Open Letter to Tim Cooke of the BBC World Service

Mr Tim Cooke, on 4th June 2008, you sent me an open letter. Initially, I found no importance to respond to it. Today, December 9, 2008-over six months later, I have changed my mind. It is the day when the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Mr Tim Cooke, on 4th June 2008, you sent me an open letter. Initially, I found no importance to respond to it. Today, December 9, 2008-over six months later, I have changed my mind. It is the day when the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

It is pertinent to get and read this comeback on this day. I changed my mind because on the commemoration of such an important landmark, I believe it is necessary for us all to reflect on our collective responsibility to liberate mankind from genocide which the convention’s preamble describes as “an odious scourge”.

If you happen to find this letter a bit longer than expected, please bear with me, because I could not make it shorter than the message it is meant to convey.

Mr Cooke, your letter opened my eyes and showed me that the leadership of the BBC, especially those in charge of information regarding the Great Lakes, still have much to learn.

You wrote to me instead of the person who should have written to me, and, unfortunately, the letter you wrote was a disservice to the BBC.

In your letter, you seem to be telling me that the fact of repeatedly denouncing the faults of your journalists, like Mugenzi Ally Yussuf, is part of a project to belittle the BBC radio.

The word “BBC” appears 19 times in this letter and the “Great Lakes Service” 8 times. However, there is no mention at all of “Gahuzamiryango”, as the Rwandans know it.

And yet, the problem concerns the programme Gahuzamiryango rather than the BBC in its entirety. There are other problems with your letter, but they are not so serious to demand a response.

Even if you have the right to defend the radio for which you are working, you should have first asked questions about the damage done by some of the people who are invited to speak on the BBC Gahuzamiryango, and you should have looked for the best way to resolve the issue, rather than to write me an insulting letter which does not serve the interests of the Rwandan people, of the BBC or your professional interests.

Advice Which is Not Useful  
Since you have chosen to play the devil’s advocate, you should have taken the trouble to be better informed. I will now give you the necessary background. You should know that this controversy has existed for several years.

It’s a long time since I have been trying to talk to those who damage the image of the BBC, like Mugenzi, who by the way I know well, in order to solve the problems without things becoming too public.

I am convinced that they do a disservice to this radio which I like and whose programmes, in Swahili and English, I used to follow for many years before the appearance of the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi service.  

I tried everything, but in vain. At the end, the difficulties became apparent. A summary of the exchanges between myself and Mugenzi is reflected in the letter I wrote to him (in Kinyarwanda) on 20 March 2008.

Below are some excerpts from this letter in which I tried to set things out in the simplest manner, even if I was the one who had been wronged. 

“  … We don’t usually write to each other, since we normally speak on the telephone or ask about each other when we meet. The last time was in the afternoon of 13 March 2008.

Since then, I have waited all this time for you to apologize for the hurt you caused me, and for your insults on the telephone.

Afterwards, I called you twice to ask how you were, but you didn’t even want to talk to me. When you telephoned on 13 March, it was the second time that week, and you know the reasons why. 

I was not expecting to be insulted. Nor did I expect you to make it clear that you did not want to hear the useful advice I was giving you.  I think that was the only way you thought you could evade the real problem.

You will also recall that it was the second time I invited you to a public debate on the airwaves, and you declined the invitation. If you had listened to me, you would have known that there is a genuine problem that cannot be ignored.

...Irrespective of your behaviour, this was something that I could not give up on.  That’s why I wrote to you a week after our last telephone conversation. What you did not want me to say to you verbally, I will now say to you in writing.

I have explained to you on two occasions why I think it is very important that we talk. The reason was to exchange views about a long-standing problem on BBC radio, especially Gahuzamiryango for which you are responsible, and whose programme, “Imvo n’Imvano” you prepare.

The first time, you told me that you had to consult with the radio’s lawyers to know whether you should respond. You told me that a discussion with me would be a trap that I had set for you.

I have no desire to set any kind of trap for you. Isn’t it rather you who wants to set a trap for your listeners? Your determination to avoid speaking to me on the telephone, or to challenge each other on the radio is proof that you fear responding publicly to the question you know very well, and which you don’t want to resolve, and which I have put to you more than once.

Not only did you not want to listen to me, but you persisted in the mistakes that you should have corrected, or at least avoided. And that’s another reason which pushed me to write to you. 

Dear Colleague, as someone I know well, and with whom I lived with for a long time, I am telling you, and I have repeatedly been telling you since 2004, that I think  Gahuzamiryango is taking many Rwandans a step backwards because it has become a forum for those who deny the genocide.

And furthermore, some people use this radio to sow hatred and to promote the ideology of genocide.

Dear colleague, in this first letter I am writing to you, I would, in the first place, like to  respond to the question that you put to me, and in return to ask you more questions, always with the intention of finding a solution to the problem that the ideology of genocide is being propagated through the BBC’s Gahuzamiryango. And if I’m the one who’s mistaken, then let that error be aired.

You asked who I am, and what right I have to tell you who to speak with, or not speak with. Straightaway, I responded that it is my conscience, and my unwavering determination to fight the genocide which gives me this right.

There were other things I did not say at the time:
a) As a Rwandan, I have the responsibility to fight the ideology of genocide wherever it manifests itself. It’s also your responsibility, or at least it should be, as a human being in the first place and then as someone who works in the media. To exchange ideas on this subject would be a means of helping us in the struggle.

b) Secondly, I say it as someone who is capable of correcting the mistakes you are making. Of course, this is only possible if you are willing to recognize that there is a serious issue and if those responsible for these mistakes acknowledge them.

c) In the third place, I am saying it to you as someone I’ve known for a long time and with whom I had agreed on many points. There are certain journalists who worked with you, or who didn’t work with you, whose extremism you criticised.

I couldn’t say anything to them because I did not think that writing to them was the best way to give them advice. 

d) In the fourth place, I knew you as an honest and sensible journalist, so much so that I wonder how you cannot understand that to propagate an ideology as dangerous as that of genocide is both dangerous and shameful.   

On more than one occasion, I have told you that to let the spokespersons for the genocidaires or the representatives of their associations speak on your radio is a horror.

When I was telling you this, I thought I was giving advice to a friend whose responsibility was to promote sensible information.

I pointed out some of these associations to you, for example RDR (led by Umuhoza Ingabire Victoire) who are always changing their names in the hope of hiding who they are.

You told me that they consist of opposition political parties and that you speak with them in order to provide information which is impartial.  

I gave you some documents and suggested some others to help you understand that RDR and FDLR are, since their inception, associations of genocidaires who are trying, in vain, to camouflage themselves.

In a meeting that took place here in Kigali in 2005, you told me that there was no harm if these troublemakers speak on your radio and even suggested to put them in touch with me for a debate on BBC-Gahuzamiryango.

I told you that for me, it would be humiliating, and would betray my conscience, because it would mean giving value to the cruelty of the RDR and to all those who have lost all their value as human beings...”  

Mr.Cooke, I hope I have adequately set out the nature of the problem and my contribution in the search for solutions.

2nd PART in Tomorrow’s Issue

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