The East African’s content-free opinion piece on #Rwanda

An opinion piece published in The East African on Tuesday 12th September has brought that paper to a new low: according to Christopher Kayumba “Kagame faces two critical challenges in the next seven years

I am used to reading this type of output in western publications, but when African outlets regurgitate the same stale slop it hurts.

Let’s go over these opinions, piece by piece.

Right off the bat, the title already disqualifies the post. When you read “Kagame faces two critical challenges in the next seven years”, you immediately recognize the tired claim that our President rules as a monarch, devoid of any input any democratic participation by any other Rwandan. Whatever “critical challenges” the President faces are surely faced by all of us in this country. Not once is there mention of the Rwandan people who have elected the President to represent us, to lead us on our continued journey. This tells you clearly, we the people, as a democratic society of human beings, do not even factor into the writer’s thoughts.

He attempts to paint a picture of these two ominous “challenges”, one allegedly external, the other internal. Analyzing the opinion piece immediately reveals a familiar format:

1. Centre the conversation on the President only

2. Mention one or two positive facts about the Rwandan government’s performance (“he named the most gender-sensitive Cabinet in the world”)

3. Commence the attempt to take down the efforts of the Rwandan government and its people.

Every single muzungu attack on Rwanda follows this same format. I suspect once western outlets failed to gain any traction with their attacks on our nation during our recent presidential elections, they might have switched to the covert and much more insidious tactic of feeding their anti-Rwanda narrative to African media houses whose journalistic integrity might come with a price tag.

These are the two “challenges” as the author of the opinion piece sees them (emphasize mine):

The externally generated problem is perpetuated by Western media and revolves around the idea that Rwanda is under a dictatorship and that there is no freedom of press, expression or dissenting views.

The internal challenge has to do with finding a way to strengthen, popularise, expand and institutionalise an agreed on power-sharing political system.

Can you already see where this is going? We are once again faced with someone trying to sneak in subjective opinions disguised as facts, without providing actual facts:

It also has to do with developing a culture of tolerance, where criticisms are countered with facts and evidence instead of with hate or lies.

The above would be laughable, were it not so cringe-worthy in its transparent attempt at painting the same old western-perspective picture of Rwanda. According to the author we have no culture of tolerance and we respond to criticism with hate or lies. The author’s credits at the footer of his opinion piece state he is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Rwanda’s (UR) School of Journalism. I weep for the future of Rwandan media. So there is no “culture of tolerance” in Rwanda? How so? As a reader, how are you trying to convince me of this alleged absence of a culture of tolerance in Rwanda? What are the specific hate-filled lies with which we counter “criticisms” in Rwanda?

Let’s go on:

While the external challenge is well recorded in reports and newspaper articles that can be read by anyone anywhere in the world, responses to it largely turn up in the form of tweets from leaders and their supporters.

The fact that tweets from “leaders and their supporters” is summarily dismissed by the writer – in an age where social media has successfully taken the reigns from digital media, not even talking about the obsolete print media – betrays just how much UR’s Senior Lecturer in Journalism is out of touch with the very nature of media as it is generated and consumed all over the world today. Digital media and social media have brought about the start of a democratization of news and media today.

History teaches us that external hands undermined internal cohesion in the struggle for Independence, damage the nation’s reputation and influence donors, while also undermining the country’s nascent power-sharing model.

Local leaders told us that these headlines were fuelled [sic] by hate and everything was great in the country.

Clearly, both narratives cannot be correct. The country’s communication should go beyond tweeting to dismiss what they perceive as hate and instead explain, in detailed articles, the choices the nation has taken and the reasons behind those decisions.

The level of entitlement displayed here is not one I’m used to seeing from people older than teens, these days. Whose job is it to write “detailed articles”? Not the likes of The East African? Does one expect “detailed articles” from anyone other than the media? Does the journalist wait for the story to come to them, polished and publication-ready, or is it the journalist’s job to go and find the story and put in real work? The country’s communication on matters concerning the country is owed to nobody other than the Rwandan people. Not to some fly-by-night newspaper too lethargic to even attempt its own leg work.

The killer in this opinion piece is yet to come, though:

On the problem of getting all major political elites to invest in the power-sharing model for the long-term, three things need to happen.

First, constantly give details about the decisions being made for the good of the country.

Secondly, lower the legal threshold of five per cent of national electoral votes — that political parties must garner in parliamentary elections — to gain the right to share power to one or two per cent to enable “smaller” parties and their elites to participate in the power-sharing model.

Reading this bit is like driving into a street with two One-Way signs pointed in opposite directions. The author claims Rwanda has a problem of getting “all major political elites” to invest in the power-sharing model (One-Way points right). To achieve this, the author demands the 5% parliamentary threshold be lowered to 1% …. to enable smaller parties (One-Way points left). How is a 1% party a “major political elite” that somehow needs to be enticed into constitutionally guaranteed power-sharing? Let me remove these two opposing One-Way signs, before it causes an accident:

“a political organisation holding the majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies cannot have more than fifty (50%) percent of Cabinet members”.

The above is quoted from Article 62 of Rwanda’s Constitution. Power-sharing is a fact of life in Rwanda. I’m stunned the Senior Lecturer does not seem to already know this, and is presenting “3 steps on how to achieve power-sharing”. Tomorrow, we might read “3 steps on how to make sure Rubavu finally gets a lake”.

The stated demand of lowering the parliamentary threshold from 5% to 1% shows a lack of understanding of what a parliamentary threshold is meant to achieve: a parliamentary threshold is implemented to ensure parliament is governable. Without a parliamentary threshold – and 1% is a quasi removal of this threshold – each election cycle a country’s parliament risks ending up in a fractured state. One of the factors that led to the collapse of Germany’s Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s was exactly the type of fractured politics parliamentary thresholds are meant to prevent. If your party cannot secure at least 5% of the national vote, it is not even a “small party”, is it? It is more like a backyard social club for a group of like-minded buddies. And such backyard social clubs have no place obstructing the politics and progress of any country in the world. Parliamentary thresholds of 5% are common in EU countries, for example. So when someone demands Rwanda removes the parliamentary threshold, my ears perk up and the next thing I expect to read is Rwanda should power-share its Parliament with the FDLR or some such insanity. When the electorate, i.e. the people of Rwanda, do not give enough of their votes to a party, and you now try to crowbar the party into Parliament by removing the threshold, you are effectively undermining the democratic will of the Rwandan people. If your party cannot win even 5% of the vote, perhaps you are better off self-examining your party manifesto, rather than attempting to force-feed yourself to the Rwandan people.

The opinion piece finally ends with the following:

Finally, and admittedly more controversially, since there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, President Kagame should consider showing magnanimity and forgive former members of RPF who are currently out in the cold, but are willing to repent for the sake of political reconciliation.

If this kind of generosity was extended to some who participated in the genocide, surely those with lesser sins could be forgiven in the interest of national cohesion.

Irrespective of the alleged former members out in the cold and just generally speaking, politics, as with any other career is not immune from sustaining irreparable damage. It is not for nothing that the phrase “political suicide” is found in common parlance. This concept is ubiquitous in the world, so why is Rwanda/RPF/H.E. being singled out as some sort of stubborn unyielding grudge-bearer? It’s really annoying when people take perfectly normal situations and blow them up to make it appear as if Rwanda is operating outside any reasonable framework. What we have here is an attempt to mutilate Rwandan democracy to suit the desires of an irrelevant fringe, at the expense of the will of the Rwandan people.

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