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You are here News Human Rights How a U.S. agency cleaned up Rwanda’s genocide-stained image

How a U.S. agency cleaned up Rwanda’s genocide-stained image

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Skulls in RwandaFor a monthly fee of $50,000 plus expenses, the U.S. agency offered a tantalizing prospect to the Rwandan government: a burnished image, a sophisticated media campaign – and a chance at “drowning out” those pesky opposition voices on the Web.

It was 2009, and the authoritarian regime in Rwanda was facing mounting criticism of its human-rights record. It was accused of censoring the media, suppressing freedom, shutting down newspapers and creating a climate of fear. So it turned to a public-relations agency, Racepoint Group, that had already polished the image of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Just two years earlier, Racepoint had charged $167,000 for its role in a campaign to promote Colonel Gadhafi, whom it respectfully referred to as “The Leader.” It touted the Libyan strongman as a democrat, a reformer, “an intellectual and philosopher.” Compared to this, the Rwanda job would be an easy one.

The contracts reveal the increasingly high-tech tactics of the publicity war between African strongmen and their foreign critics – a war in which many governments are becoming more aggressive and sophisticated in their efforts to deflect attention from their human-rights abuses.

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