In 1994, many Rwandan journalists turned villains as they played a major role in fanning the Genocide against the Tutsi. Media outlets such as Kangura and RTLM were inciting violence way before April 7– the day the Genocide broke out.
Yet little is said about the media practitioners who bore the brunt of the killings; those who were targetted because they were either Tutsi or for speaking out against the genocidal agenda.
That’s what Silas Mbonimana, a former journalist at Radio Rwanda, remembers, 20 years since many of his colleagues were murdered by Interahamwe militia and soldiers of a genocidal regime that killed more than a million Rwandans in less than three months in 1994.
Experts and witness accounts say that journalists were among the first victims of the massacres because the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Hutu militia (Interahamwe) took the opportunity to eliminate political opponents and independent-minded journalists opposed to the killings.
There is no research that has been conducted so far to identify independent journalists who were killed not because they were Tutsi, but what remains a fact is that among the journalists killed were Hutu critics of the regime.
“People didn’t have a place to voice their views; so some journalists put their lives on the line to make it possible for people to have a voice,” Mbonimana told The New Times yesterday.
He said he was friends with four of the slain practitioners; André Kameya, Vincent Shabakaka, Charles Kalinganire, and Vincent Rwabukwisi.
“Some of them had Hutu identity cards and they were indeed Hutu, but they simply didn’t agree with the Genocide ideology of the then government,” he said.
Mbonimana, 51, reminisces that the four men he knew well were people with a vision to unite Rwandans by denouncing discriminatory policies of former president Juvenal Habyarimana.
In April 1994, André Kameya, who had openly opposed the Habyarimana regime, was killed together with his wife and son.
Then an editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper, Rwanda Rushya, and an active member of the opposition Liberal Party, Kameya had been imprisoned and threatened with death under the Habyarimana regime on several occasions starting 1991.
Shabakaka was killed by Interahamwe on June 1, 1994, in Kigali’s suburb of Nyamirambo at the home of his neighbours.
Then a journalist for the Kigali-based newspaper Kiberinka, which was opposing the policies of the Habyarimana regime, he and several colleagues from the paper had been threatened and went into hiding on fears of being arrested in 1992.
Vicent Rwabukwisi is believed to have been shot dead by the ex-FAR soldiers between April 10 and 12 in 1994 just in front of his home in Nyamirambo.
He was the director of the opposition newspaper Kanguka, which was repeatedly accused by the regime to be working with the then rebel fighters of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
Rwabukwisi had long been persecuted by the Habyarimana regime for his journalism. The persecution include a 15-year jail sentence in 1990, of which he served 10 months before he was released, only to be rearrested and jailed for another four months.
Facing several other harassments, he would sometimes go into hiding and his newspaper was counter-opposed with the then government-sponsored Kangura, which published a lot of anti-Tutsi propaganda in the days leading up to the genocide.
Charles Kalinganire, a journalist with the then opposition paper Le Flambeau, was killed at his home in Kigali on April 24, 1994, by ex-FAR soldiers who butchered him with machetes in front of his young brother.
He had been detained for more than two months in 1991 as the Habyarimana government tried to silence him.
For all the journalists who were killed among the first victims of the Genocide because of their work, those who knew how the political climate was risky in the lead-up to the Genocide still remember their acts as courageous.
“It’s hard to describe them. They were just great people with a vision to bring Rwandans together,” Mbonimana said.
In 2012, the Media High Council released a list of 50 journalists who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The list contains 43 names of journalists who were affiliated to several media houses, mostly print media, and seven who were freelance journalists.