I’ve been a writer in The New Times, on and off, for more than a decade now and I’ve had the opportunity to observe the evolution of public discourse through these newspaper’s pages. Rwandans are known to keep their opinions to themselves (or at least they used to).
Perhaps that is why the Government is often accused by human rights groups of not providing ‘political space’ and ‘freedom of speech’. They don’t see democracy being practiced in the manner they are used to. No one is abusive, speeches are very PG (Parental Guidance) and there are no noisy demonstrations à la Kenya or Uganda. It’s all very boring actually. Or is it?
I don’t think that Rwandans are genetically predisposed to being quiet. I believe that they kept their opinions to themselves simply because they didn’t have the forum to air their thoughts and grievances.
A few years back, the only radio station that had a national following was Radio Rwanda. If someone in Rusizi wanted to air a complaint or opinion on the national radio, they’d have a better chance of threading a camel through the eye of a needle, to paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, we have countless radio stations catering for every section of Rwanda’s populace and guess what shows are the most popular? Call-in shows. And these people calling in aren’t just calling-in to greet the DJ and their friends. They are talking about societal issues and letting their feelings known.
Like I said at the beginning, The New Times has allowed me the opportunity to see just how much things have changed. On Saturday, I wrote a column titled ‘Goodbye Pope Benedict XVI, I won’t miss you though’. What pleased me the most was that the readers took me to task while airing their dissenting opinions. This back and forth, which at times descended into name-calling, was extremely healthy in my humble opinion. The readers had something to say and, come rain or high water; they would get it off their chests.
There is one topic that is getting heads heated up; the third term talk. I do not have a position yet vis-à-vis this topic but Rwandans certainly do. Reactions to Prof. Manasseh Nshuti’s commentary, “Change, stability and continuity: a political homework (Part I), came from all over the globe. From the UK, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Zambia, to right here in Kigali, Rwandans expressed differing views. Njenga in Kimironko wrote “Kagame for life”, while King, in Remera, wrote “Let us stick on (sic) constitution. President has done a lot and is continuing till end of his tenure. With him around am sure the replacement will be good. Long live Kagame”.
This conversation is one that has barely begun. More and more people will talk about it and make their feelings known either through the mass media or through social media. At the end of the day, no one will say that the people didn’t speak. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?