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Do Black African lives matter to the NBA? Rwanda’s Kagame in Toronto

February 18, 2016

An interview with Phil Taylor by Ann Garrison

Why did the NBA All Star Game Weekend celebrate Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who is known to have launched invasions that cost millions of African lives, and to brutally repress his own people?

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is fourth from left in this lineup of NBA players, managers and officials at the NBA All Star Weekend festivities in Toronto Feb. 14.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is fourth from left in this lineup of NBA players, managers and officials during the NBA All Star Weekend.

Kagame spoke at the screening of “Giants of Africa,” a film about basketball camps in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda, which are the project of Toronto Raptors Nigerian-born General Manager Masai Ujiri, meant to promote the sport and create opportunity in Africa. His appearance inspired indignation and headlines in the Toronto press. A Globe and Mail headline read, “Rwandan president Paul Kagame feted in Toronto despite controversy,” and a Toronto Star headline read, “NBA courts controversy with Rwandan president all-star appearance.”

I called CIUT-Toronto Taylor Report host Phil Taylor to ask what he thought of this and how it happened. Taylor frequently hosts the fiercest critics of Kagame’s iron-fisted rule and the false genocide narrative that he uses to stay in power.

Ann Garrison: Phil Taylor, you’ve kept the truth about Rwanda alive on the Taylor Report for nearly two decades. What do you think of the NBA hosting and celebrating Rwandan President Paul Kagame in your hometown during this week’s NBA All Star Weekend? The Toronto Star says that he’s been at a number of events attended by the city’s sporting and business elite and met more than 80 members of the Young Presidents’ Organization business group at a breakfast alongside retired Gen. Roméo Dallaire.

Phil Taylor: It seems like a bad joke on all of us. I really don’t comprehend how this happened. I think it’s terrible, and a very cynical exercise.

The NBA is very interested in developing relations with Africa to develop the sport. And my understanding is they deal with Ghana, which has an elected president and a democracy. They deal with Kenya, which has a democracy, and Nigeria, which has a democracy.

Victoire Ingabire has been in prison for nearly six years for attempting to run for president against Paul Kagame.

Victoire Ingabire has been in prison for nearly six years for attempting to run for president against Paul Kagame.

But Paul Kagame does not. There’s a woman named Victoire Ingabire; she’s been in prison for nearly six years now because she wanted to run for president against Paul Kagame.

I can’t believe that anybody associated with the NBA, particularly African American players, would want to do this. Some very powerful people pulled off, to my mind, a public relations stunt to bring him in. It’s embarrassing to the NBA, or it ought to be.

AG: David Himbara, Kagame’s former economic advisor, who now lives in exile there in Toronto, said that the Raptors and the NBA should apologize for this. Do you agree?

PT: Yes, I think we’re all owed some kind of explanation because Kagame’s record is well known, so whoever brought him here really had no respect for the population of Toronto or Canada, and certainly for those who are victims of Paul Kagame. I would not expect there’ll be an apology, but I’ll bet there are a lot of questions going around about how this happened.

AG: In this article in the Tor Star, the Toronto Star, it sounds like the NBA is a bit embarrassed. It says their spokesman “declined to comment” on whether or not President Kagame would be in the bleachers at the game.

PT: I watched to see if the camera found him anywhere, but, so far as I could tell, it did not, so we’ll probably never know whether he was there or not after the bad press he caused the NBA. But we always want to remember that Kagame is the MVP of America in Africa.

Obama and previous presidents, particularly Bill Clinton, have embraced him. And while they are sometimes critical, the money keeps flowing in, and Mr. Himbara, who also lives in this city of course, is the one who has pointed out that Rwanda is totally dependent on money from the U.S. and its Western allies.

AG: It’s  not clear that the movement slogan “Black Lives Matter” has meaning outside the context of police brutality in the U.S., but if it did have meaning in Africa, the movement would seem to have a major issue with the NBA about this.

PT: Oh, absolutely. You know, the word genocide comes up so often in connection with Kagame, in a way that makes him out to be a hero, but he is an invader of countries. He invaded Rwanda in 1990, he invaded Congo, the DRC, in 1996 and now he talks about invading Burundi, another of Rwanda’s neighbors.

And in the case of Congo, lives were lost in the millions. So, it doesn’t compute that he receives any respect here in Toronto, or from the NBA.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.

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