In just eight words, a Radio 4 guest nails everything that’s wrong with John Humphrys

John Humphrys
Emily Apple

On 29 May, Radio 4‘s John Humphrys interviewed Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, on the BBC‘s Today programme. The interview was about Rwanda’s decision to invest £30m to sponsor Arsenal F.C. to promote tourism. The deal has prompted criticism because of the country’s human rights record, the fact that it’s the 20th poorest country in the world, and because the UK is giving [pdf] it over £60m in aid.

But while these criticisms are valid, Humphrys’ tone throughout the interview was not. And Akamanzi only needed eight words to nail everything that is wrong with Humphrys, saying:

You are either ill-informed or ill-intentioned.

“Bizarre” and “eccentric”

Akamanzi attempted to explain why tourism is good for Rwanda:

Rwanda has a goal. Our goal is to not remain a poor country.

And she stated that Rwanda wanted to get to the point where it was no longer reliant on aid; in particular, to double its income from tourism. She asked:

How is that going to happen if we are not proactive in how we market ourselves to the world?

But Humphrys repeatedly derided the sponsorship deal as “bizarre” and “eccentric”. He also appeared to fail to understand how advertising works:

Anybody watching a football match may notice the advert on the shirt… but then looking at an advert on the shirt and then saying ‘Oh, well I’ll go to Rwanda’… it just seems highly eccentric.

People on Twitter were quick to call Humphrys out:

“Bigoted and ill-informed”

Twitter users also pointed out other problems with Humphrys’ interview:

Others highlighted the double standards in the interview:

And some social media users observed areas that Rwanda is excelling in, such as gender equality (and providing universal eye-care):

A holiday destination?

Whether or not you’d choose Rwanda as a tourist destination is another matter. President of Rwanda Paul Kagame won the election in 2017 with 98.8% of the votes. Human Rights Watch interviewed people “who spoke of intimidation and irregularities during the campaign and voting period”. Diane Rwigara, a businesswoman who attempted to stand against Kagame, is currently on trial with her mother – accused of [paywall] “inciting insurrection or trouble among the population”. There are also reports of extrajudicial killings and torture. And Reporters Without Borders has called Kagame a “predator of press freedom”.

But this is the case with many tourist destinations. Turkey, for example, has an appalling human rights record and has recently been found guilty of war crimes by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in Brussels. Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, has called the country “the world’s biggest prison for the media profession”. Its income from tourism in 2017, however, was $26.3bn; and it’s unlikely that the BBC would have questioned its promotion of tourism in the same way as Rwanda’s.

‘You can’t teach an old dinosaur new tricks’

It was later in the Today programme, however, when Humphrys revealed part of his problem. Speaking about Starbucks closing 8,000 stores across the US for ‘racial awareness training’, he stated:

You can’t change that attitude with a training course… if it’s been inbuilt… for the whole of his life.

And if Humphrys believes that attitudes can’t change with training, then there really is no hope for him. He’ll continue conducting interviews that people find racist, colonialist and patronising. And this is not something any of us should want from our public service broadcaster.

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