SOCIAL media can be a very inconvenient place.
News out of Rwanda this week is that only 10 Rwandans - in a country of 12 million, and 3.9 million registered voters - oppose President Paul Kagame’s third term bid.
The country’s lawmakers began a national tour last month to gather public opinions after both houses of Parliament voted in support of a constitutional amendment to allow Kagame a third shot at the presidency.
Out of the “millions” of Rwandans consulted on the amendment, “only 10 were against the idea”, the New Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, #SomeoneTellKagame was the top trending topic on Twitter that very morning. It started Monday evening when a Kenyan, Levi Kones (@levikones) tweeted Kagame, “I really hope sir, you will not ruin your legacy by being President for life.”
The response from Kagame’s account (@PaulKagame) was swift, and brutal: “Worry more about your own legacy… if you got any at all to think about!!” (sic).
By morning, and in typical Kenyan fashion, Kenyans on Twitter had rallied to Kones’ defence, under the hashtag #SomeoneTellKagame.
It seems presumptuous, excessive, and even disrespectful for Kenyans to troll Kagame - after all, they don’t have a say in Rwandan politics. Really, they shouldn’t even have an opinion on the third term bid or Kagame’s legacy. Kones himself apologised to Kagame for where he “may have spoken out of turn.”
If Rwandans decide they want Kagame forever, that’s their business. And the hashtag can join the ranks of the many that Kenyans on Twitter have started to defend a perceived slight on one of their own, or the country’s honour.
KOT’s locus standi notwithstanding, in a broader sense, the whole incident hints at frayed nerves around the third term bid.
What gave it away is that Kagame actually responded to the tweet, coming from a “small person” in a country 1,000km away, whose view is completely inconsequential to the grand scheme of things in Rwanda - Kagame has over 1 million followers, Levi Kones had less than 690 when he sent the “impertinent” tweet.
Even though 99.999% of Rwandans say they support his bid, replying to the tweet suggests that internally, Kagame may be wrestling with some deep cognitive dissonance.
The constitutional manoeuvring fundamentally goes against the entire image that he has so carefully cultivated around himself over the years - as an uncompromising stickler for the rules, a man of his words, a “different” kind of African president who has little desire for the trappings of power.
Human minds have a low tolerance for essential contradictions like that; the psychological distress quickly becomes overwhelming.
When a guy is trying to chat up a girl he likes, and she keeps shutting him down, he will eventually give up under the guise that he somehow discovered she is not his type, is ugly, or has bad teeth—anything to come to terms with the distress that failing to win her over causes.
In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the more a guy (or girl) goes on and on about how someone is so not their type, the more likely that person is totally in love with them.
To quote Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
In Rwanda’s case, to bridge the contradiction of ramrod-straight Kagame seemingly bending the rules requires some kind of explanation - that Rwanda is a special country with a unique history, that Rwandans’ interpretation of democracy and constitutionalism is theirs to make, etc.
Factually, these explanations may all be valid and true. But a whole president - who has the whole of Rwanda solidly behind him - lashing out at a “nobody”, is a dead give away that the edifice is not as formidable as it appears.