When she was named the Minister of Information on March 7, 2008, many in the media were thrown into a state of uncertainty. Louis Mushikiwabo was relatively unknown when she was first appointed, and thus, people didn’t know what to expect. Similarly, Mushikiwabo may have been unsure about how to strategically position herself in a job that proved too difficult for her predecessor.
As someone who was just returning home after more than two decades, Mushikiwabo was unfamiliar with the problems dogging the Rwandan media.
Well, as a former head of communications department at the African Development Bank in Tunis, she most likely understood well the importance of providing timely information to journalists.
But her experience was short of the kind of maneuverings that characterize our local media scene. Besides, she came in at a critical time for our media as sweeping reforms were under way across the sector, top of which was revising the 2002 Media Law.
However, that state of affairs didn’t last. After a few familiarization, the author-turned-Minister was fast to adapt to the realities of the Rwandan media. Her fast comprehension of the task at hand meant that she quickly swung into action.
As her leadership style unfolded, she attracted both praises and criticism. Unlike her predecessor, Mushikiwabo deliberately took the uncompromising path.
She led the process to reform media laws while at the same time did not hesitate to take what she called ‘administrative measures’ against a section of the media she deemed unprofessional.
Her decision to isolate some media houses from state-sponsored functions, including media-related events, was unprecedented.
Mushikiwabo always stood out as one of the most respected ministers, her relatively brief stint in the Cabinet notwithstanding.
Her twin role as the Information Minister and Government spokesperson meant that she faced the international press whenever Rwanda was in the spotlight.
When Rwanda severed ties with Germany over the arrest of the Head of State Protocol, Rose Kabuye, she responded elaborately in English, French or Kinyarwanda.
Mushikiwabo’s critics point out that she rushes her decision-making often times. A case in point could be her handling of the ORINFOR saga, where she is believed to have been influenced into making uninformed decisions.
Her radical decision to sideline some newspapers from public functions including celebrations to mark the World Press Freedom day on May 2, 2008, is also unpopular, at least among press freedom activists.
Nonetheless, the legacy she leaves in our country’s media history as she moves to become the new Foreign Affairs minister is largely positive.
Nobody yet has been appointed to replace her at the Information portfolio. Her departure has caused a state of uncertainly as did her arrival.
During last Sunday’s live radio talk-show, President Paul Kagame did not state whether he would soon name her replacement.
Hopefully, the President will keep the Ministry of Information independent, and find a suitable person to build on Mushikiwabo’s achievements. Otherwise, good luck to Hon. Mushikiwacu (Kinyarwanda for ‘our sister’ – as she was fondly referred to by journalists) in her new responsibilities.
James Munyaneza is the 1st Vice President of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ)