As the government of Rwanda steadily regains momentum in striving to revitalize its economy and welfare of the people after the destruction of the social/moral fabric in the 1994 Genocide in which the media played a major role in stirring up propaganda based on hate, ethnic and regional sectarianism, sections of independent newspapers are still attempting to take the country in the same direction.
The government of national unity has undoubtedly built the rule of law where the press sector has, as other sectors of society, been encouraged and facilitated to work in freedom and harmony in the hope of harnessing its contribution towards healing the country of the evils of the recent past.
The press sector which is generally considered as the fourth power after the executive, parliamentary and the judiciary is under normal circumstances, expected to play a key role in correcting all the past evils in society that were created by the previous regimes; but unfortunately and with impunity, some are just bent on dragging us back into the dark days.
This is against a background where many countries and high profile personalities based on the very good performance in the security, investment and good governance sectors globally, consider the Rwandan government exemplary. Some local independent newspapers especially novice media practitioners are most of the time erroneously lured to think that having a consistently critical editorial line - unprincipled and being negationist/revionist - is all that makes a good and professional journalist.
The President of the Republic, Paul Kagame, has consistently called upon these ham-fisted journalists to change such behaviour and recommended that the press sector get on-the-job training so as to enable them meet their respective expectations in their career. All this otherwise extremely valuable advice has, however, fallen on deaf ears as some local newspapers keep on publishing anti-government tailored articles that only aim at endangering state security. One must stress here that despite this behaviour, none of such papers has ever been banned, and they continue to publish their, I beg to say satanic stories, without hindrance.
Some of those articles negate for instance the most reasonable, fair and appraisable efforts by the Head of State to redistribute land, saying that instead of earning praise for his efforts the President must be blamed for all the redistribution process (Umuseso: Ibikingi: Kagame akwiye kunengwa aho gushimirwa.). Honestly, this action of redistributing land in such a fair manner is something that was all fairness regarded by many people including local, regional and international communities as heroic and really worth being appreciated. Surprisingly these so-called independent journalists criticized it energetically, casting doubt in their much-sung independence.
Some of these newspaper chief editors were either taken to court by individuals not linked in any way to the government over defamation or beaten up in unclear circumstances, but they can still afford to blame the genuine reaction of those they wrong onto government. For instance, the very vocal Charles Kabonero has been charged twice by two different private individuals over defamation and he lost the trial, and now unashamedly blames his fate on government. One wonders if he expects to write all the nonsense like he does, on individuals and government and expect to be given a blank cheque for impunity with no consequences in the courts of law.
What is amazing, however, is the way some international organisations turn a blind eye on these newspapers’ demagogic spirit and prefer to propagate their impunity even when they know the truth and damage they cause to our nascent democracy.
A clear example is the Reporters Without Borders which recently issued a report alleging that the extent of government’s hostility pushed some newspapers into closure. In its annual report of 2008, this organization tries to play the role of the devil’s advocate in supporting delinquents many of whom were condemned by courts and who have nothing to do with politics. It cites people like Agnes Nkusi Uwimana, former editor of the privately-owned bi-monthly Umurabyo, messing up things in the passage where it says that "any criticism of the government is swiftly repressed, sometimes brutally", referring to Agnès Nkusi Uwimana’s article.
The named journalist was sentenced to jail over propagating divisionism in the population, a charge she pleaded guilty to and accepted to apologise publicly in the same newspaper. Her article was entitled, "Whoever kills a Tutsi is in deep trouble, but any who kills a Hutu is at liberty".
The Reporters Without Borders do confuse two things: Creating divisionism and sectarianism has nothing to do with criticising the government, and the scourge is repressed by the constitution and hence courts of law and not the government.
Therefore, all well-wishing people and international organisations should know that some of the so-called independent journalists, who base their editorial lines on their own judgments, are not independent as they claim, but may instead have joined the bandwagon of those fighting government who include some ill-intentioned international organisations.
We need to be vigilant in correctly interpreting messages delivered by such newspapers and shun the deliberate negative propaganda that is often transmitted through what they think is a hidden agenda but is to many becoming an open strategy to retard us or at their best, drag us back into the 1994 era. With better capacity to comprehend, however, these journalists should by now have known that Rwandans have passed the test and cannot accept to be derailed especially by the likes of these journalists, but like the saying; common sense is not common to all.