#BBCtrending: The false rumour of President Kagame's death

  • 10 January 2014
Residents in Goma hold a cross saying "Kagame is dead" on hearing false rumours that the Rwandan president had died
The sign reads: "Kagame is dead"... Except he's not

For several hours on Friday morning, a false rumour that the Rwandan President Paul Kagame had died spread like wildfire in the city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo - prompting scenes of celebration. It appears to have been triggered by a fake post on Facebook.

There is no love lost between the DR Congo and Rwanda - especially in the east of the DR Congo where Rwanda has been accused of meddling. So when rumours started that President Kagame had died, they met a receptive audience.

Hundreds of people marched down the main street in Goma towards the Rwandan border to celebrate what was later confirmed to be entirely false rumours of his death. They even carried a fake coffin and a cross. Smaller scenes and cases of people honking their horns were reported in a number of cities across DR Congo.

The rumour was swiftly and roundly denied by the Rwandan government via Twitter. The Rwandan prime minister, tweeted that it was "rubbish", and a senior adviser to President Kagame called it "utter nonsense". Soon after, the Twitter account of the Rwandan presidency tweeted a photo of the president shaking hands with visiting MBA students from The Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania - a proof of life photo, if you like. The university has confirmed to the BBC that the meeting did take place and that the photo is genuine.

So given that President Kagame is alive and carrying out business as usual, how did the rumour start? Residents in Goma contacted by the BBC say it appears to have been triggered by a post on Facebook - possibly taken from a spoof obituary website - which was then printed off and handed round residents. Christoph Vogel, an independent analyst currently in Goma, says he first heard shouts in the street at about 10:00 local time (08:00 GMT), and then saw several copies of the Facebook post being printed off at a coffee shop and handed out. Things escalated quickly from there and within half an hour a large crowd had gathered. That is how news - both correct and fake - often spreads in the area, he says.

Reporting by Cordelia Hebblethwaite

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