A week after his death in a road accident, journalist John William Ntwali’s family, friends and colleagues, can now have the privacy to grieve for him. Everything had had to wait for the frenzied traffic of anti-Rwanda claims to subside, allowing the actual facts a chance to cut through it.
In our digital era, there is an ever present danger of becoming inured to misinformation, taking it as par for the course for our times. For Rwanda however, judging by its depiction by many among Western organisations, and media, this point where fiction easily becomes fact, was reached long ago.
It has now become standard to make any claim, however outlandish, against Rwanda, and it is accepted as fact. People, including journalists, who would normally be appalled by lack of evidence for the most trivial of statements, nod along sagely, when the Rwanda government, is accused of the gravest of crimes.
This was glaringly demonstrated, with the death of journalist, John William Ntwali, in a road accident.
Within a few hours of his colleagues announcing his death, Human Rights Watch (HRW), had released a statement, proclaiming, “Suspicious Death of Investigative Journalist.” The organisation goes on to quote one of its employees, in effect, quoting itself.
“’John William Ntwali was a lifeline for many victims of human rights violations and often the only journalist who dared report on issues of political persecution and repression,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are many reasons to question the theory of a road accident, and a prompt, effective investigation, drawing on international expertise, is essential to determine whether he was murdered.’”
It is just possible, that some young, well-meaning employee at HRW, might look at such a statement, and genuinely believe that a journalist may have been murdered. Afterall, it has been hammered into the consciousness of our young warrior for human rights, by his or her own organisation, that this is the sort of thing the Rwanda government habitually does.
It is highly unlikely however, that either Mudge, or indeed many of HRW’s experienced staff, believe that there is any truth in their unrelenting vilification of Rwanda.
Ntwali is just one more name they are quick to use, in their anti-Rwanda propaganda campaign, one that is manufactured inhouse, and disseminated far and wide.
First, Rwanda is depicted by HRW, as an oppressive, murderous state, where critics are “forcibly disappeared,” or even worse. The same organisation then levels accusations, which according to it, are substantiated by its own assertion that Rwanda is “a serial abuser of human rights.” Quite a convenient arrangement.
The accusation of “disappearances” is a particular favourite, which has done the rounds for well over a decade, and yet remains fresh, despite the fact that when asked, HRW struggles to name even just a few names of the “disappeared.” Instead, they often resort to technicalities. So and so, was not in touch with his family for this or that number of hours, therefore he – and it is almost always a he – was “technically disappeared.”
In the past, several of the supposedly disappeared, have miraculously reappeared variously, in hospitals, undergoing treatment for long illnesses, in their homes, having returned from long stays in neighbouring Uganda, and in one case, identified in an armed group, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In every instance, HRW defiantly declares that, “We stand by our report.”
They stood, and apparently still stand by their report in the famed, or should that be notorious account, accompanied with names and photographs of individuals, whom Rwanda security personnel allegedly summarily executed, in broad daylight, for the crime of petty thievery.
One by one however, the dead either turned up alive and well, or were found to have died of natural causes. What of it, shrugged HRW, who still stood by their report, and moved on to the next allegation.
And so once again, another alarm a grave crime raised. A fatality in a road accident? Unheard of, bring in an international investigation team, because, well, Rwanda must answer to HRW, the Commonwealth must call for it, national sovereignty be damned. Suddenly, the accident was now an “alleged accident,” and HRW’s rushed statement, the best guide to “what really happened.”
John Ntwali is said to be “the last independent journalist” in Rwanda, who was “regularly threatened.”
The claim of the “last independent journalist in Rwanda” is a familiar trope, taken from the fertile imagination of journalist, Anjan Sundaram, in his book, “Bad News,” the same book in which he depicted the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), as heroic rebels, fighting against what he termed “the repression.”
At the time of writing his book, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led government of national unity, was fighting a bitter war against an insurgency, which launch attacks from its base in the DRC. Made up of the defeated perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, they were fighting to return to Rwanda, and as they put it, finish where they left off.
Perhaps Sundaram was seduced by the words “Democratic” and “Liberation” in FDLR, and believed mass murderers of men, women and children, to be brave warriors against the “repression.” In any case, he can congratulate himself on inventing, and it now seems, popularising, the notion of “the last independent journalist in Rwanda.”
Oddly enough, for someone who was “regularly harassed and threatened,” Ntwali, like many of his colleagues, in other media organisations, spent a great deal of his working time, in official venues, at press conferences, to which usually only a limited number of journalists are invited. He was not looking over his shoulder, wary of “staged road accidents.”
The journalist’s memory has now been seemingly pressed into service, for HRW’s anti Rwanda propaganda campaign. And we should be in no doubt that a propaganda campaign is precisely what the organisation embarked upon, these last two decades.
Having concocted a perception of Rwanda, where anyone who does not toe the government line, is in grave danger, they ironically latch onto instances that contradict their anti Rwanda propaganda. If he were “a lifeline for many victims of human rights violations and often the only journalist who dared report on issues of political persecution and repression” how no earth did he manage to remain safe and at liberty for almost twenty years.
The truth is that Ntwali, was doing his job, alongside many of his colleagues. The hastily constructed image of him, is as far removed from reality, as the organisation’s depiction of Rwanda.
That HRW can continue to shrug off this clear perversion of what it purports to stand for, is because it can be confident that when it comes to Rwanda, most news organisations, pay little heed to the normal practice of crosschecking their facts. The most transparently tendentious claims from HRW are taken at face value.
The BBC lends its considerable weight to claims that “Friends and relatives” of John Ntwali, “called for an independent, international investigation into his death…” They did no such thing. We are told that the journalist “had not been seen since reporting to a police station…”, except that he was neither arrested, nor called to the police station.
The fact that neither Ntwali’s friends, nor his family did any such thing, or that he had not been in contact with police, prior to his fatal accident, apparently, neither here nor there. For background, the outright inaccuracies are garnished with cut and pasted assertions about Rwanda, gathered over the last decade.
Not to be outdone, the Guardian, joins the ‘there must be an independent investigation camp’, quoting someone or other – it is of little importance at this stage, since they merge into one – who claims that there is still no police report.
Not only is there a police report, produced soon after the journalist’s death, but the police now inform all media that they are no longer able to comment, because the file has been handed over to the prosecution service.
The Guardian’s reporter, writing from Nairobi, would have known this, if she had picked up the telephone, and spoke to the relevant officials in Kigali, who are arguably the most accessible public officials anywhere. The Guardian, like the BBC, is one of the world’s major news organisations, from which one expects the highest standards of journalism.
But like the BBC, it too, seems to have come to the conclusion that such standards need not be apply, when it comes to Rwanda. Lately, the paper has become journalist Michela Wrong’s newsletter, in which she wages a relentless propaganda campaign against Rwanda.
And she has of course, had a great deal to say, about the death of Ntwali. The Guardian quotes her usual chant about Rwanda, “a regime…extrajudicial killings…disappearances…journalists…human rights…blather, blather, blather…” For Rwanda’s detractors, the country never rises to possessing a government, it always has “a regime,” this, in the hope of delegitimising the country’s government.
For sheer drama, and creativity however, the prize must go to Canada’s Globe&Mail, with special mention to the newspaper’s grandly titled, Africa Bureau Chief, Geoffrey York. Mr York, one of the usual suspects, in the demonisation of Rwanda, seized his chance, and was never going to let something as mundane as facts, get in a way of what he no doubt believes to be a great story.
“John Williams Ntwali, one of Rwanda’s last independent journalists, dies in mysterious accident” proclaims the paper’s headline portentously. The opening line keeps pace the headline: “For years, John Williams Ntwali knew he could die.” At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, so alas do we all. But perhaps Mr York should be allowed a fair wind, to see where he would take us.
The paper informs us that after reporting on a case of “disappearances” John Ntwali, who had been arrested “several times” for his journalism, was “summoned to the police station” where we are told, he was “disappeared” following which, his relatives were informed of his death in a road accident.
Even if this had been anywhere near a true reflection of the actual events, it would of course, have been possible that after going through all that, the person concerned could still have been involved, in a fatal road accident. In such circumstances, it would not have been unreasonable to express scepticism. As it is however, this is where we must part company with Mr York, certainly, if we are interested in the actual facts.
John Ntwali had not been under arrest, in fact, far from having been arrested “several times” he had ever been arrested just once, in 2016, when he had been accused of sexual assault, by a young woman. Those charges were eventually dropped, for lack of sufficient evidence. He was never arrested for his journalism, or “warned” about it.
But the claim of Ntwali being constantly in and out of police stations, has proved too irresistible for publications and organisations, who either out of sloppiness, or an agenda to advance, have imagined it, and then asserted it as fact.
“In his 20-year journalism career, the 43 year old Ntwali, had been detained or summoned several times by the Rwanda Police Criminal Investigation Department to answer questions about some of the articles or publications on his media platforms” writes VOA authoritatively, about events that never actually took place.
With major Western media pointing in a specific direction, some African news organisaations, which in the same breath as demanding that “Africa must tell its own stories”, often just regurgitate what Western news organisations pour forth, followed suit.
Ntwali, had been arrested “multiple times” Kenya’s The EastAfrican, confides. They quote journalist Anjan Sundaram, who obliges with a tweet that Ntwali, “was on a hitlist of Rwandan reporters critical of the government.”
Luckily for Rwandan reporters, the government seems particularly absent minded, when it comes to harming its intended targets. Ntwali had worked as a journalist, unhindered, for the best part of twenty years. Had the government just forgotten that it intended to do him harm?
“Media is tightly controlled in Rwanda and journalists critical of President Kagame and his ruling party have been jailed, have disappeared or turned up dead throughout his 30 years in power” continues the paper, which could not name a single of these media victims if asked.
But perhaps that is a little unfair on the EastAfrican, which despite having several able representatives in Rwanda, contented itself with lifting the story from AFP.
Old habits die hard, and apparently the habit of having someone else tell your story remains in rude health.