Most Europeans and other foreigners do not sufficiently understand the background against which the media operates in Rwanda, and the fact that it played an evil role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, a British MP said.
Andrew Mitchell, a British Conservative Party politician who has visited Rwanda several times, made the remarks during a news conference in Kigali, shortly after his delegation concluded a meeting with the Bureaus of both Chambers of Parliament.
Responding to a question on how he rates Rwanda’s media freedoms 20 years after the Genocide, Mitchell said the “way in which the media (in Rwanda) has reformed is not always understood in Britain and other countries.”
“We do not have all the answers, in Britain. We are not talking down to Rwanda on media issues because in Britain, we have more journalists who have been arrested than in any other country in the world apart from China,” he said.
“We are very respectful of the very difficult circumstances. We want to help Rwanda make the progress that we all want to see, recognising the very difficult circumstances, but equally recognising the fact that a free press holds ministers, politicians and other public servants accountable by being able to focus on what they are doing and ask difficult questions. That is the role of an independent media. All of us want that progress, but it is progress that will come gradually,” he added.
MP Graham Jones, from the Labour Party, concurred with Mitchell, noting that he was not pessimistic, especially since everything about Rwanda must be seen in the context of the country’s history.
“It is evolution, not revolution, and I think that many socio-economic gains made, as mentioned by my colleagues, are testimony to the developments of the country,” Jones said.
The British MPs’ comments come on the backdrop of France-based Reporters Without Borders’ scathing report on the current state of the media in Rwanda.
The report which focused on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index ranked Rwanda 162nd out of 180, among countries where it was difficult to practice journalism, worse than countries like DR Congo, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt and others mired in conflicts.
Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), the media self regulatory body dismissed the report as “full of falsehoods and completely uninformed.”
“One of the criticisms that we heard about this country, in the UK, is about lack of freedom of the press and we heard, this morning, about your new (media) laws and that there is freedom of the press and I think that is to be welcomed. To move forward as a country, you do need press freedom and I am sure many people around the world will welcome that as well,” added Pauline Latham, another British Conservative Party MP.
MP Meg Hillier, a Labour Party politician also noted how she had “instant impressions on what a clean well ordered country Rwanda” was despite its challenges.
“What is incredible to me is the triumph of human spirit after such atrocities 20 years ago. I think that you set an example not to just Africa, but to human kind, about how to deal with the challenge of the aftermath of such a horrific period in world history,” Hillier said.
The four visiting lawmakers left the country late Thursday evening after visiting Gihembe refugee camp, in Gicumbi District and Kigali Genocide memorial site to pay respect to victims of the Genocide.