I’d really never felt the urge to read the ‘Liberation’, the French-leftist newspaper founded by Serge July and the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in 1973, until recently.
Firstly, I could barely understand the intricacies of French leftist politics. Secondly, my French was too rudimentary to even begin to unravel the intricacies of French leftist politics.
So, in a few words, I’ve made it a habit to steer well clear of Gallic newspapers. However, I’ve decided that this bias is counterproductive as I’ve missed real journalistic gems courtesy of my French colleagues.
Sadly though, Sophie Bouillon’s September 12, 2011 piece in ‘Liberation’ titled “On se dit bounjour, mais elle rest mon ennemie: Réconciliés à marche forcée par le président Kagame, les Rwandais taisent leurs douleurs afin de redresser l’économie de leur pays” is nothing but fool’s gold.
In the article, Ms. Bouillon, the 2009 winner of the prestigious Prix Albert Londres for best French journalist, made the biggest mistake of the profession, in my opinion.
She blatantly lied and intentionally looked for scandal, even where it wasn’t. I don’t have the space to write down her entire thesis on Rwanda’s development and reconciliation policy, but I will give you some translated excerpts.
She begins her piece in Gisenyi, where she is interviewing Alice, a 53-year-old genocide survivor who lost her husband and two children during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
According to the article, Alice’s late family was killed after a wife to their neighbour handed them over to the killers. What surprised Bouillon was that the wife, who denounced them and directly led to the three deaths, lived just next door.
In Alice’s words, “we say hello when we meet. We live in peace. But in reality, she is still my enemy”.
That makes perfect sense to me. And if she spoke to survivors in this country, they would tell you that living next door to those that killed their kin is extremely challenging - nothing new there. But, where Ms. Bouillon goes off the rails is in her next paragraph.
She said that the RPF had informers in each and every neighborhood in the country (where she got that tidbit of information I have no idea. She did not attribute any source to base that ‘fact’ on) and falsely stated that forgiveness was mandated by the Gacaca law.
Ms. Bouillon then goes on to directly blame Alice’s psychological and emotional trauma on the ‘forced’ forgiveness. While I cannot discount the fact that seeing the woman who denounced her family walking around the village is traumatic, we cannot ignore the effects of this woman seeing her family hacked to pieces.
The ‘pain in her heart’ that Sophie Bouillon talks about is probably post-traumatic stress disorder. Somehow trying to blame the Government’s policy of reconciliation for her trauma is unfair.
After milking Alice’s emotional story, she comes out with what I call the ‘same old story’ of ethnic politics. Quoting Victoire Ingabire, she says that “genocide is acknowledged but crimes committed by the RPF ignored.”
Again, this is shoddy journalism. If she had done even a bit of research, she would have found out that trials against RPF troops that committed war crimes took place, and sentences were handed out.
I think the next paragraph that followed her ethnic spiel was the most insulting to the Rwandan people who’ve worked so hard to make the country’s renaissance possible.
While admiring the fact that “social security works, infrastructure is good and that by 2020 half of the population should have access to electricity”, she says that this kind of growth is because there has been “massive looting of Congolese coltan mines”.
Well, again if she had done even a little research, she would have found out that Rwanda is in the forefront of the Central African mineral certification programme and is attempting to tag all the minerals mined and traded in the country.
So, far from being the ravenous country of pirates that she’s attempting to portray, Rwanda is following a policy of transparency.
She goes on and on, saying that Rwanda’s media is muzzled (ignoring that there are 26 radio stations, 32 newspapers and three TV providers), the political opponents are expelled (in my experience, they leave by themselves), that there is Umuganda (a monthly exercise that has made neighbourhoods and streets clean), that adultery is punished (this is part of the 1977 Penal Law; the criminal code that is being rewritten doesn’t make adultery a crime) and that listening to music in public transport is prohibited (anyone who goes travels in the mini-buses knows this isn’t true).
While Rwanda has its challenges, the attempt to make it seem dark, scary and repressive is a disservice to your readers, Ms. Bouillon. Shame, shame.