About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, October 13, 2014

BBC’s hatchet job on Rwanda

How Britain’s leading institution has lent its services to the deniers of the genocide against the Tutsi

And so it was that after a couple of text messages I decided to spare an hour to watch a documentary by the BBC titled “Rwanda: The Untold Story”. Everything the documentary claims to “reveal” in this “untold story” has been told before.  Critics of President Paul Kagame and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) have made these allegations for years. What was intriguing was the audacity of the BBC to give a platform to these allegations.

BBC is expected to be fair and balanced – or at least pretend to. Yet the documentary collects well-known genocide deniers and fugitive former Rwanda government officials for its cast. There is Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian academic who helped the Juvenal Habyarimana administration write its constitution. He is presented as the “world’s leading expert on Rwanda.” He is a well-known critic of Kagame and has not been in Rwanda in 20 years.

Others in the cast include Kayumba Nyamwasa, a renegade general living in exile in South Africa; and his friend Theogene Rudasingwa, a former director of cabinet in Kagame’s office. Kayumba even says Kagame “is a serial killer who enjoys killing his citizens.” Never mind that this “serial killer” is the only president of a poor country that has given nearly all his poor citizens medical insurance cover – oh, what a way to enjoy killing your citizens! I know how BBC works. It would never allow such a sentence to pass its editorial eye. So why did BBC allow this to pass against Kagame?

Neither can BBC justify itself by saying that the woman who did the documentary is not their employee. It is BBC that broadcast the documentary and bares full responsibility for all its accusations, lies and innuendoes. There is not a single person – whether a genocide survivor, an official of the government of Rwanda, or the RPF who is interviewed. It is a one-sided condemnation of Rwanda government, Kagame and the RPF.

The documentary sinks to the abyss when it presents two Americans it claims have done research on the genocide in Rwanda. One of them claims that of the one million people killed by the interahamwe militias during the genocide, only 200,000 were Tutsi. The other 800,000, this expert insinuates, were Hutus killed by the RPF. In short, the BBC is saying there were actually two genocides in Rwanda and the one against Hutus was the worst. The documentary does not ask this so called expert the basis of this wild claim.

The documentary has a man with a laptop who claims to have recorded a “telephone conversation” with a “top Rwanda government official” who offers him $1m to kill Kayumba. However, there is no effort to establish the voice on the phone and link it to a “top government official in Rwanda”. Why should anyone believe this is a genuine telephone conversation?

Another man claiming to have been Kagame’s bodyguard alleges it is the RPF that shot down Habyarimana’s plane. He claims to have been in the meeting where the decision was taken. But the documentary does nothing to show that he is was actually part of Kagame’s bodyguard. His claims are taken on face value. Is this journalism? As expected, Kayumba and Rudasingwa support this allegation but none of them presents a whit of evidence to support their position.

Everyone knows that Habyarimana had planned the genocide long before he died. Militias had been trained. Machetes had been procured. A propaganda campaign mobilising the general population had been on radio and newspapers for years. Lists of people to kill had been drawn. In January 1994, the UN Peace-keeping force commander in Rwanda, Gen. Romeo Dellaire, had sent a cable to UN headquarters in New York seeking permission to attack and destroy ammunitions depots that had been stocked with weapons to kill Tutsis. The beginning of genocide was a matter or time, not intent.

In that documentary, Kayumba and Rudasingwa represent the tragedy of African elites when they have fallen out of favour with a government. They allege that it is the shooting of Habyarimana’s plane that sparked off the genocide. Therefore, they conclude, RPF is fully or partly culpable for the genocide. First, even assuming (just for argument’s sake) that this claim has merit, why did they serve in the RPF for over ten years if they knew it was responsible for one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century?

Although their opportunism is blinding, we should not miss what it reveals i.e. their political bankruptcy. Lacking a core message to sell to Rwandans, they retreat to false and wild accusations to appease interests that are prejudiced against Africa. Let us assume, again for argument’s sake, that RPF shot down Habyarimana’s plane: does that justify Hutu militants taking revenge on innocent Tutsi civilians – including women and children?

Habyarimana’s government was at war with Kagame’s RPF. If he had a chance to kill Kagame would Habyarimana have let it pass? In war, you are justified to kill your enemy. All too often, the leader of the enemy forces is the center of gravity and therefore a legitimate military target. Take him out, and the resistance may collapse. That was the reasoning behind President Barack Obama’s relentless pursuit of Osama Bin Laden. It is obvious therefore that RPF had a strong interest to kill Habyarimana. Even if they killed him, it would neither justify Habyarimana’s state machinery massacring innocent Tutsis nor make RPF responsible for the genocide.

The opportunistic claims of Kayumba and Rudasingwa thus amount to saying that Britain and France be held responsible for the Jewish holocaust because it is their declaration of war against Germany that sparked off World War Two and led Hitler to kill six million Jews. This tendency, to try and use the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane to make RPF wholly or partially responsible for the genocide, has been a recurrent theme of the sympathisers of the Hutu supremacist government that massacred innocents.

Every mass murderer has been driven by some grievance – Hitler by the fear that Jews were taking over Germany. But you cannot massacre a million people and then claim it was because someone else annoyed you and he or she should therefore share your culpability. If we allowed this twisted logic, every criminal would claim someone else drove him/her to commit a crime.

The documentary itself is neither shocking nor surprising. What is both shocking and surprising is that, it was broadcast by the BBC. We need to know why BBC did this.


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