Christopher Kayumba

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Walking the media tightrope in Rwanda | 

There are few simple stories in Rwanda.

There are official positions, which are often stated simply and unilaterally. But if you dig deeper, you often find multiple and complex story lines seething just below the surface.

Like the “We are all Rwandans” comment we hear so often.

What this can mean is that the ethnic tension between the Hutus and Tutsis, which spawned the 1994 genocide, persists but is generally taboo to talk about. By some accounts, this sense of ethnic division may even be on the increase due to the current government’s tendency to favor Tutsis.

Tom Paulson

IRP journalists interviewing in northern Rwanda

We are journalists exploring Rwanda through the International Reporting Project. And this is a country notorious in the West for its authoritarian tendency to put journalists in jail, fine them or otherwise punish critical commentary.

Some even end up dead.

That sounds like an easy target for condemnation – which many organizations, like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, do. Yet even this situation is more complex than it sounds.

Rwanda’s media in 1994 played a leading role in promoting, and to some extent even coordinating, the “Hutu Power” slaughter of some 800,000 mostly Tutsi men, women and children. So President Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government is not too sympathetic to arguments advocating unrestricted media freedoms.

Media independence and freedom of expression has been a lot of what we’ve been talking about – when we’re on the bus between meetings with officials, in private discussions with Rwandans we meet or maybe over beers recuperating from a day of mental exercise.

What’s not clear is how we should best report on it. Our primary host — and fixer — is a local journalist named Fred Mwasa who keeps saying things that make us nervous. Continue reading