Given the gagging of UK media regarding Tommy Robinson, I’ve been wondering what the UK media does think is newsworthy. So I listened to the BBC’s “Today Programme” today and heard a, umm, fiery interview between the veteran presenter John Humphrys and Clare Akamanzi, head of the Rwanda Development Board. The interview was as a result of articles about Rwanda’s sponsorship of Arsenal FC. Mr Humphrys managed to display appalling arrogance, bigotry and a complete misunderstanding of economics and I was very glad to hear Ms Akamanzi rip into him and call him out as he did so.

If you are in the UK (or can pretend you are) you can listen to the interview on the BBC iplayer (starts at 1:33:00) for the next 30 days.

I think what really struck me was how condescending Humphrys was. It was all in the knowing tone that suggested “poor dumb Africans wasting the money we give them”. He didn’t quite come out and say “Hey you savage from Bongo bongo land, we’re giving you all this money and you are so stupid you’re spending half of it on sponsoring an English football team that doesn’t need the money” but it was certainly implied. Unsurprisingly he also had no idea of the size of Rwanda’s GDP, how much of it is aid, how fast Rwanda has grown recently and so on. When Ms Akamanzi explained that Rwanda’s per capita income had more than tripled in the last few years and that tourism was a huge chunk of that while aid was now no more than 18% (as opposed to 80% not to long ago) he seemed a bit surprised but continued his idiocy. He totally missed the concept of advertising and the fact that millions of people will now see “Visit Rwanda” who would not before. He tried to make the point that football supporters are not the sorts of people who go on Gorilla Safaris but he made it so poorly that Ms Akamanzi didn’t need to point out that people attending a Premier League match these days are not poor working-class lads. Decent tickets these days start at well over £50 so a season ticket holder is going to be forking out £1,000 or more, actually I suspect really good seats for important matches are going to be more like five times that. If you have that sort of disposable income you can probably afford a safari if you want one.

I don’t know whether tourism authorities see a notable increase in visitors when they sponsor sports teams but I’m fairly sure Rwanda’s isn’t the first one to try and it certainly seems plausible. A campaign like this is all about raising awareness so that people think about maybe going on a safari instead of (say) going to India or Cambodia and, as Ms Akamanzi pointed out, Premier league football is seen all around the world. I’m sure that Rwanda would welcome tourists from China and other places that watch Premier League football.

However Mr Humphrys didn’t stop there. Instead of allowing the articulate Ms Akamanzi to make her case for tourism and spending on advertising to boost it, he non-sequitured into “maybe you’d get more tourists if your leader didn’t lock people up and torture them”. One wonders whether he’d ask the same thing of Cuba? or Venezuela? or the Palestinian Authority? or, for that matter, Kenya or South Africa. I admit my knowledge of African politics is limited but compared to its neighbors Rwanda seems to be pretty well run, and developing well. In particular it is doing remarkably well for a country that saw genocide less than 25 years ago.

You will not be surprised to learn that Ms Akamanzi did not take that well, and, IMHO, understandably so. Personally I thought she was remarkably polite under the circumstances.

I think Mr Humphrys was expecting some kind of sleazy, poorly educated politician. What he got was a very smart lady with excellent English who could make her points forcefully and who clearly understands her job and her country. I have no idea how corrupt Rwanda is but a few seconds of internet searching showed that Ms Akamanzi seems to get the basics of how to incent people to invest in her country:

“Today, registering a business takes a minimum of 6 working hours from 24 hours last year. If you are connected to internet and have all the requirements before we leave this room, you can walk home with a fully incorporated company in Rwanda.”

One suspects she has read Hernando de Soto and grasped his insights into how to make a country richer. It looks like she (or Rwanda at least) is successfully implementing them and as she noted in the interview:

She said the country was aiming to double its income from tourism from $400 million to $800 million. And she said the sponsorship money, which she claimed was ‘way below’ the reported £30 million, had been generated from Rwanda’s tourism industry.

I don’t know whether I want to go see a Gorilla in Rwanda but I think I’d rather go visit one that meet Mr Humphrys