If you have been wondering why foreign media reports about Rwanda seem repetitive, with little, if any accurate information about the country, wonder no more. We have solved the mystery: most articles about Rwanda in foreign media are in fact one and the same article, jigged here and there, to update them, or it.
The latest offering of what shall henceforth be referred to as The Article, or The Rwanda Article, depending on the duty editor’s generosity with word count, is from Ms Mel Frykberg, writing in IOL, a news website, which promises us “a mix of news across politics, sport, business…Telling your stories and driving change” That last bit presumably means that IOL is a campaigning publication.
Rwandans and others who know the country well, will immediately note a couple of familiar anomalies about Ms Frykberg’s efforts: the article will seem familiar, and tell them nothing about Rwanda. They are guaranteed to come across The Article again, numerous times in fact. But, fear not. Help is at hand. We have devised a way we hope will helpfully relieve the frustration and tedium, when they are next tantalised with a promise of information about Rwanda, but, are instead offered The Article: every time you see The Article, immediately allocate it one hundred points. Thereafter, the reporter loses ten points every time he or she fails to demonstrate that they have at least attempted to freshen it with any new information.
So then to begin with Ms Frykberg’s Headline, “How Rwanda’s Paul Kagame’s bad relations could cause destabilisation”. Not a promising start. It is not the pithiest of headlines, and it could have come from a school newsletter, sub edited by a twelve year old, begging the twelve year old’s pardon.
We are immediately told that President Kagame is “anti Democratic” and “his sour neighbourly relations…are proving a destabilising influence in the region…” To be fair, there is something new here: deteriorating relations with Uganda. Although this too is more by default, than by design. Even then, it necessarily has to be turned upside down, because one of the main rubrics of The Article, is that President Kagame must always be painted as the villain of the piece, any piece. The truth must always be sacrificed at the altar of this all important objective.
Far from being the cause of any increased tension between Uganda and Rwanda for instance, it is because of the approach Rwanda has taken that any escalation continues to be avoided. For over two years, Rwanda has put its grave grievances to the Ugandan leadership, at all levels of government, including one to one discussions between Presidents Museveni, and Kagame.
It is only when quiet diplomacy fell on deaf ears, and the grievances intensified, that they have come into the public domain. A dispassionate article would have better informed its readers by examining the underlying reasons why conflict arose between two hitherto close neighbours. Not so for The Article, reluctantly therefore, we deduct ten points from Ms Frykberg.
Quoting Human Rights Watch (HRW) is also a must for The Article, indeed the organisation wrote the prerequisite checklist for any journalist who expects a turn to the byline on The Article, and so duly, “according to HRW, political opposition leaders have been forced into exile…critical press is muzzled…harrumph, harrumph, harrumph…” A feature of these claims, the mere assertion of which is always deemed sufficient, is that no evidence is considered necessary. It is claimed therefore it must be true seems to be the inference.
And when examples of this villainy are mentioned, the same names are always trotted out. We are asked to accept that this is a government (or “regime” as is the preferred term), with a predilection for oppressing its citizenry, and yet for well over a decade, we are given the same names as evidence for this addiction.
This is either gross indolence, a reluctance to live up to its supposed oppressive nature, or possibly an indication that said government is unjustly maligned. A decent article must surely wonder why if the government in question is so dastardly, there are not several examples of its continued villainy. The Article however glosses over this contradiction time, and time again, and so, Ms Frykberg loses another ten points.
For The Article, accuracy is more often than not, more of a suggestion, than a mandatory requirement. “In February, Rwanda suddenly closed border points with Uganda” Ms Frykberg informs us. In fact, the Katuna border post was temporarily closed for reconstruction, and only heavy traffic redirected elsewhere. Light vehicles could still cross.
Separately, Rwanda advised, and still advises Rwandans not to travel to Uganda, because Uganda security forces are targeting them for arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and alleged mistreatment amounting torture.
There is now overwhelming evidence to make this a fact rather than mere allegation, evidence which includes first hand accounts from individuals who have been unlawfully imprisoned, and allegedly tortured.
Any article would look into the whys and wherefores of this. Instead what we get from Ms Frykberg is “Kigali upped the ante by accusing Uganda of kidnapping its citizens”. Quite why Rwanda would manufacture such a grave allegation against its closest neighbour is never explained.
And it cannot be explained. Doing so would contravene The Article’s principal objective, that of traducing President Kagame, depicting him as the pantomime villain, responsible for souring relations with all and sundry. “Once allies who supported each…” Frykberg tells us, “Yoweri and Museveni are now hostile to each other…” Wait…what? Who hostile to whom?
He is accused of much, but, as yet, no one has suggested that President Museveni suffers from a split personality, with Yoweri at odds with Museveni.
Another feature of The Article is school boy errors, perhaps resulting from too much cutting and pasting, certainly a lack of research. But, we shall chalk that down to poor sub-editing, and deduct no points from Ms Frykberg. This time.
No incarnation of The Article is complete without mention of Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Ms Frykberg is faithful to that stipulation. “Kagame has in fact instigated several conflicts and interfered in Congolese politics for the past two decades”. Ms Frykberg can certainly be commended for brevity. A single line about a conflict that was dubbed “Africa’s First World War”, for the number of nations involved in the conflagration in the DRC.
After the 1994 Rwanda genocide against Batutsi, France, which had fully supported, armed and on occasion even fought alongside the genocidal establishment, helped the defeated murderers flee from the advancing Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) forces to the DRC, then Zaire. There they set up their self styled government in exile, which would launch murderous attacks into Rwanda. The RPF pleaded with the International Community to move them away from the Rwanda border, to a distance stipulated in international law.
Not surprisingly, given France’s influence as one of the permanent members of UN Security Council, these pleas fell on deaf ears. The RPF was left with two options: standby and watch mass murderers, “finish where they left off”, as they themselves put it, or cross into the DRC and defeat them there too. They chose the latter course.
It is a nuanced tangled, story, and any article worth the description would at least allude to that underlying complexity. For The Article however, the objective is not to inform, but rather to demonise President Kagame, who at the time was the Commander of the RPF forces. And so it has to be another ten points deduction.
A further ten points has to be deducted for being a little behind the times. Although The Article remains fundamentally the same, every time it is submitted, it has been tweaked here and there, over the years. It used to be for instance that the following phrases were mandatory: “Kagame is a darling of the West”, “UN/AU turns a blind eye to his…blah, blah, blah” “He has transformed the Rwandan economy”. Ironically, in part due to the claims against Rwanda so often repeated in The Article, these phrases are less common within it now.
Good husbandry of the Rwanda’s economy has to be acknowledged, albeit through greeted teeth. It is too visible a sign of progress, which would be too absurd for even The Article to ignore.
But, “darling of the West” has fallen into disuse. On the whole however, Ms Frykberg does follow the guidelines for writing The Article, and consequently any of her readers who hoped to learn something about the actual country that is Rwanda, as opposed to the Rwanda depicted in The Article, will unhappily remain none the wiser.
Vincent Gasana is a journalist and programme maker.