reviewed the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo hashtag.

He says social media gives everyone a voice and has created a new online constituency that cannot be ignored at all.

According to Ssenyonga, Rwanda ranks highly when it comes to using social media as part of governance since almost all offices have a social media presence.

“But being a global platform, we may not have the numbers to make as much noise as Kenya or Nigeria but that is not something to worry about really after all our President has more followers than any African leader,” Ssenyonga says.

Source: New Times Rwanda

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