On the Air: Rwanda's Media Challenges

By Li, Linda | Harvard International Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

On the Air: Rwanda's Media Challenges


Li, Linda, Harvard International Review


Rwanda's stringent media policies stand in stark contrast to the recent improvements in Africa's freedom of press. The issue of a free press in Rwanda is particularly complicated by its role in the 1994 genocide, in which close to one million Rwandans perished in a nationwide anti-Tutsi extermination campaign. As the country continues to recover from those horrors, the government has justified its repressive policy of heavy media censorship as a preventative measure for future tragedies. Rwanda's government must realize that progress toward good governance and development in the future relies upon an open-minded and unhindered press in the present.

The genocide--the culmination of decades of hostility between the Hutu power-holders and Tutsi outsiders--was promulgated by the "hate media" policies of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana and his ruling party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND). The Hutu MRND's two main instruments were the radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, supported by the president's family, and its print equivalent, Kangura, which was financed by members of the MRND, the government, and its military. The two outlets broadcasted and printed sensationalist anti-Tutsi and rebel faction news, depicting cartoons of Tutsi women using their sexual prowess on UN peacekeepers and promulgating the Hutu Ten Commandments which denounce Hutus who engage in any activity with Tutsis as traitors. Following the genocide, the government adopted a media censorship policy allegedly necessary to prevent another "hate media" tragedy Article 89 of current President Paul Kagame's media policy specifies, "Any attempt, via the media, to incite a part of the Rwandan population to genocide, is liable to the death sentence." In practice, however, this is used by the government to criticize and punish any dissident media members. Journalists have been arrested, jailed, and beaten for boldly uncovering stories of corruption, cronyism, and violations of human rights. So far this year, the victims include the director of the bimonthly journal Umurabyo, Agnes Nkusi-Uwimana, who was sentenced to one year in prison for publishing a reader's letter critical of the government; a Pan-African news agency journalist who was beaten; and many others who have been exiled on charges of divisionism, sectarianism, and libel. As such, the state-run press is largely pro-government while independent journalists either have their content filtered out or censor themselves.

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