Rwanda’s transformation through the eyes of female journalists

With the negative role the media played in fanning the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one would say it became the most unpopular profession to venture into in the aftermath of the Genocide. Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi spoke to four Rwandan female journalists on what inspired them to join the profession despite its negative reputation. Flora Kaitesi, news anchor and reporter, Rwanda Broadcasting Agencies, (RBA) She is the face that graces the Television screens of most Rwandan homes almost day in day out – when she is presenting the News in English at 9p.m on RBA.
Marie-Louise Uwizeyimana. (Courtesy)
Marie-Louise Uwizeyimana. (Courtesy)

With the negative role the media played in fanning the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one would say it became the most unpopular profession to venture into in the aftermath of the Genocide. Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi spoke to four Rwandan female journalists on what inspired them to join the profession despite its negative reputation.

FLORA KAYITESI, news anchor and reporter, Rwanda Broadcasting Agencies (RBA)

She is the face that graces the Television screens of most Rwandan homes almost day in day out – when she is presenting the News in English at 9p.m on RBA. With a humble beginning in the media industry, Kaitesi speaks about her journey so far:

Briefly tell us about yourself and how long you have been in the media industry

I’ve been in the media industry for the last seven years having started off as a freelancer. I started off as a writer because of my passion for writing but after sometime I ventured into broadcast starting as a radio presenter and later on television news anchor. I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and that’s where I also attended most of my education.

What are your thoughts about the reconciliation process and gender mainstreaming in the post-Genocide Rwanda?

To this day, I’m one of those amazed by the reconciliation process in Rwanda. It’s been such a short time after the Genocide yet people have managed to overcome so much putting aside their differences, while focusing on much better things than unite them. 

Gender issues have extensively been in the media in recent years. Rwandan women are so lucky and special, they have been given a voice and we see women’s stories all the time. This should go on because once you empower a woman, you empower the nation.

What challenges do Rwandan women still face and how can they be dealt with?

Professionally, Rwandan women have come a long way but I still think the media industry is still wanting in that aspect. We are yet to see women taking the lead in the media. The Rwandan Women Journalists Association is trying to promote female journalists but we are still yet to see women getting out of the cocoons of social reporting. 

I believe women can do investigative journalism, they can do political analyses, they can become media bigwigs if I should call it that, their potential is beyond measure and it starts with simple things like believing in themselves and their potential and what better place to do that than here in Rwanda where policies favour women.

How have you been able to cover stories of survivors recounting what they went through during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi? 

I came to Rwanda in 2008 just after the 15th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. I had very little knowledge about the extent of what happened in 1994, although I used to attend the commemoration events in Nairobi.  Honestly speaking, I had not fully understood what happened in 1994, but it really dawned on me when I got here.

The first story I did was about survivors recounting what they went through during the Genocide against the Tutsi which was actually a radio documentary. I didn’t sleep for several days after my first interview. I was devastated and confused and I couldn’t understand how the world let things spiral out of control. But I had to be a journalist, so I summed up the courage and did the documentary. It was a 15 minutes documentary and my boss was impressed with how I handled it.

In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, journalism was seen as a disgraced profession given its role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, what motivated you to join the media industry?

To be honest, my first career choice was architecture, what I like to call “my first love” but I loved writing and that is how I got into the media profession.

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JANE UWIMANA is a news anchor and reporter at Radio 10

She is also the Secretary General of the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) as well as the treasurer for the Eastern African Journalists Association (EAJA).

Briefly tell us about yourself and how long you have been in the media industry

I was born in Kigali and went to College Adventistes de Gitwe where I studied the first three years of secondary school. Later, I joined College Saint Andre in Nyamirambo and took in Mathematics and Physics; that was when I realised that being a journalist and musician was really my passion.

I applied for a job at City Radio in 2006 and was shortlisted for an interview. Luckily, I passed and started working as a news anchor and reporter. Although I had started pursuing a course in electronics and telecommunications at Tumba College of Technology and Kicukiro College of Technology, I decided to quit and went on to pursue a journalism course at the National University of Rwanda (Great Lakes Media Centre). I have been a professional journalist for eight years now. 

What are your thoughts about the reconciliation process and gender mainstreaming in post-Genocide Rwanda, and what do you think are the main challenges do Rwandan women still face and how can they be dealt with? 

We have come a long way and we still have more steps to take but the transformational journey has been tremendous. Reconciliation in Rwanda has reached promising levels.

As for gender mainstreaming, I can’t hesitate to say that Rwandan women are still facing challenges of poverty, access to education such as girls who fail to continue with Secondary or University education because of extra responsibilities at home compared to those given to the boys. Furthermore, we still have existing cases of teenage pregnancies and gender based violence in some homes.

In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, journalism was seen as a disgraced profession given its role in the 1994 Genocide againt the Tutsi, what motivated you to join the media industry?

My first inspiration came from people who complemented me on my voice and eventually I thought that that could be a sign of talent in electronic journalism. I later realised that I enjoyed this profession because it gave me the opportunity to get involved with the development of my country.

How have you been able to cover stories of survivors recounting what they went through during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?  

It’s mainly during commemoration time that I interview Genocide survivors based on the commemoration theme. But I always look for women who have been involved with the development processes. Any woman Genocide survivor has faced and is still facing the challenges and problems caused by the Genocide. Their stories on how they are making ends meet are so touching and I find their testimonies to be life changing.

Gender generally remains a sensitive issue in the Rwandan media, what is your take on this?

We don’t realise that there are many inspiring stories to be told about women that can influence change in people’s lives. All we need is to change our mindset and we will start seeing more women’s stories on the front pages of newspapers, sports pages and in day to day news coverage. By so doing, we’ll inspire more women to be able to break the barriers that limit them from dealing with inequality and injustices. 

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MARIE-LOUISE UWIZEYIMANA is the founder and Chief Editor of Intego Newspaper

She is also the 2013 recipient of Rwanda Journalist of the Year award. The New Times’ Doreen Umutesi spoke with her about her journey so far and Rwanda’s transformational process to date. 

Briefly tell us about yourself and how long you have been in the media industry

I was born in 1985 in the current Nyamasheke District. I have been a journalist for the last nine years. I started my journalism career as a freelancer, writing for various Kinyarwanda newspapers such as Umurabyo, Urumuri, Umusingi, Umusanzu, Izuba Rirashe, among others.

What are your thoughts about the reconciliation process and gender mainstreaming in Rwanda, and in particular, what do you find as the main challenges Rwandan women face and how best can they be addressed?

With the tragic history that Rwanda went through, I think it’s safe to say that we have achieved 90 per cent of our set national goals in the last 20 years as a country. 

Reconciliation seemed to be so hard to achieve immediately after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but the government has done its best to unite Rwandans.

There are also sustained efforts to advance gender mainstreaming and I think I am the product of these efforts. However, I cannot say that women do not experience injustices based on their gender. It is also a fact that some women are still either not informed about their rights or at times society stereotypes and cultural barriers still hold them back, especially in rural areas.  

As a journalist, it’s my role to continuously sensitise and inform my fellow women about the need to fully push for the attainment of their rights and equality in whatever they do.  

How have you been able to cover stories of survivors recounting what they went through during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi? 

It’s so hard to cover stories of survivors. Most of the stories are so horrifying that you can’t hold back tears yet you have to do the job. 

The hardest interview I conducted was with one of the 1994 Genocide perpetrators. His account was so terrifying that I almost fled the scene of the interview. It was so hard for me to listen to the atrocities he had committed. However, I had to exhibit a level of professionalism and that kept me going throughout the interview. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, journalism was seen as a disgraced profession given its role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, what motivated you to join the media industry?

Journalism is a very influential profession in nation building because it informs, educates, and entertains the public and that is why I decided to join the profession despite the hostility that came with it the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. 

I also believe that it’s up to us as journalists in Rwanda to rebuild the profession so that the Rwandan people can regain trust in the media with regard to nation building. 

Gender remains a sensitive issue in the Rwandan media, what is your take? 

At times as journalists we rarely put into the right context issues around gender. We report on events, political issues but do not investigate gender violations in society and the underlying causes. 

It’s either because of the negative mindset and misconceptions surrounding the gender concept or we forget that we are talking about equal opportunities for men and women across the board.

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ANGE SOUBIROUS TAMBINEZA is a news anchor and presenter for Rwanda Today, a daily morning show at KFM

Briefly tell us about yourself and how long have you been in the media industry

I’m a 29-year-old journalist, I was born in Burundi. I did a five-year course in journalism and communications, and have been practicing journalism for the past six years.

What are your thoughts about reconciliation and gender mainstreaming processes in Rwanda? And, specifically, what challenges do you think the Rwandan woman still face and how best can they be addressed?

Reconciliation is work in progress. We have people who believe that reconciliation has been achieved, whereas others think otherwise. However, I believe the Government has done well in rebuilding a torn society.

As far gender-mainstreaming is concerned, I believe Rwanda has done enough in coming up with policies and programmes that favour women; although I think sometimes it has been done at the expense of putting men into consideration.

How have you been able to cover stories of survivors recounting what they went through during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?

There is nothing we can change about the past. Genocide happened and, as a journalist, I have to cover the stories. I make sure I give survivors the platform to tell their stories.

In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, journalism was seen as a disgraced profession given its role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, what motivated you to join the media industry?

I was motivated by a personal quest to keep abreast with new and current affairs. During my years at the journalism school, I learnt that ‘Le Journalism est une epee a double tranchant’ (French, loosely translated to mean that ‘journalism can be both constructive and destructive’. I chose to follow the constructive part. I despise those who use journalism for destructive purposes. 

What’s your take on how the local media cover gender issues? 

I don’t criticise the way the media report on gender issues. I think I have expressed my personal views above.

 

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