International news organizations and African elections
Facts just won’t get into the way of a good story
As the Rwandans went to the polls early last week the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, The New York Times and just about every international news organ kept informing their audiences that “the run up to the elections had been ‘marred’ by the barring of two opposition parties from contesting the presidential elections; the murder of an opposition party politician; the closure of two newspapers; the shooting of a dissident general in South Africa and the murder of a journalist who was ‘investigating that shooting’”.
Apparently if you are going to sell a story about an African poll it won’t be enough to report that the people voted peacefully, that they voted to maintain stability, prosperity and certainty as opposed to gambling with their future – as was the case in Rwanda. No. If the mob violence that usually accompanies an African presidential poll is lacking; if there are no running battles in the streets; if you don’t have images of rampaging young men torching huts and lying in ambush for members of the other tribe then that is no story. Just like it is no story if a dog bites a man. It just won’t sell.
If the international media were more honest they would have said for example that the government refused to register FDU Inkingi and the Green Party because they are led by people who have violated some of the country’s laws. If Ingabire could, as her first act in the country after 16 years in Europe, go to the Genocide memorial at Gisozi to make clear her espousal of the spurious double-genocide theory then she is a genocide denier pure and simple. And she is liable for prosecution under the country’s laws. By insinuating in her coded Kinyarwanda that there was a genocide of Hutus, she negates the genocide of the Tutsis. It is the favourite cynical ploy of all deniers of the 94 Genocide: if there was a genocide of Hutus then that cancels out the genocide of the Tutsis.
Raving genocide deniers like the American lawyer Peter Erlinder have seized upon this ploy like a tick that won’t let go the skin of a dead cow. They talk as if somehow Rwanda’s problems with genocide and ethnic cleansing began in 94. They talk as if they don’t know that pogroms against Tutsis began in 1959 and went on periodically through the 60s, early 70s and resumed in 1990.
They would want the world to be unaware that no Tutsi ever set up a roadblock to demand an identity card of a fellow Rwandan; that no Tutsi government ever drew up a list of all Hutus in a neighbourhood the better to identify them as victims for a coming massacre; that no Tutsi media organ ever was on air to incite Tutsis to massacre all their Hutu neighbors. Et Cetera et cetera.
But of course when Erlinder gets thrown in jail for his well-known genocide denial publications and views the BBC, New York Times, CNN et al will rush to condemn Rwanda and make allegations about lack of human rights and ignore the man’s odious views. They don’t want to bore their audiences with histories of ‘tiny’ (their favourite phrase) African countries like this one. It is much easier, not to mention more profitable, to feed the stereotype of African dictators trampling the rights of people.
But, as a Rwandan journalist, nothing amazes me like hearing the allegation that the government would have an interest in killing a fellow like Jean Leonard Rugambage.
The International press has been feeding its audiences concocted stories about how Rugambage was “investigating the assassination attempt on Kayumba”. For crying out loud! The man had never crossed a Rwandan border to go to another country, so how was he investigating a shooting in South Africa?
The Rwandan press is full of former street boys and all kinds of desperate characters, it is a pity to note. The only factor responsible for the appalling situation in our media being how unattractive the industry still is for qualified professionals. The situation slowly is beginning to change, but some of us are in this profession simply because this is all we ever want to do. It is a calling. In terms of remunerations and rewards for a job well done journalism still lurks at the bottom of the rungs.
So you have all these characters that are qualified for no profession turning to journalism, and one of them is Jean Leonard Rugambage, may he rest in peace. Wishing him to rest in peace however doesn’t change the fact this man was unemployable anywhere after a Gacaca court convicted him of participating in killings during the Genocide. The court sentenced him to a two-year prison term earlier this decade. But BBC or CNN or The Economist won’t report that.
Also, Police immediately began investigating his killing and before long found a suspect who soon confessed to the murder, after the murder weapon was found. But The New York Times and BBC and Radio France International and others won’t mention these facts. They will get in the way of a good story about a ‘tiny African nation’, so it is better to ignore them. As it is to ignore the fact that the “member of the opposition”, Kagwa Rwisereka who was found almost decapitated not far from Huye operated a loan shark business.
Rwisereka was in the business whose modus operandi is to loan people money at extortionate interest rates and impossible time frames in which to pay up, failure of which means forfeiture of valuable property to the shark – a house, a plot of land, a car, anything.
Why would it be impossible for the reporter of an international news organization, or anyone else, to see that Rwisereka’s death, while unfortunate, could have a cause other than his politics?
That is because to report accordingly would kill a good story, and storyline.