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Dec 8, 2023, 10:57am EST
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Kendrick Lamar plays Rwanda as country flexes soft power

Kendrick Lamar attends the Chanel Haute couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 show as part of Paris Fashion Week in Paris, France on July 4, 2023.
Domine Jerome/ABACA via Reuters
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U.S. Rapper Kendrick Lamar played a sold-out concert in Kigali, Rwanda this week, part of a pan-African tour hosted by Global Citizen’s Move Afrika program, which seeks to bolster local economies and entertainment infrastructure. Kigali is set to serve as the “anchor city” for the project.

Rwanda has often flexed its soft power in the region through entertainment contracts and sporting events, and the BBC described Lamar’s Wednesday night headline show as “an exercise in gaining soft power.”

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame “wields soft power to deal with international criticism of his authoritarianism and human rights abuses,” political scientist Keith Gottschalk writes in The Conversation. While Kagame’s administration enjoys a level of deference in the West, he has faced increasing criticism over the government’s persecution of opponents and the disappearance of activists.

Rwanda’s soft power plays out in its influence over the region. For years, Kigali has taken an active role in the Central African Republic becoming one of the United Nation’s primary peacekeeping forces in the nation. That presence means that Kigali is able to “burnish its image as a guarantor of stability,” the International Crisis Group noted in July. The intervention also gives Kagame’s government something of a shield at home against “growing anger at its backing for the M23 rebellion in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Africa’s relationship with the global music world is one-sided. The continent is a “glaring omission” on major artists’ world tours due to what organizers say is poor infrastructure, Fast Company reports. On the other hand, the continent is a heavyweight in cultural exports, with acts like Burna Boy receiving worldwide acclaim. African cities struggle to book big name acts that sell out stadiums elsewhere: “It’s just sad that it’s just this huge disconnection. So for us, [Move Afrika] felt like a way to reestablish roots in a smart way,” said Dave Free, Lamar’s longtime collaborator.

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