Home Special Reports What We Learnt At Youth Connect, Is Rwanda Journalism Yet To Fully Grasp Its Purpose?

What We Learnt At Youth Connect, Is Rwanda Journalism Yet To Fully Grasp Its Purpose?

by Vincent Gasana
12:00 am

President Paul Kagame speaking at Youth Connect 10 years anniversary

Listen to President Kagame at almost any address he gives, and if the words accountability, responsibility, are not explicitly mentioned, they are implicit in what he says. And so it was, a couple of weeks ago, during which among other short comings, the head of state, laid bare the lack of accountability within the country’s sporting insitutions. But a sector that escaped what would have been richly deserved censure, is surely the media.

In an address to young people, to mark the tenth anniversary of Youth Connect, President Kagame was at his most pedagogic, throwing a challenge to not only Rwandan youth, but their peers, who had travelled from all parts of the continent to join the celebration, at Intare arena, on the outskirts of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

After thanking the different countries and organisations, who have supported and continue to support Youth Connect, including UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), and many others, the head of state went straight to the central message of his address: what holds Africa and Africans back, and what responsibility do the youth have, individually and collectively, in not only asking, but finding answers to that burning question.

On its tenth year anniversary, the President wanted to thank those who came up with the idea of Youth Connect, those who now run it, and all who are part of it, because he said, it is the kind of organisation that builds. Often nation building can seem as if it is top down, he continued, starting with older people, but in truth it is bottom up, starting with the young.

Nation building, not only starting with the young, but also mindful of Rwanda’s history, as the country moves towards the desired future, he said, to his rapt audience. A future that unfolds with progress, a future that unfolds in accordance with what people wish their nation to be, from Rwanda’s own perspective in particular, and that of other African countries, generally.

“And as we build” he said, “we always ask ourselves…In fact, the youth especially, in everything you do, you should ask yourselves…we have here young people from Rwanda, and from other African countries, with whom we have much in common. Although it started in Rwanda, it’s good that Youth Connect expanded to many other countries, because we have similar challenges.”

“But do you ever ask yourselves…and you don’t have to have reached an advanced age to ask this, you need to ask it when you are still young; to ask yourself what makes Rwanda, Africa, under developed, where other parts of the world are more advanced. Why do you imagine that is?”

Having impressed upon his audience, the importance of always considering, asking this question, at every stage of their lives, he gave them some recent examples of what impedes Rwanda’s development, in particular, and Africa in general. One of these examples, was apparent corruption within the country’s sporting institutions.

“Take the example of sport, which we try to promote. Sport is profoundly important for personal development, not only physically but mentally, psychologically, and in many other ways. But recently, a culture of corruption within sport administration, came to my attention. And no federation is free from these habits.”

“Any sport, be it cycling, volleyball, football or basketball, whatever it might be, can never progress, if, instead of going into the development of that sport, the limited resources we have, go to one or two individuals, leaving nothing for anything else.”

“Consider, young people, just like you, who have the passion, and the capability…In fact, who would be even more capable, if they were better supported. And what do we see? You take say, twenty people, and you put them on a coach, to travel from here to Nairobi, for example to compete. The sport administrators travel by air, first class, ahead of the competitors, to meet them at the venue.”

“And not just that. The administrators do not travel alone. They take their families, friends, you name it. The competitors are not even provided with any refreshments. They arrive exhausted and hungry; sometimes the competition is over by the time they arrive. Or they get there just in time to start competing, hungry, and having had no time to rest.”

“On paper, ministerial and federation reports, detail competitions attended, what was spent, and that is that.” Normal service is resumed, he said, the young people return, no doubt exhausted, dispirited and say nothing.

He noted that the fault naturally lies with the supposed leaders of the federations, but the young people too, should exercise the responsibility of not accepting such conditions. “You should speak out” he told them, “not least so that we know, and make sure it does not continue to go on…”

Rwanda has indeed expended a great deal of energy, meagre resources and much thought, in sports development, as part of its investment in young people.

A group that witnesses all this, one whose entire reason for existence, is to reflect the country as it is, for readers, listeners and other audiences, is the media, the journalists.

There is not a single federation, which does not employ at least one journalist, as a communications or public relations consultant. It is inconceivable, that either these journalists, or their colleagues, would have been unaware of this kind of misconduct in the federations with which they work so closely. So, why did we hear virtually nothing of it from the media? Did journalists become so close to the federations, they became part of them, forgetting to do their own job?

Contratry to claims from Rwanda’s detractors, including organisations like Reporters Without Borders, human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led government, has done more than can be reasonably expected of any government, to encourage and nurture good journalism in the country.

In the media’s defence, the overwhelming majority of journalists are young, and inexperienced, and it would have taken not only experience, dedication to journalism, but courage and dogged determination, to take on what are vested interests in sport.

But any journalist breaking a story of such proportions, would have earned him or herself, well deserved applause. After all, many of these journalists identify themselves as investigative journalists, and such a story should be almost irresistable to any journalist, let alone one with interest in investigating any story, in all its depth.

Yet, it was left to the head of state to break the story, and for the media to react with bland reports of his trenchant criticism.

Even distant observation of the Rwandan head of state, is enough to see an ardent bibliophile, a perennial student of the world around him, who reads almost everything on which he can lay his hands, including news print.

That he did not express any surprise at the failure of journalism to have uncovered this story, should be taken as a measure of how far in its development the media still has to go.

While Reporters Without Borders, fatuously, preposterously, labelled him a “press predator”, the reality that is well known to to every Rwandan journalist, is that President Kagame has been and continues to be a champion of media and journalism development. We can be certain that it is not that the failure of journalism in this instance escaped his notice, it almost certainly did not.

Sometimes what is left unsaid, may be as important as what is. Is the reason he did not bother to mention this failure of journalism, perhaps because he thought, where does one begin? Or did he decide that it would be a long story all on its own, and did not want to be diverted from his message to his young audience.

Two weeks is a long time in a news cycle, especially in these days of digital media, but such speculation should surely occupy every Rwandan journalist who cares for his or her craft.

Is journalism falling so far below expectation, that one of its greatest champions does not even bother mentioning its failure?

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