What did the BBC do for Rwanda's information minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, to suspend their programs and call them "a real poison with regards to the reconciliation of the Rwandan people" yesterday?
The Beeb broadcast an interview with former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, now living in Belgium, who said that as a Hutu, he could never apologize for the 1994 Genocide. (A Rwandan government spokesperson was invited to participate in the program, but declined.)
This is not the first time that Mushikiwabo has taken issue with the BBC. Last August, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mushikiwabo threatened to shut down both the BBC and the Voice of America if they didn't stop their "non-factual" reporting.
None of this should come as a surprise. In his hagiographic profile of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, "A Thousnad Hills," NY Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer points out that Kagame's role models are autocratric rulers like Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew and Malaysia's Mohammad Mahatir.
Friends of Kagame's Rwanda, like Kinzer, suggest that all this censorship is necessary -- in the short term at least -- to keep harmony in a society that was traumatized by the 1994 genocide and whose faultlines remain volatile. Organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House don't quite see it that way, and have consistently complained that social harmony in Rwanda is being achieved through the abregation of human rights.
Much of what Paul Kagame has done in Rwanda is admirable and no doubt necessary. But after Rwanda's dubious adventures in the Congo and the steady diet of repressive measures that Rwandans have been subjected to, some of the sheen is coming off his image. In France, Kagame is officially viewed as a criminal, on a par with the perpetrators of the genocide, because of the heavy-handed revenge his soldiers took on defenseless Hutu civilians.
U.S. policymakers will likely never take this line on Kagame, stemming in part from U.S. guilt over inaction during the genocide. But that's no reason to ignore ugly incidents of censorship and repression.
(First Published April 27, 2009 in World Politics Review)