Thierry-Kevin Gatete is a human rights lawyer and activist, known for his popular blog, ‘Gatete Views.’ Gatete works as a Senior Research Fellow for the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research.
He had a chat with Sunday Magazine’s Sharon Kantengwa on what blogging has been like for him and how youth can be more involved in politics.
How did you begin blogging?
At the time when I was studying in South Africa, I saw how the black people were treated in their own country, and it hurt me because in my youth I had worked for NGOs in Rwanda and became quiet senior. I was deputy head of Oxfam, what they call an ‘Expat’. In South Africa I saw black people who had made it in the system, and were contributing to the oppression of their own people; I saw myself in them, it was like looking in the mirror.
I felt so humiliated and embarrassed and I decided that when I go back home, I must be a social activist. I already had a blog, telling stories, although nothing serious. I promised myself that when I returned, I would make amends and advance the interest of my people. I decided that it would be something that I would do full time. I used my blog to do human rights advocacy, because it was an efficient way to get one’s voice heard.
Doesn’t the criticism affect your writing?
I once used romance to write a story about a place, with humour and included a young girl. She then went to social media and criticized me which affected my capacity to write romantic stories again because writing is a feeling, it is not really a strategic choice.
Writing about Politics however is easy and exciting because it affects society on a different scale. I am prepared when I disagree with a group and they react unfairly, I get even more ideas, because as a lawyer,having something to say back just comes naturally. When people are angry, are destabilized and react erratically, that means you drove your point home, that’s when you thrive as a blogger.
You’ve often emphasized about Rwandans telling their stories. Do you see this happening?
Rwandans are telling the stories but these stories need to go further afield. Our next step is to reach out to the world, I think that hasn’t happened to a level that is satisfactory. We need to be able to tell our story in a convincing way to the world, and Rwanda has the infrastructure and ability to do all that.
What is your take on the Western prejudices and bias against African countries especially Rwanda?
The media criticizing us comes from a setting where their liberal democracy system, which doesn’t even work for them, or for any of us, is already defined and they want to impose it on us. None of what they want is actually done in Rwanda.
We have dialogue and consensus as Rwandans in different platforms including social media.
Absence of chaos doesn’t mean fear. Rwandans can choose to go on street protests and burn car tires or tweet to the respective authorities and get what they want. Rwandans on twitter and bloggers are very influential and can get policies changed because our leaders will listen to us. We need not create havoc when we have peaceful means, and that makes it is our responsibility to tell people how we do things.
In your view, how can Rwandan youth be more active in politics?
It is true they need to actively participate in politics. But they should do so with enough information. There are great youth bloggers in Rwanda, but sometimes I read their writings and I actually get bored because I do not sense intellect. I feel they have not done enough reading, and therefore there is nothing new to say. If the youth get into politics without reading, they will not be politicians, but populists who can actually be successful but will not be of good use to the country.
There are lots of literature like African literature, African history and Rwandan history which they need to make good use of. For one to be a good politician, they need to have a good understanding of who they are and where they come from. We are a people with a rich culture, which informs our political decisions today.
My goal is to create a Pan African media; to expand the conversation with African brothers and sisters. It is now time to reach out to the continent and create a bigger impact by bringing African contributors together to expand the conversation. We need to share our perspective and borrow a leaf from each other.
If I continue blogging, I want to involve other African writers to participate and not publish only in Kigali but all over Africa and beyond.I dream of a Pan African media. I am talking with African colleagues about it, some here, some across the continent; we are all set.