If you want to understand what is going on in Rwanda (and in deed what is wrong with Rwanda), you have to begin with the Rwanda New Times. A government owned but donor funded daily, the New Times is supposed to provide news to the English speaking elite, both Rwandan and foreign. Its mission statement, “To help become an exemplary and constructive media house” stands out for its deception. It would offer an elaborate tutorial for fascistic states on the art of propaganda. What it produces is far from being newsworthy, a fact that even Paul Kagame’s die-hard fanatics are at pains to deny. My argument is that the publication is by and large an indicator of the grotesque values and actions that are emblematic of Paul Kagame’s regime.
The New Times highly prizes lies and deception. Its writings offer nothing more than a platform for the state to wage out a full blown virtual war against the regimes opponents. Apparently, cyber war-fare is becoming a popular choice of weapon for the Rwandan state. While there is nothing inherently illegal or wrong with the government airing its own views, such an exercise needs not to be donor funded. Indeed, it is difficult to find the rationale that would compel donors to do so. For donors to finance a government owned media is to fail to learn from the episodic 1994 tragedy when such initiatives had direct contribution to the genocide.
Yet the donors continue to do so. In a way, this is neither shocking nor unexpected but it is repulsive. It is now common knowledge that the donor community has, for the last 17 years, accepted to be hoodwinked, manipulated and blackmailed by the Kigali regime. I use the word “accepted” not lightly in order to draw attention to the level of criminal complicit on the part of western actors. For it is impossible for any loving parent to care and provide for their children for a good 17 years, without knowing the true nature of the children’s character-- however nuanced it may be.
Far too many times, the New Times has been used as a tool for opposition bashing. In particular, the newspaper columnists are known for their scathing diatribes, often too incoherent to make sense. To them, anyone who disagrees with their tribal leader is a Rwanda hater. They are neither careful nor reasonable when appropriating the “genocide denier” crime. Their rhetoric is so hateful and unmeasured to unbelievable proportion. One would expect that a crime of such gravity as genocide would be better handled by seasoned lawyers and competent judges. This is clearly not the case for Kagame’s Rwanda.
It is through this newspaper, not Gacaca or the Rwandan judiciary that the crime of genocide denier has officially been extended to Tutsi. Four high ranking former members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Theogene Rudasingwa, Gen. Kayumba Nymwasa, Gerald Gahima and Col. Patrick Karegeya are nowadays the object of this newspaper’s daily ridicule. Since the four individuals declared their opposition to Kagame’s regime, they are called all kinds of names and accused of all kinds of things. For this newspaper, evidence is of little value. Fascism is to be glorified.
The attacks are not limited to time: bandwagons of ministers accuse the four individuals of crimes committed since childhood. One of the newspaper's regular columnist loudly declares that one of them, Theogene Rudasingwa, was a conman during his college years. Yet he does not explain why the RPF, knowing the man's conduct appointed him as its secretary general and later the ambassador to the United States. Where were these critics?
The brave contributions of these men in putting to an end the slaughter of Tutsis have all been sacrificed under the altar of Kagame’s worship. As they are quickly finding out, in today’s Rwanda only one man matters. Going against him is synonymous to committing suicide. You literally risk losing everything, including your own life. If you think I am overstating this: ask Kayumba Nyamwasa.
After 1994, we thought the days of Kangura and other hate Medias were completely behind us. But the New Times of today, hard-press us to ask the same questions that have since been avoided. Is it ethical for a newspaper financed by donor money to be devoted to character assassination and witch hunting? Does this send a message that is compatible with the much needed reconciliation? Sadly, these are questions that the New Times will certainly never bother to answer.
Often the regime which ranks high among the infamous list of predators of the press, responds to such criticism by pointing out that the media is responsible for the 1994 massacres. This has become the ready-made answer for their ridiculous opposition to free press. But anyone who analyzes Rwanda, and in particular the media, will not fail to acknowledge that it is government control of the media that was the problem to begin with. The RTLM was not an independent media; it was a government controlled one in the same tradition of the New Times. It is such government control that the international community and human rights activists should be worry of.
I write this when a good number of Rwandan journalists are languishing in jails or banished to permanent exile for crimes ranging from insulting the president to divisionism. Writing in opposition to the regime of Kagame may well be the most dangerous job in Rwanda today. However, despite their blatant disregard for journalistic standards, no writer associated with the New Times has so far been charged. I am not arguing that they need to be prosecuted for slander, defamation—although such charges may be very relevant. I am asking for fairness and equality. After all, aren’t these the virtues that Paul Kagame claims to stand for?