Fake news, alternative facts: get used to them. Rwanda has and is alive and well

The Trump era is guaranteed to keep us entertained. There is gaffe after another, daily fights, colourful tweets and demonstrations at home and abroad. It is so much fun, except, of course, that it also leaves the world in a very uncertain situation.

The Trump era is guaranteed to keep us entertained. There is gaffe after another, daily fights, colourful tweets and demonstrations at home and abroad. It is so much fun, except, of course, that it also leaves the world in a very uncertain situation.

The most interesting bit is that the man at the centre of it all is unmoved. In fact he appears to enjoy the turmoil he has created. President Donald Trump has shown so much confidence in his disruptive abilities that one can only think that he is either a genius who will remodel the world or someone who does not know his limitations.

In the short time President Trump has been in office, he has helped popularise new expressions in English. Contradictory formulations, such as post-truth, alternative facts, alternative reality and fake news, have got into everyday usage and we have taken to them like they were profound new discoveries.

And we are probably not done yet. It has not even been two months.

One thing these expressions have in common is that there are attempts to fiddle with the truth, or in everyday language, they make lies normal and respectable.

Trump and his team can tell a lie without batting an eye and convince you that you are the liar. In fact, they can be said to live in an alternative universe.

Such is the fascination of the man and his time that we are beginning to see these as new concepts.

They are not. They are not even Trump’s invention. Throughout the world and through all ages, politicians have always created an alternative reality and made people believe we live in fantasy land and they alone inhabit the real world and are the most useful people.

However, politicians are not the only ones guilty of a highly fertile imagination and a bloated sense of self-worth in their singular abilities to tell others what to believe. The media is just as guilty, probably more so since they profess to portray the world as it is, but actually invent their own version of it which they then present to us as the real one. Misinformation is as much a creation of politicians as it is of the media.

All Trump has done is occupy the world the media has helped make and adopted the same methods, and then they are up in arms against him. I can imagine him tweet: The lying media. Can’t even admit their own invention. Hypocrites. Really bad.

And so both are at war over who has more right to occupy the alternative world they have invented.

Meanwhile here in Rwanda we are perplexed by this unseemly quarrel. We are accustomed to a world created for us by others. Rwanda’s history is full of alternative facts – ranging from the early settlement of this land by migrants supposedly from different places, some with more rights to the land than the rest, to the division of its people into separate and distinct nationalities.

The high point of that alternative universe was the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

This is, of course, the creation of politicians, both foreign and local, academics, missionaries and other people with pretensions to some superior attributes. Since those early inventions of Rwanda’s alternative history, the media has been telling an alternative story about this country. The inventiveness has reached new heights in the last two decades.

The latest such creation of a false story about Rwanda appeared in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, last week. Their reporter pretended to have landed a scoop by claiming he has discovered a link between the downing of Habyarimana’s plane and the RPF. Fake news. Only this time it is really fake, and the less said about it the better.

Now that this is an election year in Rwanda, we are entering a period when we can expect many more of these false stories. It is an election year and this sort of thing happens all the time, and the source for most of them is the same fake reports which suddenly get remembered around this time.

Not many have forgotten the BBC documentary: Rwanda’s untold story, or the recycled yearly reports by some human rights organisations. There is even no pretension of making the reports appear up to date by tweaking here and there. Bad, terrible, a la Trump.

The same media has been giving a platform to people who have never been to this country, or to those who are clearly biased to tell our story. They select what to include, erase the real historical facts and replace them with their own creation.

The list of alternative facts about Rwanda is long. We are used to it. That doesn’t mean that we like or accept it. We just go on living in our real world and let the fools create theirs.

That’s why I don’t understand all the fuss about fake news and alternative facts in America, and the quarrel between Trump and the media. Is it about who is more guilty and therefore deserving more praise? One can only say: fight on and keep us entertained.

 

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