Rwandans are marching, that much is true. But only where we want to go

I’d never really felt the urge to read the ‘Liberation’, the French-leftist newspaper founded by Serge July and the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in 1973, until only recently. First, because I could barely understand the intricacies of French leftist politics. Secondly, because my French was too rudimentary to even begin to unravel the intricacies of French leftist politics. So, in a few words, I’ve made it a habit to steer well clear of Gallic newspapers. However, I’ve decided that this bias of mine is counterproductive because I’ve missed real journalistic gems courtesy of my French colleagues. Sadly however, Sophie Bouillon’s 12, September 2011 piece in ‘Liberation’ titled “On se dit bounjour, mais elle rest mon ennemie: Réconciliés à marche forcée par le président Kagame, les Rwandais taisent leurs douleurs afin de redresser l’économie de leur pays” is nothing but fool’s gold.

Ms. Bouillon, 2009 winner of the prestigious Prix Albert Londres for best French journalist, made the biggest mistake that a journalist can make, in my opinion. She blatantly lied and intentionally looked for scandal, even where it wasn’t. While I simply don’t have the space to write down her entire thesis on Rwanda’s development and reconciliation policy, I will give you some translated excerps.

She begins her piece in Gisenyi, where she is interviewing Alice, a 53 year old genocide survivor who lost her husband and two children in April 1994. During the interview she found out that Alice’s late family was denounced by the wife of their neighbor, the husband killed them. What surprised Bouillon was that the wife, who denounced them and directly led to the three deaths, lived just next door. In Alice’s words, “we say hello when we meet. We live peace.  But in reality she is still my enemy”.

That sounds makes perfect sense to me. And if she spoke to any survivor in this country, they would tell you that living next door to those that killed their kin is extremely challenging. Nothing new there. But where Ms. Bouillon goes off the rails in is her next paragraph.

She said that the RPF had informers in each and every neighborhood in the country (where she got that tidbit of information I have no idea, she did not attribute any source to base that ‘fact’ on) and falsely said that forgiveness was mandated by the Gacaca law (the wife of Alice’s family’s killer begged for forgiveness during the Gacaca proceedings against her).

She then goes on to directly blame Alice’s psychological and emotional trauma on the ‘forced’ forgiveness.  While I cannot discount the fact that seeing the woman who denounced her family walking around the village is traumatic, we cannot that this woman saw her family hacked to pieces. The ‘pain in her heart’ that Sophie Bouillon talks about is probably post-traumatic stress disorder.  Somehow trying to blame the Government’s policy of reconciliation for her trauma is unfair.

After milking Alice’s emotional story, she comes out with what I call the ‘same old story’ of ethnic politics. Quoting Victoire Ingabire, she says that “genocide is acknowledged but crimes committed by the RPF “. Again, this is shoddy journalism. If she had done even a bit of research, she would have found out that trials against RPF troops that committed war crimes took place, and death sentences were meted out to these soldiers.

I think the next paragraph that followed her ethnic spiel was the most insulting to all Rwandans who’ve worked so hard to make the Rwandan renaissance possible. While admiring the fact that “social security works, infrastructure is good and that by 2020 half of the population should have access to electricity”, she says that this kind of growth is because there has been “massive looting of Congolese coltan mines”.  Well, again if she had done even a little research she would have found out that Rwanda is in the forefront of the Central African mineral certification programme and is attempting to tag all the minerals mined and traded in the country. So, far from being the ravenous country of pirates that she’s attempting to portray Rwanda as, we are following a policy of transparency.

She goes on and on, saying that Rwanda’s press is muzzled (ignoring that there are 26 radio stations, 32 newspapers and a three TV providers), the political opponents are expelled (in my experience, they leave by themselves), that there is Umuganda (a clean neighborhood, the horror), that adultery is punished (this is part of the 1977 Penal Law; the criminal code that is being rewritten doesn’t make adultery a crime) and that listening to music in public transport is prohibited (anyone who goes travels in the mini-buses knows this isnt true).

While Rwanda has its challenges, to attempt to make it seem as dark, scary and repressive as North Korea is a disservice to your readers Ms. Bouillon. Shame, shame.

One thought on “Rwandans are marching, that much is true. But only where we want to go

  1. I had a very rich auntie in the exclusive zip code reffred to as Muthaiga. She was very generous towards her extended family with plenty of ffood and drink.

    Until we learnt the hidden reason behind such generosity — she felt sorry for our ignorant parents who were “producing children like rabbits” therefore she was demonstrating the “luxury” we were missing by being so many in our own homes.

    And this is precisely the dilemna that Ms. Sophie Bouillon has attempted to communicate (in a rather poor manner). Human qualities like generosity and forgiveness always come from the heart (first and foremost). These qualities cannot be legislated or dangled suggestively over people.

    Human beings are very hard to fool — even though they may go along with you conveniently from the outside.

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