Rwanda President Kagame Vs Journalists
Rwanda President Maj. Gen Paul Kagame, instead of enjoying his country's formal welcome ceremony to the Commonwealth Club of Nations, he was treated to a carnival of questions testing his democratic performance by journalists.
Inside the conference, were journalists, whilst out-side were the pro-Kagame and against protesters groups opposite each other, staging the demonstrations. The protesters were tolerated and allocated an area to express and send their voices to the president and to the Media.
Although, the Marlborough House ceremony, was the day for hoisting the Rwandan Flag, marking the country's official first Commonwealth Day, it turn-out to be one of the overwhelming ceremonies for the Rwandan leader Kagame.
Rwandan leader remained focused on the day's events, disregarding the country's recent web of internal strife which has seen scores of his former army commanders, associates and several journalists fleeing the country to seek refuge in exile in the past six months. President Kagame might have had a rehearsal for the anticipated questions from the journalists but the protesters who camped out-side were unpredictable and made their point to the media.
Mr Kagame, alongside Patrick Manning, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago who is the current chair-in-office of the Commonwealth and Mr. Kamalesh Sharma, the Commonwealth Secretary General, stood side by side whilst watching the hoisting ceremony of the Rwandan Flag.
Rwanda became the second country to Mozambique to be granted space to the 54 nations' Commonwealth Club in November 2009, previously with no historical links to Britain during the two-yearly Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit in Trinidad and Tobago. The former francophone colony, since the fifteenth century turned an Anglophone.
Contrary to UN's Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, right to freedom of opinion, expression, impart information and idea through any media, President Kagame still considers such as luxury.
Human Rights Watch has documented enormous reports of persecuting Rwandan independent minded journalists.
Casualties of press repression in Rwanda include:-
Dominique Makeli, a Radio Rwanda journalist been in prison without trial since 1994;
Edouard Mutsinzi, editor of Le Messager / Intumwa is paralyzed after an RPF failed assassination;
Appolo Hakizimana, editor Umuravumba, was shot dead in Nyamirambo in April 1997;
Amiel Nkuliza, editor of Intego, was arrested on May 13, 1997;
Manasse Mugabo, a journalist working for the Kinyarwanda Service of Radio UNAMIR disappeared in August 1995;
Sylvestre Kalisa, a Radio Rwanda technician disappeared in early 1998 upon his return from exile in Nairobi;
Munyemanzi, a Rwandan Television journalist was found dead after he fell out of favor with the RPF;
Helene Nyirabikali, a journalist working for the state-run newspaper Imvaho was arrested and charged with false accusations of genocide and later died in prison due to lack of medical care;
Deo Mushayidi, a journalist working for Le Barometre de l'Economie, a private newspaper fled to Belgium;
Jason Muhawenimana, a journalist working for Imboni, a private newspaper fled to Belgium;
Jean Claude Nkubito, a journalist working for the Rwandan News Agency and President of the Association of Rwandan journalist fled to Belgium;
Philbert Muzima fled to Canada;
Kwitegetse, a journalist working for Kinyamateka, a Catholic Church newspaper fled to Uganda;
Jean-Pierre Mugabe, editor of Le Tribun du Peuple and an RPF military officer fled to the United States.
Julius Mwesigye (Ugandan born Tutsi), former editor of New Times was badly beaten and expelled from Rwanda. Based on the information the journalists came prepared in search for answers regarding the fate of their colleagues. The first was;
James Robbins (BBC Diplomatic Editor): Specific question for President Kagame, if I may. Sir, you said that you embraced Commonwealth values, and I wondered if you could set out for us specifically what you intend to do in order to meet criticisms of failings in the guarantees of human rights and media freedoms in Rwanda.
President Kagame: Thank you. There were varying failings in the freedoms and rights in our countries 16 years ago, and underlying that were causes that, in fact, came from outside of Rwanda. And even the 1994 genocide that took place, which was actually indicative of this failure indeed – of the freedoms and rights of the people – the actual world that talks of freedoms and rights failed to deal with this situation. So for the last 16 years, Rwanda has been rebuilding itself, and in fact, putting the pieces back together that were left after that tragic history, which the outside world – outside Rwanda – has much to share in, in terms of blame. So in rebuilding our country in the last 16 years, we have also sought to join hands with many other countries that have a lot to contribute, if only they could contribute. As we also contribute to the wellbeing for the freedoms and rights that are talked about. I think the Commonwealth is a family where there are many failings, and failings don't come from only one part of that family. Each family has its own failings, but when they come together, then they share good practices to overcome those failings, and that is why Rwanda sees it as very important to be part of the Commonwealth. There is a lot we are going to gain from it. There is also a lot we are going to contribute to the wellbeing of the members of the Commonwealth.
Henry Gombya (Ugandan-born veteran Journalist): Mr President, we understand that you arrested General Nkunda who is wanted by the ICC in The Hague. I wonder whether you can tell us whether you are planning to hand him over or not. Secondly, as my colleague James has said, there are so many journalists who have fled from Rwanda. Most of them have gone to neighbouring countries like Uganda and Kenya and Tanzania. Furthermore, before you left Rwanda we read that you had criticised some of the media in your country for trying to interview those who are in opposition. I wonder what you see wrong in the media trying to interview those who are opposed to you and whether that is the way to go forward for a new member of the Commonwealth.
President Kagame: First of all, I need to start by correcting you. In actual fact, to my knowledge, Nkunda is not wanted by the ICC. Other people in his group were wanted by the ICC and they are not in our hands; they are in the hands of the ICC, so I wish to correct you on that.
The ICC has not made any contact with us to ask for Nkunda or to say they are interested in Nkunda, so I think you need to be corrected on that. Secondly, again on the issue of Nkunda, we are dealing with the DRC government and we are in the process of dealing with that situation as we have dealt with other situations that have been affecting the DRC as well as Rwanda. The two countries are working very well to overcome that problem, so as far as I am concerned and to my knowledge, there is very good progress.
On the question of the media and the press in our region, again, it is a question of how you want to look at it.
You talk about journalists running away from Rwanda and going to neighbouring countries. As an honest observer, the region itself has many problems which every country in the region has been trying to overcome or countries in the region are working together to overcome. There have been media houses closed in those neighbouring countries you talk about; journalists have been arrested every other day, in and out of prison in those neighbouring countries. You know that. It is not like the impression you want to give, where Rwanda is forcing people to flee to better places in the neighbouring countries. I think it is a general problem where there is not one side who is right and the other side is wrong and it is permanently like that; I think it is a question of engagement and dialogue and discussion to see where the right and the wrong is. We have had journalists in Rwanda who have killed people in the genocide. It has not spared them that crime because they are journalists, so when they do that they are brought to justice like any other human beings or citizens to be held accountable. We have had journalists who have been involved in other crimes. The justice systems play their part in the country of Rwanda, the neighbouring countries or other countries beyond in dealing with that situation as they deal with other citizens. However, freedom of expression through the media, the press and so forth is something that goes on, that grows from one situation and develops for the better in the whole region as is the case with Rwanda.
Katherine Haddon (AFP): President Kagame, I wanted to ask you about the recent arrest of the widow of the former president in France and moves to have her extradited to Rwanda. Firstly, how confident are you that a French court will approve that move and secondly, can you guarantee that she will receive a fair trial in Rwanda if she is extradited?
President Kagame: This is part of an interesting conversation. You talk about justice, and there are countries that claim they have more developed systems to deal with justice, namely the developed countries. We are talking about a case that is now in France. Certainly, this woman, the wife of the former president, has been accused of being involved in the genocide in Rwanda, yet this person who has committed these crimes has been sitting in France, which is supposed to have a developed justice system which one might have expected would have seen her tried. It has not happened for the last 16 years. Therefore, if she has been arrested in France, well and good, maybe it is never too late in this case. Rwanda has been trying different cases of the involvement in genocide of many people successfully. Fairly and speedily in many cases and Rwanda has tried to apply other measures to deal with the huge number of cases that were there through traditional means to great success, which has contributed to the stability of the country itself. We have seen international tribunals established; they have been there for the last 14 years. We have tried on or about 50 cases, spent billions of dollars, and we see people all around who should be tried yet are not. So I don't know what the French justice system wants to do with this case. Hopefully they may want to try the case to its conclusion. However, we are already working with the authorities in France, making them aware of the necessary information that we have. France could either try the case or give it to Rwanda to try. Whatever happens, we expect justice to be done. That is the aim of our country. Whether we try such cases or whether they are tried elsewhere, so be it – as long as justice is seen to be done.
Peter Musembi (BBC World Service, Swahili Language Section): President Kagame, you will probably agree that all is not well in the country, considering events in the past few days, the bombs in Kigali. If you consider that there were such occurrences in the run up to the 1994 genocide, do you agree that all is not well in the country? You previously said that security is quite okay and maintained; it does not seem so. The other question is that there are those who think that you are using the matter of dealing with genocide issues to silence the opposition in your country.
President Kagame: The whole world experiences problems of security. There have been security issues from one corner of the world to the other and there are different reasons and causes. Maybe all is not well in that context, even in Rwanda. There have been incidents recently in Rwanda and their causes are not just recent; they are to be seen as part of the things that have happened over the past 16 years. We have had insecurity originating from eastern Congo into Rwanda, and there have been cases of insecurity in the region. The region and the East African community have been working together to deal with this situation, and Rwanda has been fully participating in making sure there is peace and stability not only in Rwanda but in the rest of the region. That is to be seen, I believe, in that context, not anything beyond that. We are certainly getting on top of things and Rwanda has been increasingly stable and secure for the last number of years, and it will continue to be so even with such incidents that take place. Fortunately, a number of arrests of people who have been behind that have been made; good information has been developed. The origins of the recent problems are getting to be well known, so we hope that will be simply uprooted in a very short time. Second, I want to inform you that the people of Rwanda are part of this process of sure that there is peace and stability in their country, and I am really happy with the work they are doing themselves. There tends to be more noise made from outside, as if the Rwandan people inside the country did not matter. But I think they matter; they are doing a lot for their own development and stability. If that was put in the real context, the situation in Rwanda should be well appreciated. It is appreciated by Rwandans themselves.