Last week in IS 302, we addressed the issue of how governments should approach the existence of ethnic division in a post-conflict setting. We saw that Rwanda and Burundi have chosen different approaches. Burundi’s leaders have decided to address ethnic grievances via assuring ethnic balance in important institutions such as the military. Rwanda’s government has chosen a different approach, endeavouring to make the society as ethnicity-blind as possible. As such, there has been a zero-tolerance policy with respect to any demonstration or acknowledgement of ethnic particularism. As a recent Amnesty International report states unequivocally:
Rwanda’s laws banning “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” are vague and sweeping, and have been used to silence legitimate dissent. The laws were designed to encourage unity and restrict speech that could lead to hatred. However, they have had dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society.”
The most recent example of this “dangerous and chilling effect on Rwandan society” is news of the conviction of two Rwandan journalists of having “stirred up ethnic divisions.” As this BBC article makes clear, it seems highly likely that President Paul Kagame has been using the role of “hate media” during the Rwandan genocide to silence legitimate opposition:
Editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years, while reporter Saidath Mukakibibi was imprisoned for seven. Among several articles, the judge referred to one saying some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers. Prosecutors said this was “meant to stir [up] hatred and fury against the government”.
President Paul Kagame came to power in 1994, ending the genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. He has recently been accused of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticises him. His government defends its tough media laws, pointing to the role of “hate media” ahead of the genocide.
The newspaper was suspended for six months last year, just ahead of elections which saw Mr Kagame re-elected by a landslide. Nkusi was found guilty of disrupting state freedom, propagating ethnic division, genocide revisionism and libel.