I was caught up in other assignments when the polemics emerged on the appointment of the new mayor of the city of Kigali, Dr. Pudence Rubingisa. He had not spent 25 minutes at City Hall when the first torpedo from the media was lunched - rather below the belt. Call it baptism of fire!
I understand that there is value in holding leaders accountable, there is equally value in informing society about the antecedents of their elected leaders, especially given that the powers of the City of Kigali as well as its budget have been beefed up, while our capital Kigali is becoming an international metropolitan and the convening place for major international events.
However, I thought the fresh mayor wasn’t treated fairly and the issue wasn’t done justice. An opportunity was missed to tell a beautiful story: The story of a man who was once trusted, then suspected, detained, investigated, and once found innocent, the trust in him renewed. This is a story of second chances.
It goes to show that throughout his prosecution, the defendant was presumed innocent, and indeed when courts confirmed his innocence, the country’s leadership acted accordingly.
The story of Mayor Rubingisa is shared by other civil servants, whose investigation was highly publicized, but their innocence ignored.
In a sense, the leadership in Rwanda is more progressive than the media wants the people to believe.
Many stories have titled: ‘so and so: dumped’, implying a witch-hunt when a leader was simply replaced, awaiting a new, at times better deployment. Whatever the headline in the media, in Rwanda when one is replaced, placed under investigation or detained, trick is to ‘keep calm and the best is yet to come’, as it were…
Perhaps it is the media’s predilection to feed on polemics to sell paper issues and click baits, or perhaps it is Rwandan journalists trying to mimic a western fatalist and antagonistic discourse; all in all, this is a bad practice – especially in a country that experienced the worst media’s consequences just under a generation ago.
But we cannot blame journalists without looking at the root cause of this: Perp Walk. Abbreviated for ‘Perpetrator’s Walk’ is a terrible habit copied from the American legal system, which consists of parading innocent individuals before the media.
While in America only their lawyers get to speak, in Rwanda even the suspects are subjected to interviews and potential self-incrimination, before their trials have even started. Apparently this demonstrate that our anti-crime organs are ‘efficient’ and ‘working’. It is bad.
In America, ‘Public prosecutors’ are elected and usually run for governor after that. So this practice of ‘Perp walk’ is more of a political stunt rather than a quest for transparency.
In their campaigns for governor, former Prosecutors brag about the number of convictions, especially the people whom they sent to the electric chair – at times convicted innocently and usually the convicts are people of color…
But I digress; to have journalists asking if/why one did what they are accused of, or to have a police officer or a prosecutor making a statement on an ongoing case is a violation habeas corpus, the very basic rule of due process of law, which is Presumption of Innocence!
It may be acceptable, exceptionally, when the suspect has been caught red-handed (in the act), but still, it is unnecessary: a perfect example of ‘copy and paste’ of a pernicious western concept!
If journalists want to break the news on corruption and crime, they should camp at the stairs of courtrooms and interview lawyers and prosecutors at wish: AFTER a final decision has been found and the guilt of perpetrators established – not before!
As a lawyer I would never let my client’s reputation be permanently tarnished in that manner and I would call upon all learned friends to protect their clients. I also call upon my learned friends in the public prosecution and my colleagues in the media to act elegantly; to act Rwandan, at all times, even though that seems out of fashion in the outer world.
I was recently invited to speak to young students from Akila institute on why do people tell stories; why do writers write. I told them that in my opinion one should write to contribute to positive change. I may be wrong, but I believe we are all trying to build one country. I appreciate the pressures of running a sustainable media business and wanting to put one’s name out there.
But the Rwandan Constitution calls us to embrace a common vision of our destiny. We are doing this for ourselves, there is no need to tear each other apart.
People say ‘ngo abanyarwanda bakunda byacitse’. Let’s not fulfil that dystopian prophecy.
We need to give people a second chance, in an open and democratic society based on principles of human dignity, democracy and freedom!
I will end by wishing the best of luck to our new mayor, and express to him my full confidence as a citizen of the city of Kigali.
The writer is an Attorney and a governance consultant based in Kigali.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.