“Rwanda has been such a good surprise for me,” was all a vividly confounded Angolan journalist, Maria Luisa de Carvalho-Rogerio, could say as we drove from the Kigali International Airport on the night of August 24, ahead of the opening of an international conference on gender and media, last week.
Her sentiments about the country, which has had its fair share of unfair coverage by specifically western media organisations, were shared by most first-time visitors, at the Kigali conference. Indeed, there was a general feeling among the delegates that Rwanda’s story has been gravely distorted and manipulated by the world media.
“Which language do you speak – Hutu or Tutsi?” one of them innocently asked me. First I was shocked that an African journalist, more especially one from a country that is not so distant– believed Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were tribes, with distinct languages and different cultural traits.
Such is how the armchair and propaganda-driven western media have unfairly shaped the world’s view of Rwanda. Billions around the world have been denied the right to know the truth about the turbulent history of this country, particularly the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and the stunning recovery and economic development it has witnessed in the last 17 years.
Later on, the delegates had a chance to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, home to the remains of more than 250,000 Genocide victims. I was in their company and saw how shattered they became, not because of the human remains they saw – after all it’s a memorial – but how ignorant they were about the country’s tragic past.
Many were shocked to learn that thousands were killed during the pogroms of 1959 and that hundreds of thousands were hounded out of their country and condemned to exile, without hope of ever returning home!
I have been to the same memorial several times, but never seem to get used to the sad events that successively unfolded in Rwanda following the advent of colonialism. Like the visitors, I was taken aback by a statement by former president Gregory Kayibanda, when he said: “The Hutu and the Tutsi communities are two nations in a single state. Two nations between whom there’s no intercourse and no sympathy, who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were inhabitants of different zones or planets.”
For those unfamiliar with Rwanda’s history, Mr Kayibanda was among the chief architects of the hate ideology, although he would himself later fall victim to the secterian tendencies he personally helped create. Thanks to more than four decades of concerted and systematic indoctrination of this hate ideology across Rwandan hills, more than a million citizens were butchered in a spell of 100 days!
Of course, there was always foreign influence, from the days of Monseigneur Perraudin, to modern times when the dynamics in the country are being deliberately distorted.
That propaganda continues to date, albeit with a new language – democracy. That’s why some shameless individuals have the guts to compare Victoire Ingabire with Burma’s democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi! That a lady whose first public statement in Rwanda, hours after her arrival from the Netherlands, last year, was to cynically inquire about the whereabouts of the remains of the Hutu victims of the Genocide after she visited Kigali Memorial Centre, was referred to as a beacon of hope for Rwanda’s democracy is simply insulting to say the least. Here is an individual whose next stop from the memorial was the grave of Mbonyumutwa, the godfather of the Hutu Power ideology, before heading to a prison in Rubavu where she expressed sympathy for Genocide convicts/suspects, assuring them she had come to rescue them from oppression. There is your Suu Kyi of Africa, at least in the eyes of sections of the western media!
“It’s a shame that I had never comprehended what exactly this country went through. It’s a big failure on my part as an African... I can never understand how you have managed to get yourselves going as a nation once again,” said an overwhelmed Aseba Baba Nahaya, a journalist from Nigeria.
Yet the African media, too, continues to disappoint. I have said it before and I will keep doing it, time and again. It’s incomprehensible that, in this day and age, the African media entirely relies on western outlets to tell the African story. The African media have failed to capitalise on the internet to feed each other with news coming out of their own countries. In the end, they have allowed the western media to shape the world’s opinion about Africa.
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