Home Special Reports Rwanda Flood Disaster: Viewers Misinformed by Western Media’s Blind Spot On Rwanda

Rwanda Flood Disaster: Viewers Misinformed by Western Media’s Blind Spot On Rwanda

by Vincent Gasana
3:57 pm

Medical service at Kanyefurwe emergency centre in Rugerero sector

A week or so after the deadliest floods to have hit Rwanda in recent memory, those among Western media, who mentioned the disaster at all, have moved on to the next story.

This is to be expected, it is in the nature of media. But it should also be expected that the few seconds’ coverage those networks devoted to the disaster, should give at least, a clear, informative picture of the response to the floods. That they did not, is revealing of Western media’s depiction of Africa in general, and Rwanda, in particular.

It is going to take some time for the parts of north, south and western Rwanda, which were hit by the floods, to recover. The loss of 131 people, many of them children, leaves hurt that will be difficult to heal. Some of those affected, may have to live with the sadness of loss, for the rest of their days.

The young mother, whose little boy told her to hold him tighter, so they would not fall. She did hold on to him as closely as she could, but they were overcome by the violent flow of the waters, and he drowned. She bears the pain with extraordinary fortitude that conceals what must be inconceivable agony.

As might be expected, the local authorities in the affected areas, were overwhelmed, but they did not have to manage alone. The response from central government, was almost immediate, and at speed.

Giving his condolences to the bereaved, the head of state, President Paul Kagame, assured them that their loss was the nation’s loss, and that he would personally take charge of efforts give them whatever help and support they now needed.

Deeds rarely match words, but Rwandans have become accustomed to taking their head of state at his word. No sooner had the promise been made than its fulfilment began. The approach was systematic and highly organised. In a race against expected further rains, the emergency services embarked on a rescue operation.

The Rwanda National Police (RNP), looked for those still trapped in their houses, the missing, they delivered food, ushered people to temporary shelters, while also continuing their normal policing duties. Contrary to what we hear from Rwanda’s detractors, Rwandans are always assured by the mere sight of uniformed personnel.

The country’s military, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), receives the highest approval rating of any institution, year in year out. Whether in good times or bad, they are a reassuring presence for people. And they were again on this occasion, as they were called to support the emergency services.

There was nothing to be done for the dead, except give them a dignified funeral and burial, not least to comfort their loved ones. The living were provided with food, temporary shelter, and promised that more long term support will follow, until they can get back on their feet.

Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente(R) at the burial of rain disaster victims

The prime minister, Edouard Ngirente visited the stricken areas, accompanied by the Minister for Emergency Management, Solange Kayisire, whose presence in the disaster areas has been almost daily.

If you relied on Western media coverage for your information however, you will have been barely aware of any of this heightened activity. With emergency services, the military, politicians, including the minister in charge of overseeing the response to the disaster, available for comment, and no one sought to approach them. Those who mentioned the government’s response, did so in passing, as though it was uninvolved, or far away from the people at a time of their greatest need.

The longest film, just over four minutes, was by Deutsche Welle (DW). Rather than learn more from any of the authorities on the ground, after showing the scenes of devastation, DW thought it more informative to speak to one of their journalists, in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, more than 500 kilometres from the scene of the disaster.

Reporting for France24, Charli James, at least informed her viewers that the government had rushed in aid to the afflicted areas, but the same channel went on to inform the world, that Rwandans were “seeking shelter wherever they could,” over pictures of people in the open. The truth of course, is that no one would sleep outside, as the government was providing temporary shelters, and coordinating members of the community, like Churches, who could help.

Take a bow Al Jazeera, for at least showing the prime minister, comforting the bereaved, and reiterating that further would be on its way. And a pat on the back for NBC News, for all of two minutes thirty seconds, although yet again, no indication of the kind of response to the disaster, and viewers will have been left with the image that “much of Rwandan was left in ruins.” Few if any Rwandans, are unaware of the destruction in parts of their country, but they will be surprised to learn that “much of their country is in ruins.”

In the ruins caused by Sebeya’s floods, Nyamiri cell, Rugerero sector

It was however left to arguably the world’s most established broadcaster, the BBC, to make a mockery of its much publicised reputation. Person after person, was invited to come in front of the camera, to complain about what they had not been given.

The one woman who broke rank, and insisted that the authorities were doing all that could be done, seemed to come under considerable pressure to toe the line, and complain about the government. But she stood her ground, making the point that so many people had been affected by the floods, that it is inevitable that there would be the odd person the authorities had yet to reach. And anyway, she added, the authorities had made it clear that they were delivering emergency aid, and more long term support would arrive in due course.

In a nod to balance, responses from the authorities were given in writing, across the screen. But the ship to objective reporting had already sailed, leaving them moored to a distorted picture, they presented to their viewers. It would have done the corporation more credit if they had not bothered at all.

The BBC’s expertise is second to none, and yet, when it comes to reporting on Rwanda, their reports are consistently what they themselves would present as an example of how not to do journalism.

Food provision in the Rugerero emergency centre

Perhaps although reasonable, it is nonetheless too easy to see the BBC logo, and hold the organisation accountable for a transparently agenda driven report. There was after all, nothing and no one preventing the producer and reporter on the ground, to do a properly balanced report that might have measured up to the standards so often trumpeted by the BBC. Even as they deliberately, or inadvertently gave the impression that not enough was being done for people, only a metre away from where people were complaining to them, others were receiving the needed provisions. The BBC crew needed only to have pointed a camera to either side of them to see the true picture, instead, they kept their lens blinkered.

But then again, there seems nothing to prevent reporters and producers, from broadcasting clearly tendentious reports, that make a mockery of the BBC own guidelines for impartiality. As in everything else, if rules and regulations matter, they are policed and enforced. When it comes to Africa in general, and Rwanda in particular, there is little if any policing or enforcement.

Of course, some of these organisations may argue that they did not wish to be seen to be doing public relations for the government of Rwanda, that they have a duty to produce critical reports. And that would be well and good, but critical reporting does not mean misinforming viewers, because the truth would speak well of a government you would rather condemn.

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