Telling our story: Why Rwanda Television has to improve more

A business approach: Brand building is a crucial aspect of building a business. It is telling the world about the business, its value proposition.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

A business approach: Brand building is a crucial aspect of building a business. It is telling the world about the business, its value proposition.

The thing about focusing on building a brand is that even when you do not build a brand, you still do. You will be branded by someone else. Unfortunately, the branding you get in such circumstances is almost always wrong.

This is the situation Rwanda is at the risk of finding itself internationally and unfortunately even regionally. To explain, let’s consider two common jokes; the first, is the parlance that is in journalism classes on what is newsworthy; when a dog bites a man it is not news, it is only news when a man bites a dog.

The second is a local joke that made rounds on social media not long ago about a parent warning their young child that they will make them watch Rwanda Television if they don’t quit misbehaving. The kid adjusts and behaves well immediately!

These two jokes point to the hard and tough work ahead if we want to have our story as a country out there. There is already the seemingly natural bend by journalists, nay, readers, for sensationalism which sadly tends to be negative. 

Thus for us to get a slot to present a true and fair picture of ourselves is rather difficult. This gets even more complicated in light of being in Africa. The ‘dark continent’ tag seems to follow news from Africa, they are typically decidedly ominous.

Rwanda, like any other African country only gets airtime when something crazy happens. Lethargy applied to media coverage of Africa is hardly ever seen elsewhere.

Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina brilliantly captured this in his essay “How to Write About Africa”. He says “…you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the west,” he wrote.

“Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good.”

This is deep seated attitude that did not start yesterday ether. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once said in 1963, “Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach,” he wrote.

“But at present there is none: there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.” Hear that, some hotshot decided that we have no history.

That media is terribly important. Information is power and it is powerfully so is not in doubt. Good decisions are made on the basis of good information in good time. Any stock trader will tell you that it is as critical as air and water.

Mainstream media is the means of getting this across. Unfortunately, depending on the so called ‘international press’ to get out our story to’  the international community’ is as futile as a goat seeking justice when a hyena is seated on the judge’s chair.

As far as reporting goes, CNN is fixated on America, BBC is too British, Deutshwelle German, France24 very French and Al Jazeera goes on and on about Syria and Egypt crises. In between there is a show or two on Africa, all the 54 countries of us.

But as we say in Kiswahili, tusitukane giza, tuwashe mishumaa (let’s not curse the darkness-rather let light a candle). And this is where Rwanda Television comes in. News from Rwanda needs to get out there. Beginning with the region is a good way to begin.

Perhaps it could establish an English and Kiswahili channel and broadcast on platforms such as DSTV. As it is it is unlikely that content in Kinyarwanda per se will keep the international viewer tuned in.

But before that, they have to spruce up quite a bit. They cannot afford to be the TV channel that is used to ‘scare children’. The budding Rwanda artistes (musicians and movie stars) are a good resource base. May be we should put together imihigo to get things rolling?

We are doing some great stuff but they are not reported because they are not ‘news worthy’. Someone has to tell our story and RTV should champion that so that we can have a more robust and positive reporting of matters Rwandan.

Sam Kebongo is an Entrepreneurship Development Consultant with Serian Management Consultancy in Kigali.

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